Visual Development Degrees Come to Academy of Art University
DS: What are some of the key aspects of visual development your program teaches?
NV: We try to cover all aspects of visual development, from prop design to character design, concept art, backgrounds and everything in between. The goal of the program is to help them develop a strong, varied portfolio that will help them get a job. We try to teach them not only fundamental aspects of drawing and painting, but the process of visual development, which is very important. All the classes are based on that goal.
All of our instructors, not just in visual development, are working professionals. We bring different industry standards into the program. For example, for a character design, we start with a round of rough thumbnails, based on the story. We narrow those down to a final design, trying to capture the soul of the character. Often, even with very rough designs, you can find the soul of the character. From there we do the final design drawings. Based on those final drawings, if it’s a 3D production, we do the orthographics, which are the blueprint for the character. We show a front view, a side view, a back view and sometimes a three-quarter view. These help the modeler build the 3D character. The last thing we do is a final 3D painting of the character, to show the volume and textures. We also create a shadow package, which shows the textures of the elements of the character for the texture team. If the character has a shirt, it shows the type of cloth. If the character has goggles, it shows the type of metal. There may be other drawings or studies needed to help the modeler, so the collaboration of the designer and modeler doesn’t end with the initial set of final designs.
DS: The job market is tough these days. How do you advise students to best prepare for the rigors and realities of a career in entertainment content creation?
NV: When I graduated from the Academy ten years ago, the foundation I received was crucial for me to start working in this field. The job market is tough and very competitive. But as cliché as it might sound, we teach students to treat their education very seriously, listen to their instructors, work diligently and be relentless when they apply for work. When they submit their portfolio and don’t get a response, they always get discouraged. But it’s important to learn that hiring is driven by production needs. That’s why it’s important to keep working on your portfolio and constantly send it out.
DS: Education is expensive and there is a lot of pressure on students. This area of study is not easy and requires considerable dedication. What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
NV: It’s always a challenge to help students keep updating and refining their portfolio so they can showcase their talent and capabilities in a way that best meets their career goals. We tell our students all the time how competitive it is in the job market. Our instructors share their own incredible work with students, to demonstrate just how hard you have to work in industry. We encourage students to go to different events, like the CTNX event in Burbank, which gathers together a lot of designers. Not only do they get to meet designers, but often, they get to meet the directors as well as recruiters, people who have work to show you that demonstrates the level of quality and standards they are looking for. Our goal is to help students achieve their goal, which is always a challenge. But it’s an enjoyable and rewarding challenge.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.