Gno­mon’s first batch of Games Track stu­dents are near­ing grad­u­a­tion – so how has this in­no­va­tive art course fared so far? Ed Ricketts finds out

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The first Games Track stu­dents are near­ing grad­u­a­tion from their in­dus­try-backed course.

Founded in 1997 by its pres­i­dent Alex Al­varez, Gno­mon: School of Vis­ual Ef­fects, Games and An­i­ma­tion was born into a very dif­fer­ent in­dus­try en­vi­ron­ment than the present. Its in­cep­tion was due largely to Alex’s ex­pe­ri­ence as a sup­port tech at Alias| Wave­front, which pro­duced the soft­ware which would be­come Maya, be­fore be­ing bought out by Au­todesk. He re­alised artists des­per­ately needed to learn it, yet there wasn’t any for­mal re­source where they could do. Thus the school was born, of­fer­ing train­ing for dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion aimed at Hol­ly­wood’s en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

Th­ese days Gno­mon is a fully ac­cred­ited teach­ing in­sti­tu­tion, and while its goals re­main the same, the spread of sub­jects and in­dus­tries it caters to has broad­ened con­sid­er­ably. In those early days, for in­stance, none of its cour­ses cov­ered game de­vel­op­ment, as there sim­ply wasn’t a de­mand among po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers. But nowa­days there’s a roughly 50/50 split be­tween those study­ing for tele­vi­sion and film, and video gam­ing.

In fact, last year Gno­mon in­tro­duced a new two- and three-year Games Track to its Dig­i­tal Pro­duc­tion for En­ter­tain­ment course, specif­i­cally aimed at those who want to work in the games in­dus­try – be that on con­sole, PC or mo­bile plat­forms. As well as tra­di­tional tools such as Maya and Photoshop, the course cov­ers the Un­real 4 en­gine, Unity and Mar­moset among other tools, so grad­u­ates get a well-rounded education in work­flows and pro­cesses.

Next term will see the first crop of grad­u­ates emerg­ing from the Games Track, and the re­sults are look­ing very

A large part of Gno­mon’s suc­cess is due to its canny lo­ca­tion: slap bang in the middle of Hol­ly­wood

pos­i­tive. Shan­non Wig­gins is the di­rec­tor of place­ment and alumni re­la­tions at the school, and there­fore well-placed to gauge in­dus­try de­mand: “Bliz­zard, Riot, Naughty Dog, Respawn, Sony Santa Mon­ica, The Work­shop, Blind Squir­rel, Fire­forge Games, Dis­ney In­ter­ac­tive, In­fin­ity Ward, Tre­yarch, and Ready at Dawn, to name a few, are wait­ing to hire from the grad course,” she says.

vir­tual jobs

Vir­tual re­al­ity is, nat­u­rally, one area that’s see­ing a rise in pop­u­lar­ity, thanks largely to the im­mi­nent launch of PlayS­ta­tion VR and the PC-fo­cused Ocu­lus Rift. And of course gen­eral gam­ing de­mand, on all plat­forms and all pro­ject sizes, con­tin­ues to grow with each year.

“The stu­dents pur­su­ing the Games Track have been very happy with their course­work and the pro­gramme,” says An­ton Napier­ala, tech­nol­ogy education lead at Gno­mon. “Al­though the pro­gramme is rel­a­tively new, as the Games Track­spe­cific classes have been rolling out, even stu­dents out­side the track have been ea­ger to get in on the game art train­ing, by pick­ing up the classes as elec­tives.

“Classes such as en­vi­ron­ment cre­ation for games, taught by in­dus­try vet­eran Nate Stephens, or props and weapons for games – taught by Nick Reynolds from Riot Games – are con­sis­tently full classes wait­listed by full-time stu­dents who get pri­or­ity for seats in Gno­mon cour­ses,” An­ton adds.

A large part of Gno­mon’s over­all suc­cess is due to one very canny de­ci­sion by Alex: its lo­ca­tion. Set slap bang in the middle of Hol­ly­wood, within the Tele­vi­sion Cen­ter Stu­dio lot, Gno­mon has al­most un­prece­dented ac­cess to ma­jor film and ef­fects stu­dios, and an in­creas­ing num­ber of game de­vel­op­ers. Th­ese are not small out­fits, ei­ther: the LA area is host to

ma­jor play­ers such as Sony Santa Mon­ica, Naughty Dog (of Uncharted and Last of Us fame), Bliz­zard and plenty more.

With such weighty em­ploy­ers to hand – both in terms of cor­po­rate size and cul­tural heft – the Gno­mon games track can ben­e­fit hugely. “Prox­im­ity is ev­ery­thing,” ex­plains Jonathan Berube, VFX art di­rec­tor at Bliz­zard En­ter­tain­ment and part of the Gno­mon Ad­vi­sory Board. “This has en­abled Gno­mon to host pan­els with in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als who come and teach af­ter work. A lot of busy pro­fes­sion­als live in the area so they can save on com­mut­ing to work, which means it’s easy for them to come to Gno­mon to teach.”

The re’s no ‘I’ in team

Game de­vel­op­ment ne­ces­si­tates artists be­ing more closely tied to the over­all work­flow process, as op­posed, say, to a con­cept artist cre­at­ing ideas for a film. Games Track em­pha­sises this, with hand­son ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing as part of an it­er­a­tive team. Which spe­cific ar­eas does Jonathan feel are likely to be in most de­mand in the near fu­ture, when it comes to game art de­vel­op­ment?

“Well, an­i­ma­tion has been as­sisted greatly with the use of mo­tion cap­ture over the course of the decade, but an­i­ma­tion skills are still in great need as there are many things that are sim­ply im­pos­si­ble to mo-cap,” he says. “Light­ing has also be­come more and more ac­ces­si­ble and au­to­mated over the years with the use of high dy­namic range il­lu­mi­na­tion maps and real-time ray-trace ren­der­ers.

“The big­ger the worlds, the more as­set cre­ators are needed. Po­ten­tially, the next big things could be re­lated to VR – any­thing that has to do with this process may soon be in high de­mand. It seems like the Un­real En­gine is well-suited for VR de­vel­op­ment, so to be fa­mil­iar with the Un­real en­gine could soon lead to se­ri­ous em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

The games in­dus­try is now the most lu­cra­tive en­ter­tain­ment medium in the world. In short, the art of mak­ing fun is big busi­ness, so po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees re­ally do need both the skills and at­ti­tude, which the Games Track aims to foster. We may not quite be at the stage where ‘I went to Gno­mon’ car­ries the same clout as ‘I went to Har­vard’, but it’s not too far away…

To learn more about the Games Track visit

We’re not at the stage where ‘I went to Gno­mon’ has the same clout as ‘I went to Har­vard’, but it’s not far off…

En­vi­ron­ment In­te­rior, 3D Pro­duced by stu­dent Rhonda Chan, win­ner of this cat­e­gory in Best of Spring Term 2015.

En­vi­ron­ment for Games Ser­vando Lupini is now an as­so­ciate 3D artist at Bliz­zard and pro­duced this at Gno­mon in 2014.

Con­cep t for Games Maria Car­riedo’s de­sign won Best of Term for the 2015 spring term.

Gno­mon has plenty of cool stuff to keep stu­dents en­ter­tained (and in­spired) dur­ing any down times. This was cre­ated by con­cept and 3D artist Ian Whittaker. Get­ting a grasp on ba­sic anatomy is es­sen­tial for ev­ery stu­dent at Gno­mon.

R&R Anatomy of

a Sketch

Sc i-Fi Girl

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