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Techno-visual job surge

New advances are spurring demand for qualified staff

Anyone who has seen films such as Life of Pi, Transformers or Avatar will be left in little doubt about the way that technology is adding new dimensions to the visual-entertainment industry.

According to academics and industry practitioners across Asia, demand for technicians is surging because of factors such as companies using the internet and social media to promote brands and products, the advertising industry, and an increase in performing venues - particularly in Macau.

Professor John Williams, dean of the School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), says career opportunities for technicians in the entertainment sector are buzzing.

Williams says graduates from programmes including costume design technology, theatre design and technology, entertainment design and technology, and technical direction can work in many different areas of the entertainment industry.

"Our students are well-trained in multi-technology disciplines, are often trilingual, and are popular with employers regionally and internationally," Williams says. He adds that the HKAPA works closely with its advisory committee, which is made up of leading members of the Hong Kong entertainment industry, to ensure programmes and student abilities match the needs of the industry.

"These days, the industry is looking for multi-skilled graduates. This can mean, for example, a student studying lighting design could also study audio and technical direction," Williams says.

He believes the HKAPA offers other advantages in readying students to enter the workforce. For example, well-known international and regional industry experts often conduct workshops at the HKAPA. Students are also exposed to Western performing arts, as well as Chinese dance, opera, theatre, and film and television. They also gain experience and keep pace with trends via internship programmes.

Reflecting changes in industry demand, last year the HKAPA introduced a fast-track, one-year vocational programme. "Students can learn the skills they need to further their careers with employers," Williams says.

Meanwhile, candidates shortlisted for theatre and entertainment arts master's programmes are invited for one-on-one interviews. "We look for desire and passion matched with the attitude and aptitude to work in the industry," Williams says.

Kwai Bun, founder of ManyMany Creations and a pioneer in Hong Kong's animation and digital-media industries, also believes the technology disciplines within the creative and entertainment industries are awash with career opportunities.

"Cheaper software and hardware is making the entry level much lower," says Kwai, a graduate of Hong Kong Baptist University's digital graphic communications programme. He adds that this has led to a rise in the number of 3D and animation start-up companies, which need people with technical and creative abilities.

To remain competitive and provide clients with the animated visuals which they seek, Kwai says his company is developing its own in-house proprietary software.

"Like animation companies in the US and Europe which have invested in propriety software, this will give us the edge in Asia," Kwai says. At ManyMany, about 25 animators work as a team producing modelling, movement and visual-simulation effects.

While the jobs exist, however, recruiting employees with the necessary combination of skills can be a challenge. "One of the areas companies like mine struggle in when recruiting is finding people with a combination of technical and creative skills," Kwai says.

The problem, he says, is that technology-orientated people often focus on their area of interest, while creative types struggle with complex animation software.

While Kwai is a supporter of the digital, computing and multimedia programmes offered by Hong Kong universities, he urges students to take the initiative in further developing their creative skills.

"Animation is something you need to be passionate about, which requires a lot of self-learning," he says. "If you want to succeed in this business, you need to push the limits and constantly innovate."

He suggests that those interested in becoming animators visit web portals featuring examples of outstanding work.