Training Postproduction Prodigies

Mark and Ria Bénard both attended Vancouver Film School in the ’90s but only crossed paths a few years ago. Each had found success in their shared profession. Mark did visual effects work for feature films and TV series (Finding Neverland, Stargate SG-1), then taught at their alma mater before launching his own school on Vancouver Island. Ria, with a background in film and animation, also headed a school there. Five years after they finally met, the two have left the competitive grind of postproduction work to run Gastown’s Lost Boys Studios, an institution that swings the city’s most impressive placement rate for grads. The principals pin that achievement on high student/teacher ratios — they take only a handful of pupils at a time — and their responsiveness to industry. “Our curriculum is malleable, which drives our governing body crazy,” says Ria. “And we’re the only school that specializes in visual effects for screen-based media, so the public schools and larger schools are jealous.”

John Gajdecki, a visual effects supervisor who’s spoken at the school over the years, is one insider impressed by the Bénards. He says the school has always been proactive, attracting international students and helping them get immigration papers and job placements. That only became more relevant after the VFX wave hit Vancouver around 2008, as B.C. tax credits wooed Hollywood north. Whatever shifts might come next, he remains proud of the foundational role his GFVX studio had on the industry: “We were the first artist-driven company in Canada,” he says, “and probably the world. I was the first guy who went to the bank and said, ‘I need a million dollars.’ They looked at me and said I was insane.”

Not everyone approves of Vancouver’s swelling roster of talent. Industry observer Daniel Lay studies the flight of studios from California. Through his VFXSoldier blog he’s spoken on the subject with NPR and Variety. For Lay, all the postproduction work here depends on an artificial model. “If B.C. taxpayers knew they were paying 60 percent of VFX employees’ salaries — that this was a bubble bound to burst — they would probably be angry. I’d be willing to bet $10,000 that once the tax rebates are gone, the industry in B.C. will collapse.”


Note to readers: The originally published version of this article mistakenly omitted the phrase “visual effects for” in the quote “We’re the only school that specializes in visual effects for screen-based media”