Johnson, production manager of Method Studios in Vancouver, talks to Mike Sawka’s media class about her career in visual effects, and her journey into show business at VSS, Monday. Johnson graduated from VSS in 2000, where she took her first media studies course before moving to Vancouver to pursue a job in the industry. (Parker Crook/Morning Star)

From Vernon to Hollywood North

Parker Crook

Morning Star Staff

A rocket is posed to launch, as a man with wire-frame glasses counts down from 10, nine, eight. He opens a glass box encasing a large, red button.

Engines ignite, and in a burst of flame, we have lift off. The office and everyone watching cheers, but chaos reigns true and soon the rocket itself is up in flames. An explosion ensues, and the director calls, “Cut.”

It’s a pivotal and expensive scene in action films, but more often than not, it’s a scene that never actually happened. It was created by a visual effects artist, such as production manager at Method Studios in Vancouver and VSS graduate Sheena Johnson, who spoke about her career with Vernon Secondary School (VSS) media students Monday.

“I always really loved movies ever since I could remember,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s career in the movie industry began during her Grade 11 year at VSS in media studies class, and continued to grow after studying film with VSS teacher Mike Sawka in her senior year, where she learned to make a commercial with her friends and music videos to era-popular tracks, such as NSYNC’s Bye Bye Bye.

“In Grade 12, Sawka started teaching and it was even more fun,” she said.

And Sawka remembers Johnson well. After a brief introduction to the class, he shared her early work with the class of about 20, including the infamous music video.

“I knew she was in the movie industry and that fascinated me,” said Sawka. “It sounded like Sheena had reached the pinnacle.”

After graduating from VSS in 2000, Johnson went on to do two years of university, but “didn’t love it.”

It was around that time that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings debuted, and Johnson was immediately hooked.

“How can I be a part of that?” Johnson asked herself.

So she moved to New Zealand to find the home of the furry-footed hobbits. Eventually, Johnson came back and finished her degree.

But in 2009, she knew it wasn’t the path she wanted to take.

“You know what, I’m going to go back to film school,” she said to herself.

Johnson enrolled in the Vancouver Film School’s foundation of visual arts and graphic design program, before realizing her love of animation.

“(But) there wasn’t a lot of jobs in animation,” said Johnson about graduating film school in 2010.

Instead, she began assisting, before moving into the visual effects realm working for Scanline VFX, but now she loves it.

“It doesn’t sound glamorous, but it’s fun.”

The class sat quietly, listening with intention to every word Johnson shared about her journey, and her career working on films including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Doctor Strange, Batman v Superman, In the Heart of the Sea, Pompeii, 300: Rise of an Empire, A Good Day to Die Hard, Man of Steel, and Battleship.

“You have to move to Vancouver,” she said. “You move to Vancouver, you’re going to walk down the street and run into a movie set.”

The room joked about Vancouver being called the Hollywood of the north.

“The best way is to get yourself involved in film school, and to just start meeting people.”

Johnson’s seminar concluded after students picked her brain in hopes of following in her footsteps, and the classroom emptied.

After the seminar was over, Johnson was happy she spoke to the students.

“It’s kind of interesting to step back and remind myself of where I was,” said Johnson.

“This class definitely opened my eyes to the film industry.”