September 22, 2014

SFU Alumni loving work at Sony Pictures Imageworks


Last May, Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI) announced that their headquarters will be moving to a new state-of-the-art facility in downtown Vancouver. Accommodating up to 700 employees, the new 74,000 sq ft space is set to be the largest footprint for a visual effects company in Vancouver, and will draw world-class industry professionals to the Lower Mainland.

Since the announcement, SFU Co-operative Education has been thrilled to be working with SPI in developing both career and work integrated learning opportunities for students to pursue jobs in visual effects and digital character animation. The Co-operative Education programs representing the Faculty of Applied Sciences and the School of Interactive Arts and Technology are particularly interested in establishing a new partnership for highly sought-after co-op placements, given how well they align with their students’ unique skillsets.

At SPI’s current production office based in Yaletown, students from SFU have already been able to develop their careers through an internship program. Daniel Dong, Mark Inouye, and Phil Larson are three alumni who have completed the internship program and are now working as Production Services Technicians.

We’ve caught up with the three of them on their fourth day of work, and are excited to share their stories:

Daniel Dong / Electronics Engineering

Coming straight from high school, Daniel has always been interested in engineering. After considering civil engineering and systems engineering, he settled with a degree in electronics engineering. Throughout his studies, he went on several Co-op placements with companies such as PMC-Sierra and Ericsson. During his time with Ericsson, he was a Platform Testing Engineer where his primary role was to field customer bugs and help automate manual lab testing for electronic devices.

His experience in coding has proved to be instrumental in his success with SPI: attesting that having worked with Python, C++ and Perl at SFU has helped pave a way for a smoother learning curve when he worked on assignments as an intern.

In his spare time, Daniel is an avid photographer:

Mark Inouye / Interactive Arts and Technology

Mark found SIAT through a chance encounter with new friends at Vancouver’s Anime Revolution back in 2009. With some background studies in English and Computing Science, he soon found his place in SIAT, attesting his interest in working with SPI from thoroughly enjoying SIAT’s Animation, Modelling, Visual, and Film courses. He describes his SIAT experience as having built the “coat rack of life”; having gained hands-on experience with everything from layout design, architecture, 3D rigging, coding, to arduino.

Working at SPI has certainly engaged his multi-disciplinary SIAT experience. Having honed an ability to juggle a vast skill-set has prepared him with the real-world pressures of a job in production services.

Phil Larson / Interactive Arts and Technology

Having completed high school in Port Coquitlam, Phil didn’t need to travel far to come to SIAT - a natural choice, given his keen interest in gaming. During his third and fourth year, he began working at Propaganda Games, where he found an encouraging dynamic that helped motivate him to pursue further studies in game design. He loved the fact that he was getting paid to directly apply the skills he was learning. After his degree, he discovered the joy in working with cinematic games at EA Blackbox and Capcom, which subsequently piqued his interest in working at SPI.

Emphasizing how teamwork is prevalent in many creative industries, SIAT’s style of “learning how to learn” while immersed in teamwork has given Phil the experience to work effectively with many of Vancouver’s creative companies.

What is it like working at Sony Pictures Imageworks?

Although Mark (SIAT grad) is surprised at how relatively un-geeky the office is, he proudly admits he may be the geekiest of the bunch. Currently, Mark works with a team on an animation project, where he has been able to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the office and learn the ins-and-outs of his new job. He admires everyone’s passion for the industry and that everyone lives and breathes movie culture.

On the flip side, Daniel (Engineering Grad) and Phil (SIAT grad) have already hit the ground running, having joined a team working on a film project. That being said, Daniel has had time to notice the decor - he comments that the space is “quite well designed and very nice overall”. Meanwhile, Phil enjoys the linear structure of the organization, commenting on how all of his colleagues have been incredibly approachable and friendly to work with. All three of them have also noticed the highly supportive teaching-and-learning nature of the organization, which was most evident during their internship. 

When asked about the transition between the internship and working full-time, they mentioned that although the internship felt like a full-time crash course, it certainly helped lessen the learning curve for when they got to their full-time job. The transition was relatively seamless, as the friendly nature of the organization helped them effortlessly fit into their teams.

In layman's terms, the trio describe their current jobs as a combination of a "police officer", "trash collector", "filing manager", and "triage personnel" for their respective projects' files and assets.

How have your studies at SFU helped you with your work at SPI?

Daniel, Mark, and Phil highlighted numerous reasons of how SFU was able to prepare them for success - the main reasons can be summarized by skills, teamwork, and the ability to learn.

In terms of skills, having Phil’s description of the “jack-of-all-trades” style of education has given them the skill sets needed to become excellent at understanding and preforming any task that lands on their desk.

As any student would know, many SIAT and Engineering courses involve heavy teamwork. The repeated practice of working and learning in teams has given them the confidence to work in an industry where professional environments are also often structured around teams. Mark was also quick to mention that the team sizes at SPI are not that much larger than ones he would find back in the classroom.

During their internship, the three had the chance to learn all the skills they needed from one-on-one time with mentors. Although they weren’t expected to know everything for their jobs, they did need to be able to learn it all throughout their internship. That’s where one’s keen ability to learn new things (and learn to take feedback) will help set one apart when working in this industry. Mark and Daniel noted that even by having some minor experience with coding, the foundation definitely helps with learning new code, as many languages share similar syntaxes and scripting styles. The same goes with software: Phil loves the fact that almost everything at SPI lives on Google or on a Wiki.

What advice would you give to current students?

Mark: Definitely consider an internship opportunity at one point in your career. 

Phil: Hit the ground running, and just start talking to recruiters. It helps if you can make people pay for what you do, and it's even better if you spend your time on something that counts for you.

Daniel: If you like coding and movies, definitely apply for any opportunity with Sony Pictures Imageworks, as it would be perfect for you.