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
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 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
Sc i-Fi Girl