The chance to meet film-makers and special effects experts is helping students realise that a career in the movie industry needn't be the stuff of dreams. Martin Whittaker reports
On a February morning in Disneyland Paris, hundreds of UK students are meeting for a crash course in computer animation and film-making. Pencil to Pixel is an annual event for sixth-form and further education students taking art and design, and film and media studies courses - and Disneyland Paris with its wall-to-wall thrills is the ideal setting.
Students and tutors travel from London by coach or Eurostar, staying at a resort hotel for two nights and receive a day's pass to the attractions, which include the Walt Disney Studios Park. However, the main focus is the morning-long conference, where film-makers and computer-generated effects experts showcase their work, impart their secrets and hope that some of the magic will rub off on the students.
Yourick Van Impe, a 3D animation supervisor, shows some of his special effects work, which ranges from flying aliens in the sci-fi movie Pitch Black to adverts for toothpaste and cosmetics. A clip from the film Enemy at the Gates shows an aerial bombing sequence that is one long special effect and he demonstrates some of the trickery, explaining how the scene was researched down to the finest detail and digitally created layer by layer.
The next speaker, British film-maker Heidi Easton, whose work ranges from the BAFTA award-winning Channel 4 documentary Inside the Animal Liberation Front to pop videos for Paul Weller and advertisements for NYPD Blue and the The X Files.
She tells students how she started in the film business and how to go about getting a film made. In her case, luck played its part when she accidentally left a script in a bar where it was read by someone who liked it so much she offered to finance the film. Heidi offers tips for those wishing to follow in her footsteps, telling them that all experience is good experience, whether you start in film school, as a make-up artist, or as a cameraman.
If you want to make films but end up working in McDonald's along the way, don't be put off, take a notebook with you and write down your ideas, she says.
The conference is chaired by Richard Morrison who, during 20 years in the film industry has built up a successful career designing and directing film title sequences. He has worked for directors such as Sir David Lean, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott and Sir Richard Attenborough. He shows students 1960s film title sequences that have influenced his work and takes them through the creative process of a film title, from initial ideas to the final edit.
Afterwards the lights go on and students and tutors get the chance to quiz the experts. This year's event has drawn groups from 15 schools and colleges, some of whom have come from as far as Liverpool and Lancashire.
But why hold it in Disneyland Paris? "It's the perfect environment," says Brendan Jones, managing director of European Study Tours, the event's organiser. "Whether you love it or hate it, it's a commercial environment, but also a very creative environment."
He says coming into contact with creative people from the film industry helps students realise they can have similar jobs. Most of the experts started in college studying film or graphic design.
"Something like this allows students to meet people, ask for advice and see people who have been successful in doing it," he says.
Pencil to Pixel costs from pound;139 per person, with the option of a longer stay to visit Paris. There is a one-in-ten free place ratio for staff Tel: 01992 512870www.euro-study-tours.co.uk
pound;4.95 adults; pound;2.95 children (5-15); pound;4.35 students.
Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.
Tel: 0117 925 4980