Knowledge & Career - Wanna Play
Issue: Volume: 30 Issue: 11 (Nov. 2007)

Knowledge & Career - Wanna Play

SCAD panel advises newcomers o careers in gaming and mobile entertainment
The Savannah College of Art and Design recently hosted a panel on real-time interactive entertainment and its impact on education and employment. Game designer/SCAD professor Brenda Brathwaite moderated the panel, which included SCAD’s School of Film and Digital Media dean, Peter Weishar; Electronic Arts’ senior art director, Bryan Godwin; and Nokia’s network game product manager, Scott Howard.

“The [DCC] software field [within gaming] is absolutely exploding,” notes Brathwaite. Data, she says, shows that software publishing will expand by 68 percent between 2002 and 2012. And having attended the Game Developers Conference and SIGGRAPH, she has found that “there are just not enough bodies for the chairs.”

Brathwaite contends that consistent growth fuels a high demand for trained pros—people with a strong background in art, not just those using tools. “Film and digital media, and departments such as animation, visual effects, sound design, and broadcast design, are all taught there. We prepare students to head to these [types of] hot jobs,”

Peter Weishar has more than 20 years’ experience as an artist, art director, and animator. At the school, he instructs students about art and how it intersects with new, cutting-edge technologies.

“It’s not a secret that technology for game production has vastly improved, but so has the sophistication of the consumer,” Weishar says. “Games, as well as the film industry, expect a level of realism that was unobtainable a few years ago.”

Artists, Weishar feels, have become much more specialized today. And while games and films are two different formats with unique differences, the aesthetic and technical skills of animators, modelers, and cinematographers are transferable between the two industries.

Savannah College of Art and Design offers a wide range of programs, fromart to architecture. The school also has courses geared to game development,one of today’s hot, growing markets.

According to Weishar, technology, such as stereoscopic flat-panel TVs and motion-sensitive game controllers, has the potential to make interactive entertainment more compelling than traditional theatrical films. As an educator, he believes the challenge is to develop a curriculum that reflects the sophistication and details of the game industry.

“SCAD is a large art design institution,” Weishar notes. “The school’s gaming and digital arts programs are part of a digital media cluster that includes VFX, motion graphics, film and television, sound design, and animation. “I think this is the kind of structure that will become the model for successful gaming programs.”

Bryan Godwin graduated from SCAD in 1998 and went on to work at Blue Sky and Charlex before joining Electronic Arts, where he is currently a senior art director. It was after his time at Charlex that Godwin considered moving into the game industry.

“There were lots of opportunities in interactive media—in gaming specifically,” says Godwin. “It seems as though there is a change happening in how we look at our entertainment. Things like gaming, the Internet, and social networking are taking up more and more time. So, I felt this was a good path to [follow]. There is a lot of growth going on here, whereas with film, we are seeing less and less growth, and shorter, tighter production schedules with lower budgets and lower ticket sales.”

The transition into gaming was not entirely what Godwin had expected. He thought that team structures and art directing would be similar to those in the film and TV industries, but it was the nonlinear format of games that presented unexpected challenges.

Subjects Godwin studied while at SCAD, such as color theory, were still relevant in game design, while others, like composition and setting up a frame, “don’t work when the users have complete control of their environment and camera,” he points out. “You never know exactly where the eyes are going to be looking. This brought up new and unexpected challenges, and it’s good to hear there are people putting time into creating educational courses that address these specific needs.”

Recently, SCAD held a Webinar focused on real-time interactive entertainment and it's impact on education and employment,whose panel included industry professionals.

Panelist Scott Howard is a network game product manager for Nokia and works with both first- and third-party developers and publishers, helping them design features within N-Gage games while focusing on community interaction, multiplayer capabilities, and having it all work well within a mobile space.

“Mobile has yet to find the real, true, killer app that has redefined the landscape of the mobile game industry, and that’s a change that anyone heading down that path has an opportunity to impact,” Howard notes.

Those working in the mobile and games industries, Howard feels, need to be familiar with the Agile software development methodology, which emphasizes people, communication, working software, and the ability to respond to change.

“I am seeing a rise in what I call the ‘specialized generalist,’” Howard points out, adding that pros need to have a combination of a specialized skill set and generalized experience to keep from becoming pigeonholed.

“Anyone moving along in any form of the visual design industry should always think about where they are going and what they want to do,” Howard says, while acknowledging the importance of individual contributors and project managers to a product’s overall success. And, he adds, “acquire the skills to get there.” 

Marc Loftus is a senior editor for Post magazine, CGW’s sister publication.