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NewsNov 21, 2018

Enhancing arts career prospects with new VFX studios

New facility, fueled by $7M anonymous gift and championed by students, makes Lesley the only New England art and design school to offer a visual effects program

Hallway in VFX studio

The College of Art and Design unveiled the university’s new visual effects (VFX) animation studios on Thursday with a grand opening and tours of the new facility, located in the lower level of University Hall.

“It’s just one more piece of our constant work to make Lesley Art + Design a leading art and design school,” said Dean Richard Zauft.

The studios make Lesley the only art and design school in New England to offer a visual effects (VFX) program. They were made possible by an anonymous $7 million gift donated last year.

Students sit in the Apple computer room.
The studios have an Apple computer room and one full of PCs.

The program, Interim President Richard Hansen said, continues the tradition of innovation set out by founder Edith Lesley, who established one of the first schools for kindergarten teachers at the time. The donation and the VFX studios it supported help Lesley “maintain that innovative edge … this helps us stay ahead of the game,” said Hansen.

The state-of-the-art studios will give students access to equipment and software used by industry professionals, making graduates career-ready. The facility features a “render farm” where students can process their projects in hours versus days, and both a PC computer lab and an Apple computer lab with animation-industry-standard equipment and software. A 3D buildout room will give students the space to craft elaborate sets. Additionally, the school boasts a large green screen room and a motion-capture suit that students will use to create animation with realistic movement.

People silhouetted against the lit green room.
Visitors tour the new green room.

During a brief presentation in the new 140-seat screening room, and with a reel of students’ animated shorts playing behind her, Assistant Professor Catriona Baker, chair of animation, pointed out that Lesley is now the only school in New England (and one of two on the East Coast) with a VFX program.

Baker praised the faculty and staff for their willingness to support the expansion of the animation program.

“We have great students that will take advantage of these facilities,” said Baker. “We are giving these students wings.”

L-R: Professor Matthew Nash, faculty Michael Annear, Interim President Rich Hansen and instructor Becky Bettencourt at the reception.
From left: Professor Matthew Nash, faculty Michael Annear, Interim President Richard Hansen and instructor Becky Bettencourt

It was students who drove the expansion, she said.

“We have students that are creative, innovative, competitive and ambitious. They came to us and they asked for this,” Baker said.

Junior animation student Austin Vincent was one student in that chorus. The Dartmouth, Massachusetts, native wanted to study VFX but also wanted to remain close to home. He opted for animation at Lesley, but pushed the administration to expand the VFX offerings. 

“They heard us, they saw what we wanted and they made it happen,” Vincent said. “The direction I see (the College of Art and Design) going excites me. Now the only thing that concerns me is that I only have one more year to experience all of this.”