This week, Vancouver Film School (VFS), Canada’s premier entertainment arts institution, is celebrating the release of District 9. The highly anticipated sci-fi thriller, produced by Peter Jackson, is directed/co-written by VFS graduate Neill Blomkamp, making his feature debut. The entire VFS community congratulates Blomkamp—and the 24 VFS Animation & Visual Effects alumni who worked on the film—for their impressive, exciting achievement.
District 9 depicts a settlement of extraterrestrial refugees marooned in Johannesburg, South Africa. Living in slum-like conditions, they unexpectedly find a kindred spirit in a government agent (Sharlto Copley) exposed to their biotechnology. The movie, which has been steadily building buzz for months, is already being praised by critics for its deft blend of action and intelligence. The Hollywood Reporter calls it “smart, savvy filmmaking of the highest order” and, in a cover story, Entertainment Weekly deems District 9 “the must-see movie of the summer.”
VFS graduates have won Emmys, Oscars and international acclaim before, but District 9 is the biggest theatrical feature film ever helmed by a VFS grad. In addition to 3D Animation & Visual Effects grad Blomkamp, the film was co-written by VFS Writing for Film & Television grad Terri Tatchell, with 3D alum Shawn Walsh serving as visual effects executive producer. With Vancouver’s Image Engine handling much of the visual effects work (in addition to local studios The Embassy and Zoic), District 9 represents both VFS’ niche within the visual effects industry as well as Vancouver’s own emergence as a go-to visual effects mecca.
“We are really excited about the upcoming release of District 9,” says Alastair Macleod, head of Animation & Visual Effects at VFS. “It’s great to see this work being done in Vancouver, and I’m really happy that so many of our grads could be involved.”
VFS alumni have been integral to the Vancouver animation and visual effects world for many years, but District 9 signifies that their presence is growing even stronger. Walsh, who oversaw many new grads at Image Engine, says, “One thing I have noticed in the new generation of artists coming out of VFS is how quickly they learn.”
Macleod chalks this up to the program’s longstanding ties to the industry. In the past, he has invited Walsh to give students feedback, akin to a production “dailies” session. “I feel this industry involvement and strong focus on skills can be directly applied,” Macleod says. “Students hit the ground running and excel in their roles.”