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Art Institute of California

Teaching how to get in the game.

Some college students play around in class when they should be listening, and some students, like those at The Art Institute of California, play around because they’re listening. The San Francisco-based college recently developed two academic tracks for fledgling gamers, the Game Art and Design and Visual and Game Programming bachelor’s degrees. Mary Clarke-Miller, the program’s director, chats about game art, color theory, and shoot-’em-ups.

Why do you think this degree area is needed?

Not many other schools in the Bay Area are focusing on this specialized set of skills. There’s a niche developing for this type of education, especially since the Bay Area is such a hotbed for the video and computer game industry. Employers in the game industry are telling us that they aren’t finding enough quality applicants that have specific skills for games. Our program will only help create a better pool of potential employees for these companies.

How does the Visual & Game Programming degree differ from the GAD?

The Game Art & Design program focuses on the content creation in games, as well as the level design. Students acquire a combination of skills in drawing, perspective, 2D design and 3D animation, and study areas such as lighting and scene setup, color theory, anatomy and gesture, characters and game prototyping. Students also develop skills in scriptwriting, storyboarding, character animation, and some programming.

The Visual & Game Programming focuses more on the technical side of things. It’s part art and part computer science. Students combine their art talents with skills in scripting and programming for 3-D development, shading, motion capture and animation. It’s designed to train students for technical artist positions and other jobs that bridge between the art and programming side of games.

What kinds of games are the students working on?

Many of the students are very interested in character design from concept through 3D modeling to animation. It takes a team of artists and programmers to make a full-fledged game, but many of the students are working on developing the individual elements and are starting to work with each other to further develop their concepts. Their interest runs the gamut from fantasy role-playing to shoot-’em-ups to lifestyle games, as well as developing new concepts and formats.

What has the reaction been to the programs?

So far we’ve received a lot of support and encouragement from the Bay Area game industry. We’ve been hosting meetings of the San Francisco Chapter of the International Game Developers Association and have an active Game Design Club that brings in speakers, hosts student video game tourneys, and so on. The industry seems very interested in getting involved in guest speaking, taking interns and interacting with us as this program continues to grow. We also get some game artists who work at local game companies to teach with us in the evenings, so that’s been good for the program.

What do you like best about what the program teaches?

Picking one aspect of our program is hard. I like that we offer a well-rounded curriculum that focuses on art and design, in addition to some technical and general education areas. I also like that it’s career-focused so students are able to use their training to get a position in the industry down the road. As long as students come in with a passion for interactive entertainment, I think they’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn the skills needed to work in this industry.

do you know a Bay Area company we should cover? Let us know about it. Send your local profile candidates to emillard@computeruser.com.

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