Archive for the ‘Alumni’ Category

Former Cogswell Alumni Finds Success in the Solar Energy Industry

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Former Cogswell Alumni Dean Sala, 52,  has found success in the alternative energy industry. He is both the Founder and CEO of Suntactics, a company that specializes in producing portable Solar Chargers and Solar Panels. Dean’s company and products have been featured and covered by Forbes.com, Mother Earth News, NBC, ABC, CBS, The Mercury News and The San Francisco Chronicle. The following is an interview as it appeared in a November issue of the magazine Kiplinger, Personal Finances, and is credited to Patricia Mertz Esswein.

You worked in high tech?

Yes, for 23 years, 15 of them as a software engineer for Hewlett-Packard. In 2008, HP shut down my whole division, and I was out of a job. I didn’t see myself going back to software, so I returned to school to finish a second degree, in electrical engineering.

Why Suntactics?

Solar power has interested me since I was a kid. When I returned so school, I teamed up with a partner to power a full size glider with solar energy. We worked on other projects, and in 2009 we formed a general partnership to focus on making a portable yet powerful solar panel to charge a phone. In 2010 my partner said, “I don’t think this is going to work,” and left amicably. Since then, I’ve developed three products that can charge devices with a USB connection. I have provisional patents on my designs, and I’ve sold almost 10,000 units, mostly via our website (www.suntactics.com) and Amazon.com. Our chargers range in price from $140 to $240. They’ll charge an iPhone in two hours or less in direct sunlight, as fast as a wall outlet. They’re popular with outdoors enthusiasts, among others.

You made the panels yourself at first?

The cheapest solar panel laminator I could find cost $50,000 and was full size. I needed a pint-size one. So I built my first one out of parts from a pizza oven that  bought at Goodwill. I cranked out 2,000 panels in my garage.

Did you get any outside help?

To perfect my process, I picked the brains of a scientist and a couple of engineering PhDs. But in my previous career, I never saw the sales and marketing end, and now I was trying to run a business. So I appealed to Score [www.score.org a nonprofit group that mentors small businesses]. When I told them I couldn’t keep with with orders, that’s all they needed to hear. I have two counselors- one is an expert in manufacturing and the other in marketing. They helped me find a small manufacturer to produce more units under contract.

How did you finance your start up?

I took out a home-equity line of credit on my house and borrowed about $42,000. More recently, I got a line of credit that’s backed by the Small Business Administration.

Do you make a living?

In 2013, we did more than $500,000 in sales, and I paid myself about $65,000. That’s a lot less than the $100,000 I made at the peak of my career as a software engineer, but because I’m a sole proprietor I can write off a lot of stuff on my tax return.

What’s ahead?

Our next product will charge laptops. I’m gradually bringing production into my own facility because contracting it out is expensive. We need to get into retail outlets. Our products are sold in Batteries Plus stores, but it’s a struggle to get into sporting-goods and big-box stores.

Is your work rewarding?

I’d rather do this than anything else. My customers are my bosses, and I like to make them happy. Plus, I bought a company car: a Chevy Camaro that replaces the ’68 model I sold to go to college and the ’98 pickup I had been driving. It’s my dream car.

Dean’s story is proof that it’s never too late to go back to school or follow and pursue your dreams. All it takes is a bit of patience, hard work, and determination. Congratulations Dean!

Concept Art Process for Award-Winning Short Animated Films

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Kong Vang, Cogswell alumni and Art Director of two short animated films

Kong Vang, Cogswell alumni and Art Director of the two short animated films “Driven” and “Worlds Apart” – both created in Cogswell College’s Project X class – shares his process of creating character concept designs and more.

While working on the films created in the Project X class, I learned that it takes a very dedicated team to make a short film in four semesters or less. Many of the students on this team are attending classes full-time in addition to contributing their talents towards making an awesome film.

Here’s an overview of what happens during the production process of a short animated film: First the script and storyboards are completed and approved, within the first semester. Meanwhile, the concept team begins creating concepts for characters and environments.  Approved concepts are sent into the modeling pipeline as soon as they are approved where our artists create 3d models. As each model is approved by the Director, they are sent into the texturing and rigging pipeline. Technical artists create animation rigs for each model and prepare them for animation testing.  Animation is a long process so it is important to get the rigged 3D models to the animators as soon as possible. Animation takes almost a year to get all of the shots approved.  After the animation is polished, the first test of the film timing is created, approved, and sent off to the sound effects and music score team.  Also during the process of animation, approved shots are sent to the lighting team for light set and test render. When the finalized lit shots are rendered out, they are sent to the compositing team for the final clean up. After the composite shots are cleaned up and finalized, they are sent off to the film editor who creates the final cut of the film and music score.

On the latest film ‘Driven’, each member of the team wore different hats depending on which stage of the production pipeline the film was in.  For instance, initially I started out in the concept design pipeline, then moved to the animation pipeline and finally to matte painting for the final stage of the film.

One of my jobs as a concept designer was to collect the approved designs from the other artists and finalize them. Because most approved designs are from different artists, each with their own distinct style, the finalization process ensures a consistent look and feel. After finalizing the look and stylization of the characters, I would render each character in 2D using Adobe Photoshop so that it would represent its 3d counterpart.  This allows the Director to easily visualize how each character will look before it gets passed along to the modeling team.

Digital media is the fastest way to work and Photoshop offers the perfect tools and work flow for this demanding field. With infinite tool presets, custom brushes, and limitless iterations, it allows me to work more quickly and easily compared to traditional mediums like paint or ink.

To block out the initial character’s silhouette, I like to use a standard round brush, which I adjust into an ellipse shape, then angle it 45 degrees. This style of brush setup creates a line weight that flows much more nicely than the standard round brushes. Once the silhouettes and internal shapes look good, I create a new layer in Photoshop and start to block out the forms with one color value. At this early stage, I prefer to work in black and white.  It makes it easier to focus just on values and form rather than getting caught up about the colors. My preference in digital painting is to work from dark to light values, or shadows to highlights. It has been my experience to get results much faster using this method than trying to paint from light to dark.  I push and pull (lighten and darken) the values until the character forms are clear.  During this process, I maintain a wide range of values to create depth and realism.

Once the characters have been sketched out, it’s time to experiment with color palettes. I like give a slight color tint to the values before painting on top of the black and white image. The tint layer acts as a color wash so none of the black and gray value show through later. I create a new layer and set the Layer Mode to “Color”. I start by painting over the character with the color palette that the team agrees on. By using multiple layers, I don’t lose my original black and white image – and I can test out different color schemes.  Once I’ve added general color blocks to the characters, I use a new layer to start painting in details. For the final detail stage, I use textures and custom brushes to polish the look of the characters.

The development stages from concept to finished product vary from character to character; it all depends on what the Director is looking for. For example, secondary characters may be approved before main characters. Main characters are often challenging as they have to be visually pleasing and have the right visual attitude. On the other hand secondary characters have far less restrictions, allowing flexibility for designers to explore their creativity.

The concept team spent almost an entire semester designing characters. After four months and multiple iterations, all nine characters were finally approved. Once approved, I took the concepts and started finalizing each character’s look. It took me roughly four or five hours to render out the first pass of each character to show the Director.  One character in particular – the adult Biff cop – took almost ten hours to design.  After multiple small changes, the final designs were approved.

One of the most surprising and challenging characters to design was the Jet Bike that the main character rides.  Its importance in the film is equal to the character that rides it. Although there were many great concept designs shown to the Director, none of them were approved. That’s when I was given the tough task of designing the bike. After fifty designs, we started to narrow down the concept. Once the main silhouette was chosen, I mixed elements from the best three designs together to get the final jet bike concept. The process for this single ‘character’ took three or four weeks, from start to finish, working with traditional mediums like graphite and paper.

This is just the front-end of the production pipeline for a short animated film. It takes a strong team and lots of man hours to complete the film. In the end many people had come and gone, and lots of talented people contributed to the film. We were all so glad that the film was finally finished. It took the PX team about four semesters and two summers of hard work to accomplish the short film, Driven. The Project X class has given me the best hands-on experience possible. It has definitely changed my future and life for the better. Thanks Project X!

Kong Vang

Cogswell Student’s Artwork Featured On Kotaku!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Matt Bard

Dungeonesque Walls

One of our students, Matt “Bardler” Bard, had his polycount rock formation featured on Kotaku as, “A rather magnificent-looking, somewhat dungeonesque wall from Bardler”

Clicker here for the article!

Awesome job, Matt!

10 Impressive VFX Breakdowns

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Ever wonder what decisions go into putting together a VFX shot in a movie? How it is visualized and then made real by a team of artists? It’s Art Magazine put together an impressive collection of behind-the-scene clips from 10 films including: “World War Z,” “Pacific Rim,” “Thor: the Dark World” and “Gravity.”

Cogswell grads were part of the VFX teams on  “Oz the Great and Powerful” (Evan Clover as an animator), “Pacific Rim” (Gregory Smith as pilot suit and pod arm artist and Carl Frytz as an uncredited visual effects artist) and “Thor: the Dark World” (Evan Clover as an animator and Carl Frytz as previsualization artist).

Here are 10 VFX breakdowns to inspire you to challenge yourself.

A Conversation with the Directors of Five Top Animations

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Five animation directors, Chris Sanders ("The Croods"), Chris Renaud ("Despicable Me 2")Dan Scanlon ("Monsters University"), Jennifer Lee ("Frozen")and Chris Wedge ("Epic") gathered for a round-table discussion about their films and the special needs of the genre.

The LA Times recently covered the Envelope Animation Round Table and had a conversation with five directors of top feature animations. The directors were Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”), Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me 2″), Chris Sanders (“The Croods”), Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”) and Chris Wedge (“Epic”) tackled such topics as the challenges of female characters, the effect of celebrity voice actors and the changing economics of feature animation.

Congratulations to the Cogswell alumni who had the opportunity to work on these films:

  • Frozen – Christopher Evart, character technical animator; Andrew Jennings, character technical animator and Chad Stubblefield, modeling supervisor
  • The Croods – Steven Sorensen, final layout artist and Carrie VanEtten, image finagling artist.

Did any of their comments surprise or inspire you?

10 Films Under Consideration for VFX Oscar Nominations

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Last week the Academy of Motion Picture & Sciences announced the films in contention for the 2014 VFX Oscar and the results are in Animation Magazine. The Academy’s Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee determined the shortlist. All members of the Visual Effects Branch will now be invited to view 10-minute excerpts from each of the shortlisted films on Thursday, January 9, 2014. Following the screenings, the members will vote to nominate five films for final Oscar consideration.

The films under consideration are:

  • Elysium
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Oblivion
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • Pacific Rim
  • World War Z

Congratulations to the Cogswell alumni who worked on one or more of the films! Evan Clover, animator (uncredited) on Iron Man 3; Gregory Smith, pilot suits and conn pod arms and Carl Frytz, visual effects artist (uncredited) on Pacific Rim and Carl Frytz, previsualization artist and Evan Clover, animator on Thor: The Dark World.

Oscars nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 16, 2014, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

How Disney Made the Snow Look Real in ‘Frozen’

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

It’s only snow, right? How hard can it be to make snow look real? Well several Cogswell alumni who worked on the film could probably tell you stories of long hours in front of their computers striving for the perfection that is a Disney hallmark.

This article and short video in Mashable, talks about the new technology called, ‘material point method,’ that Disney animators created to bring the desired realism to the scenes in the film. The accompanying video was first shared at this summer’s SIGGRAPH when the animators explained the algorthms behind the complex particle response and showed some nifty and very realistic demonstrations of their “snow” in action.

Congratulations to Cogswell alumni Christopher Evart and Andrew Jennings who each received credit on the film as a Character Technical Director and Chad Stubblefield who is credited as Modeling Supervisor!

If you saw the movie, let us know what you thought.

Double Fine Productions Hosting Fan Day

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Double Fine Productions has announced that it is hosting a special “Day of the Devs” event on November 2. The event is open to the public and in addition to meeting the great Double Fine crew – which includes several Cogswell graduates – guests will mingle with other indie developers and have the chance to test the company’s new Kickstarter-funded game, “Broken Age.”

Learn more about the event at GamePolitics.com or RSVP at the Day of the Devs website.

Day of the Devs will take place at Public Works at 161 Erie St. in San Francisco from 4-8 p.m. on November 2. The event is free to attend, though no one under 21 will be allowed in, likely due to alcohol being on-site.

Reflections From a Level Designer on SimCity’s Edgewater Bay

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Cogswell alumnus, Kyle Brown, is a Level Designer on SimCity and was responsible for building the recently released map for Edgewater Bay. Kyle wrote a blog post for the company blog describing the process he used to create the world and some of the issues he encountered along the way.

Congratulations Kyle on a job well done!

Let us know if you have built something in Edgewater Bay.

An Interview with Nathan Brenholdt on Being a Sound Engineer for SCEA

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Nathan Brenholdt (Cogswell College class of 1996) holds a BS in Music Engineering Technology and is a Sr. Sound Designer, Sony Computer Entertainment America

1.    Company name, your job title, a brief description of your job responsibilities and how long you have worked there.

I am a Senior Sound Designer at Sony Computer Entertainment America.  I have been here for 16 years.

2.    Can you give an example of what you might do on a ‘typical’ day?

A typical day is spent planning, recording, creating, editing, implementing, and reviewing sounds for our games.

3.    Can you give an example of something that surprised you about your job when you first started?

It was many years ago, but I was most surprised that my initial title was “Multimedia Specialist”, and that I received at home a generic form letter from HR saying they received my resume, and would get back to me if any positions became available – almost 2 years after I had started working at Sony!

4.    Describe your piece of the production cycle. How does what you do move the project forward?

I generally start early in the production cycle, talking with the creative director and producers about roughly what they are looking for from sound.  Often times, they really don’t know, and can only answer some basic questions about the overall game design.  Usually the type of game and overall look of the game suggest the direction of sound.  From there, I will meet with the audio programmer to design the audio engine and naming conventions.  Our design tools often don’t cover every aspect of sound, so we need additional support for things like debug displays, additional interactive audio parameter tweakers, implementation tools, and formulas for how sound travels through the environment.  Then it’s time to put together some of the main sounds, and get feedback on the overall audio design.  And the rest of the game is usually an iteration process: creating, implementing, reviewing, and tweaking the sounds, dialog, and music.  A fast iteration time is important because of the large number of changes that are made during the development cycle.

5.    How big is the team you are part of for a typical project? What kind of interaction do you have with other team members?

The basic in-game sound effects team is often still fairly small, sometimes as few as 2 or 3 people.  But those numbers can grow quickly if the game is large, or a lot of original content is required.  And once you add dialog, music, and post-production, a lot more people become involved.  A lot of additional work will get contracted out if the people aren’t required for the full project:  Foley, dialog, post-production, music sessions, editing, testing…  The numbers might jump into the hundreds, once you credit everyone involved with the audio in some way.

6.    What projects have you worked on in the past?

I have been most involved with the franchises: Twisted Metal, Syphon Filter, SOCOM: US Navy SEALs, God of War, and Uncharted.  I did a lot of work for the SOCOM games, and really enjoyed going out with the Navy many times over the years, recording their vehicles and weapons.  But with each new game and each new hardware platform come a new set of challenges, which is fun.  Also, games aren’t like movies.  The games are extremely dynamic and you have to plan for so many possibilities with a limited set of sounds and memory.

7.    What do you find most rewarding about your job?

Being able to do something that I enjoy that stays fun, challenging, and new.

8.    What advice would you give students preparing for a career like yours?

I would learn as much as you can, especially on the math, science, and engineering side.  Combine different fields.  You’ll open a lot of doors if your artistic side comes together with computer programming, scripting, engineering, business, or production.  Create your own projects.  Get involved with groups.  Apply for internships.  Measure your work against professionals or direct competition.

9.    QUOTE about how Cogswell helped prepare you for this career?

Cogswell was a great place to combine my passions for sound, music, computers and electronics.

10.  What qualities does someone need to have to be successful in this field?

The engineering, math, scripting, and project management side can be just as important as the creative side.  It’s important to be able to communicate well and adapt to changes.  And of course be able to create high-quality sounds for games!