Cogswell College Students Develop and Create 3D Animatable Rigs for 12 Unique Digital Characters

February 26th, 2015

This article was originally featured on the Creative Planet Network website, it was published on 2-23-2015, and is credited to Cogswell College.

Sunnyvale, CA, February 23, 2015 ­­

Cogswell College, a leading educational institution offering a unique curriculum fusing Digital Art, Engineering and Entrepreneurship, has announced that students within its Digital Art & Animation program have developed and created 3D animatable rigs depicting 12 original digital characters, through the program’s in-house character project: “Avatarah.”

To download these 3D rigs, visit: http://www.cogswell.edu/modeling-rigs/project-avatarah-free rigs.php

ALSO: For “Avatarah” support, requests and comments, please
Email: avatarah.cogswell@gmail.com

The first character from “Avatarah,” “Cogswell the Dragon,” has just been released via open source data to the general public. A few of the additional 11 original characters will be
exclusively for usage by Cogswell College students, but the school does plan to release a
number of additional character 3D rigs in the near future, in efforts to draw the general public back to the Cogswell College website for download. Students around the world regularly seek interesting rigs to download, so that they can use them within their own portfolios as they animate original content based on these rigs.

The new 3D animatable rigs from Cogswell College are of the highest quality, and are
expected to stand out in the middle of the vast world of “freebie” rigs available online. In
addition to the first character, “Cogswell the Dragon,” additional characters from Cogswell will include “Toothy” the Saber toothed tiger, “Snowy” the dog and “Thunder” the horse, “Chippy” the squirrel, “Chubby” the rabbit, “Flappy” the bird, and several others.

Jonali Bhattacharyya, Assistant Professor with Cogswell College’s Digital Art & Animation
program, and formerly with noted game companies Secret Level and Factor5, spearheads the Cogswell student­ developed 3D animatable rigs project in concert with game industry
professional Sergio Sykes. Sykes, currently with EMOTIV and formerly with Massive Black, is involved with the Cogswell program as an industry rigging artist and Adjunct Faculty Member. Regarding this program, Bhattacharyya said, “For the past year or so, there has been a constant demand for exciting new 3D animation rigs that can be accessed online. Our goal with project ‘Avatarah’ is to have Cogswell students create an identity of their own within the rapidly exploding world of animation. Our initial 12 characters have all been designed, modeled, textured and rigged by Cogswell College students. This is a huge platform by which our students can really start to get their names out there!”

ABOUT COGSWELL COLLEGE:

Designed as a “fiercely collaborative, living laboratory,” Cogswell College is located in the heart of the legendary Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale, California. The school is a WASC accredited, four ­year institution of higher education with a specialized curriculum that fuses digital arts, audio technology, game design, engineering and entrepreneurship.

Numerous alumni of Cogswell College have secured prominent positions within the entertainment, video game, technology, computer, animation, and motion graphics industries throughout California and beyond. Several of these alumni have established careers with such high profile companies as Activision, DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Electronic Arts, Pixar, and Microsoft Game Studio. Many other alumni have launched their own creative ventures.

Recent Cogswell alumni were members of the Academy Award-­winning production teams which worked on the blockbuster films “Frozen” and “Life of Pi.” Some of the other well­ known consumer projects to which Cogswell alumni have contributed include the feature films “The Boxtrolls” and “The Avengers,” and the popular video games “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” “Halo 4″ and “Battlefield Hardline.”

Additionally, animated short films conceived and produced by Cogswell students have gone
on to win prestigious awards, including those presented by the California International
Animation Festival, the Colorado Film Festival, the Oregon Film Festival, the Miami Film
Festival, the Philadelphia Film & Animation Festival, the San Jose Short Film Festival, and
Canada’s International Film Festival.

Cogswell College is located at 1175 Bordeaux Drive, Sunnyvale, California, 94089. For more information, please call 1-­800­-264-­7955 or visit: http://www.cogswell.edu/

Congratulations to everyone who worked on the project, I look forward to seeing what Cogswell’s students can pull off with these original rigs. Well Done!

Juan Rubio

Tour at Zynga

February 23rd, 2015

Image source: www.adweek.com

There were dogs everywhere. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a surprise to me after seeing the huge dog logo on the massive building, but it still caught me off guard in a pleasant way. Zynga also gave off this sense of happiness—just walking in, I could tell that the people employed by Zynga were pretty content with their environment. For those of you who don’t know, Zynga happens to be one of the largest and best-known mobile and social gaming companies in the bay area– you’ve probably also seen a few games of theirs on Facebook.

A group of four people and myself from Cogswell got the chance to visit Zynga from Women in Games International, a group formed for the purpose of providing women with support and opportunities in the game industry. While there, we got a tour of the studio, which included the exercise room, bar (yes, there’s a full bar) the candy room, and the Farmville rooms!

After the tour, we got to enjoy some h’ordeuvres and listen to a panel given by women leaders at Zynga. Some of them had been in the industry for quite some time, and a few originally hadn’t had any intention of going into games. Yet another one actually played WOW as a side hobby. (Yes!)

It was amazing to see Zynga up close. It was clear to see the passion that they had for their work. We also got to do a lot of great networking, and meet people working in the heart of the mobile game industry. It was an amazing opportunity!

Sierra Gaston

The Year of the Sheep

February 19th, 2015

Happy New Year!!!

Today mark’s the first day of the Chinese New Year! 2015 is the year of the Sheep, Goat, or Ram depending on which region you’re from. And with today being the first day, the festivities begin!

Many celebrate the New Year with 15 days of festivities, even here in the United States, with each day having a different significance and traditions. Under traditional practices, on the first day, the deities of the earth and the heavens are welcomed. It’s also the day where one honors their elder’s and families, with many choosing to visit grandparents and family on this day. It’s traditional to light fireworks and firecrackers today as well, and some families invite a Lion Dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to ward off evil spirits.

The second day is when married daughters visit their birth parents, relatives, and close friends. Traditionally, married daughters wouldn’t have many opportunities to visit so the second day held special significance for them. Every day has its own customs and practices, with certain foods being eaten only on certain days, and special celebrations occurring only at that specific point of the year.

On the 15th day the Lantern Festival is held. The traditional food eaten this day is a sweet, sticky rice ball brewed in a soup, and lanterns are lit outside to guide wayward spirits home. Families walk the street carrying paper lanterns as well. In China, Malaysia and Singapore, the 15th its also a sort of Valentines Day, where single people seek out partners. Normally, single women would write their number or contact information on a mandarin orange (the most abundant fruit in China during the new year) and toss it into a river or lake where single men would pick them up and eat them. A sweet orange would mean a good fate, the relationship would be good and work well. A sour or bitter taste would mean a bad fate, no good.

Another practice most people know about are the red envelopes. Typically, red envelopes filled with money are given to children during the new year for good fortune. Its also typical to give gifts to friends, often assortments of candies and other such items.

In the United States, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade is the oldest celebration of its kind outside of Asia. During the 1850′s gold rush era, Chinese immigrants were eager to share their culture and traditions with those unfamiliar or hostile towards it. In San Francisco, where one of the largest Chinese communities in the US existed and still exists, people showcase their culture using a tradition already loved by the American public: a parade. Today, the parade is attended by over 500,000 people annually, and its televised to over 3 million homes as well. If you have a chance, I recommend it checking it out. I have wonderful memories of great friends and food shared in past years.

Happy Chinese New Year everybody! And to anybody who happens to be a goat, sheep, or ram on the Chinese zodiac, go celebrate! It’s your year, have fun with it.

P.S. If anyone happens to go to San Francisco, please me bring back some Dim Sum. I love that stuff.

Juan Rubio

Women in Animation and Women in Games International

February 17th, 2015

Image from http://www.womeninanimation.org/


Image from http://www.womeningamesinternational.org/

The animation and games industries are two places where you rarely find women working, until recently. Even Cogswell has been a heavily male-dominated school until a few years ago. What’s exciting is the wide-spread growth of organizations that are specifically for women in these industries (although men may join). These groups promote networking, inclusion, exposure, encouragement and opportunities to hear industry leaders. By creating a more diverse workplace, animations and games will be even stronger therefore garner more consumer enjoyment.

Two organizations that I am involved with are Women in Animation and Women in Games International. Thanks to Women in Animation, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Pixar twice as well as network with some of the best known women in the business. Being a newer member to Women in Games (WIG), this week I will visiting Zynga’s campus for the re-opening of the San Francisco WIG chapter. As a primary developer of Facebook games, Zynga is one of the most famous game companies in the Bay Area.

I definitely recommend checking these two groups out, and any groups dedicated to animation and games in general. As well as being fun to join, they can be key to getting crucial contacts in the industry.

http://www.womeningamesinternational.org/
http://www.womeninanimation.org/

Sierra Gaston

Monolith, the future of 3D

February 13th, 2015

Image sourced from: http://www.3ders.org/images2014/new-voxel-modelling-software-monolith-6.jpg


In an industry where the standard is influenced by the goliath Autodesk, Two Developers hope to impress with their creation. Panagiotis Michalatos and Andrew Payne have coded a modeling engine that offers “A new paradigm where objects are defined as a dense representation of material properties throughout a 3D volume.” They call their creation, Monolith. Most 3D applications are ineffective when handling different spatial variations in material properties. This is because they are mostly built to deal with a surface modeling template which represents a solid object that is enclosed by a set of edges.

However, this software was created with the new type of 3D printers in mind, which are capable of multiple print heads that can deposit different types of resin within a single build. What makes Monolith truly remarkable is the way it handles voxel channels (3D Pixels). Through this program, voxel channels act as controls for lines, points, curves or even filters like gaussian blur. Overall, this will allow for an easier and more intuitive time creating 3D models as well as 3D Printing. This is definitely a program to keep an eye on in the upcoming months!

Check out videos of the software in action at: http://vimeo.com/113743660

Peter Gazallo

Jodediah Holmes and GXDev Award Winning Game Patchwork

February 10th, 2015


Q:Tell me about you. What’s your name? What school do you go to? What is your degree program? Frosh/Soph/Jr./Sr.? Are you a part of any clubs?

A:Hello! I am Jodediah Holems. You may recognize me from my personal brands: pajama pants and hubcap backpack. I am the Game Development Club president at Cogswell College, where I organize teams, give lectures, hold workshops, and kindle the growth of my fellow game friends. I am aspiring to become a professional weirdo, but at the moment I am only part-time. At Cogswell I’m under the Digital Media Management degree, and I’m a junior.

Q: What was the competition that you entered? How many participants were there (if you know)?

A: I recently participated in GXDev: Everyone Create’s Games, a 24 hour game jam put on by the GaymerX organizers. I’d say there were around 30 developers in attendance, figured from the ~10 games made by teams of less than 5 (there were two solo teams, I was one). The goal was to make a game in 24 hours from the theme “the stories that aren’t told.”

Q: What did you win???

A: I won in 2 categories: Strangest Game and Judge’s Pick. I got two lovely glass bricks, a DVD, and some other nifty digital gifts as a reward! I also got to feel very excited for a whole week. I still can’t handle it.

Q:Tell me about your game. What is it called? How does it play? What is the goal? How long did it take you to make? Did you create it by yourself or with friends?

A: My game is called PATCHWORK, and it’s a bit of a game soup. The official genre is “Tetris-Jenga-word-search-diary-entry-collect-a-thon”, and it is played with two people, two devices that can run an .html file, and ten painted pieces. One player builds a balancing building, searches for words, and enters found words into their device to read a selection of secret stories. The other player is in control of certain parts of the process, answering questions and assisting the player in such a way as to bend the outcome of the game to their will. Nobody knows how many secret stories there actually are, but it doesn’t matter. Some people choose to stop playing after the stories make them cry or laugh or feel.

Q: Where did you get the inspiration for the game? Is it based on anything?

A: My local art gallery was putting on a project where members of the community could buy oddly shaped wooden blocks, paint them, and bring them back to form one giant puzzle mural. I noticed that they were Tetris shapes and remembered that I was going to a game jam, so I asked if I could have a whole bunch. I walked out with ten. These pieces whispered “Hey, I really want to be in a game,” so I planned to fulfill their dreams. This merged with a couple of other ideas I had, those being:

  1. I really want to make a game that is played a little bit in a Gamemaker file, a little bit in a Twine file, a little bit in physical space, and maybe also over email or something.
  2. Oh yeah, this is a queer game jam! I should write the letters S, E, I, A, L, B, and N all over the backs of the tetris tiles. Someone may unwittingly spell LESBIANS. That would be humor.
    Those ideas all came together in a gallon pot for 45 minutes on medium-high heat, and emerged as PATCHWORK. They were all inspired by certain Big Ideas I’ve observed across games and games academia, but otherwise there were no direct inspirations.

Q: What programming did you do for the game? What languages did you use?

A: I do not know programming. I made the digital portion of this game in Twine, a program for making text-based choose your own adventure-type games. It is very easy to learn, I’d recommend you check out out! http://twinery.org

Q: What advice would you give to another student trying to enter a gaming, or game creation competition?

A: Do it. Participate in as many events as possible. Meet people. Run through every door.

Q: There’s something really intoxicating about games that have physical and virtual elements. Do you think there’s particular power in combining elements of both?

A: All digital games have physical elements, which is something I don’t think a lot of people think about. Your hands are always going to be interacting with a mouse, keyboard, controller, or other contraption. A really easy way to make a game that genuinely surprises people is to have that in mind, intentionally forming a physical something that isn’t a mouse, keyboard, or typical controller. It’s so easy to make something unlike anything your audience has ever seen, and that’s incredibly powerful!

Q: Here’s where I get super arty on you — do you think our lives are more physical or virtual? Or is the difference unimportant?

A: Ahhh, that’s a great question! When I hear “are our lives more physical or virtual,” I immediately connect physical to body and virtual to mind. There have definitely been times where I think “bodies are handcuffing my spirit to the earth. I’d be so much happier if I wasn’t weighed down with needing to sleep, eat, exercise, and perform for people. I just want to be a brain.” There are also times when I’m upset with my brain and feel the opposite feelings, but that happens less often.

The internet, as it exists on phones and computers and wires in our homes, very much fuels the idea of bodies as inconveniences. Chairs, mice, keyboards, controllers, and screens don’t respect our bodies. What is the point of the rest of me when I can lead a happy connected existence as a brain, a couple of fingers, and a pair of eyes? That’s why I think games with designed physical components are so powerful. Even if they still only require your brain, fingers, and eyes, doing it in a way that is new and interesting lets you know that someone out there respects your fingers. Someone out there understands the terrible sameness your fingers have to deal with every day. Someone out there wants you to experience your body in a world designed for your mind.

Q: What are your aspirations for the future?

A: I would very much like to ascend to the next mortal plane, but in the meantime I will make games and art and friends. Dismantle capitalism!

Watch a short clip of Patchwork on Vine at: Patchwork

Cogswell Alumni Mixer

February 10th, 2015

On Saturday, April 11th, something pretty exciting will be happening here at Cogswell.

In an effort to create stronger connections between alumni, students and the school, Cogswell will be hosting a mixer event honoring our past students and future graduates. So what can we expect to see at this event?

In addition to having the opportunity to connect with alumni working in the industry from all degree concentrations, students can attend a panel at which graduates will speak about their experiences since leaving the school. All attendees will also have the option to showcase their portfolios and demo reels during the event. (Since this is also this last semester we’ll be in the old building, we will have a pretty fun activity that might involving writing all over the walls—more details on that later!)

Students, be sure to polish those portfolios up pretty well—we will have alumni attending this event who might be interested in hiring!

Sierra Gaston

Lucasfilm and Disney’s Strange Magic

February 5th, 2015

Image from Blackfilm.com at: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/3wv7Li2V7S8/maxresdefault.jpg

When I heard that a recently-released animated movie had just set the record for all-time worst-opening ever for an animated film in 3000+ theaters, as well as the 7th-worst opening for any film playing in 3000+ theaters, I decided I needed to see for myself why the film was being avoided like the plague. So, I went ahead and purchased a matinee ticket to see Strange Magic, a 3D animated adventure that had been included in the Lucasfilm deal to Disney. So, Disney released it in a notoriously bad month to release movies: January.

To be honest, the trailer was awful. Not only had it been released at the last possible second, it looked like someone had thrown together clips from the film in a way that made no logical sense to the actual plot. Most people who watched the trailer decided that the movie was full of terrible, clichéd jokes and felt completely disorganized. However, there have been plenty of movies with bad trailers that turned out to be decent films, which is why I wanted to give Strange Magic a chance.

The verdict: it was strange. I was cringing in embarrassment and impatience for probably the first 10 minutes of the movie while all of the characters sang seemingly endless love and heartbreak songs. Don’t get me wrong, I love musicals, but the movie went about it the wrong way. The songs were steering the plot, while it should have happened the other way around.

Once the song marathon ended and we entered the Bog King’s domain, the movie picked up a little bit and I found myself enjoying some parts. There was some good character development for Marianne, the main character, in the first part of the story. While she started off as a starry-gazed, lovesick princess, something happens and she changes into a sword-fighting, awesome, disillusioned warrior chick that is grossed out by the mushier things of life, which had me cheering. After some good scenes in Act II, however, the movie reverted to being cringe-worthy and mushy.

Overall, the message of the story was good (everyone deserves to be loved, no matter what they look like), but the kaleidoscope-like scene at the end threw me off and was really too weird to get over. So—it was strange, yet slightly magical in some places, but understandable why the movie had such a bad opening weekend. Despite this, the animation was really impressive, and I was impressed with the color design in many of the environments (not quite as green as Epic). Although the plot wasn’t up to par, visually the movie was more fun. High-five to all the artists involved in this one!

(And still a better love story than Twilight)

Sierra Gaston

PDI Dreamworks Shutting Down

February 1st, 2015

From sfgate.com at: http://ww3.hdnux.com/photos/33/17/00/7139330/9/rawImage.jpg


January the 22nd marked a bleak day for the animation industry, as it was officially announced that Dreamworks would be closing its PDI studio in Redwood City.

I think it was pretty apparent that some layoffs would be happening—judging by the disappointments of recent box office sales, it seemed inevitable… however, this was an announcement that really knocked me for a loop.

There will be 500 employees laid off as a result of PDI shutting down. These are incredibly talented artists who have pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in animation. Some of them will be offered positions at the Dreamworks studio in Glendale, but there are still many who will be facing unemployment—creating an even larger pool of extremely talented artists looking for work.
This will no doubt cause soon-to-be graduating students concern, especially those living in close proximity to the now shut-down PDI studio. After all, it’ll be difficult enough to find a job without having to compete against some of the best animators and artists out there.

The industry has been responding with hope, however—already there have been job offerings from Blizzard Entertainment, Pixar, Rockstar Games, and other companies for those being laid off from Dreamworks. Another positive result with all these supremely talented artists suddenly being unemployed is they may be encouraged to team up together to being their own start-ups and companies. With all their experience working for a wonderful company like Dreamworks, they could easily take that knowledge and apply it to creating very successful independent businesses, which may in turn create more jobs in the industry.

So, after sulking for a good half of the day about how one of my favorite studios is downsizing and thus delaying the release of their future films, I decided to remain hopeful that there may be some benefits from this whole fiasco. As ever, the animation industry is shifting and changing and this is just one of the bumps in the road we’re going to encounter.

Sierra Gaston

John Duhring, What Art Offers: How to unlock talent through hands on courses

January 22nd, 2015

John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College Submitted to the VentureWell Open 2015 Conference

Abstract
Fleshed-out characters, roles and narratives lie at the heart of both art and innovation. Recent revelations that Apple and others are looking for an appreciation of design in their workforce calls for innovation programs to strengthen this approach. This paper will expose the importance of art and design in the entrepreneurial/innovation process. By harnessing the imagination of collaborative teams, crossing boundaries of practice and function, students in college can establish their pathway to innovative and successful careers.

Image at http://www.fastcodesign.com/3034240/how-apple-uses-picasso-to-teach-employees-about-product-design

Playing with the world in new ways as part of a team, of imagining together what could be and then creating products and services for that world, sets in motion tools for learning that will be revisited and refined over a lifetime. Ultimately, the practice of artwork as described here offers visceral, quantum level expression to and understanding of the characters and scenarios that play out in any venture.

Introduction
In the heart of Silicon Valley, Cogswell College encourages engineers and artists to work together in collaborative teams to produce mobile apps, animated films and video games. Students enter the college with an interest in becoming a coder, a musician or an artist and with a portfolio of work already accomplished. Then, they are challenged to both refine their skills and to cross borders to engage in projects that draw from the entire gamut of potential across the student body.

The art program starts with hands-on skill building then evolves to figure drawing to deepen understanding of anatomy, movement and emotion as the basis for “character development”. Students then use digital tools to bring collaborative projects to life. This approach goes far beyond programs that “teach the tool” by addressing the foundational elements that make the tool valuable in the first place.

To establish art’s role in entrepreneurial education, talking about it isn’t good enough. Entrepreneurs can feel good with some exposure to art, but they will forget it in an instant if they haven’t been involved in art projects themselves. Working as part of a team, boiling down a project to its essence, switching perspectives and picking up new skills on the fly help entrepreneurs stay on course. By integrating hands-on art and design projects into entrepreneurship education, faculty can provide a rich set of experiences that mirror real-world practice in an academic environment.

Most importantly, art in this approach scales from the earliest doodle to the most complex app, video game or interactive film. The following table provides dimensions to consider when developing courses that bring art into educational experiences. Each assignment takes on deeper significance as the scope moves from intimate to social. Along the way, students develop their perspective, voice and value to teams. Art, when practiced in this context, is not an isolated act. Nor is the refinement of imagination. As part of their college experience, students enter an evolving play-learn- make cycle that will repeat itself throughout their lives. They explore their skillset and aptitude as they relate to the professional options they can pursue. Their college experience, then, becomes a safely scaffolded environment surrounded by guiding faculty and surprisingly gifted peers. It’s an environment designed to help students step into being extraordinary.

Art For Entrepreneurs And Engineers
Requiring hands-on art projects for those who do not self-identify as artists is similar to teaching science to students who don’t expect to become scientists. Practical art skills and the development of a healthy respect for what is learned leads to a deepened awareness of options to bring to bear on future endeavors. In college courses, almost any assignment can be turned into an art project that challenges students to imagine the world in a new way and to create pathways through it by exercising the skills and technologies
at their disposal. The context of these experiences can be adjusted to address issues that will come up in a student’s chosen profession.

In an approach that is becoming increasingly significant in startups and innovative projects within larger organizations, well-developed usage scenarios and well-articulated personas combine to inform engineers and entrepreneurs of the core values they are bringing forward through the intended use of their products. Artistic renderings enable quick evaluation of many options prior to “hard coding” a final product. Simple sketching, storyboarding and prototyping methods become tools for developing walk- throughs and quality assurance throughout even complex projects. Simply put, they force the organization to consider the world in a multitude of dimensions and to evaluate options that go unnoticed otherwise.

The learning outcomes offered by the experience of creating art involve not just the skills of producing artwork, but also the disposition to factor complex problems as well as the deep knowledge of the problems that are solved through critical thinking and methodical execution. Students emerge from such programs with an ability to commit themselves wholeheartedly to projects, to understand their role and to adapt to critiques of their work. They learn to play with new ideas in a fluid way, to toy with a variety of approaches to a given problem. From such free play, the imagination to try new things, to model imaginary worlds, radically shifts perspectives and opens opportunities for everyone involved. The adaptability required in such art serves to produce articulate and considerate members of entrepreneurial teams.

Skills
Just as coding serves as a starting point for software engineering, basic handwork forms the foundation of art education. Sketching starts for many as a fun way to doodle, to play with line, stroke and shadow, as a basis for increasingly complex structures. Once a student learns to draw lines of varying widths and to shadow, they can combine these elements to program objects and scenes, rendered in real time. They are challenged to consider the properties of light and perspective that shape a two dimensional image. They toy with various approaches until what emerges mirrors for others what the artist sought to convey. A skilled non-artist can develop their craft to such an extent as to inspire their collaborators to think differently, to imagine new possibilities, by forming a simple image for them to consider. Even a single picture can form the basis of decisions, which underscores their value to an entrepreneurial effort.

Basic sculpting skills bring such images into 3D space. Once again, beginning students learn by playing, in this case with clay. They feel the plasticity and toy with their sense of structure, texture and balance. They learn the language of addition and taking away, smoothing and adding texture in real-time. They create and destroy their work until they find admiration from mentors and peers. What emerges can be surprising, as by simply rolling clay into a log or straw or wire, they can create a leg or finger or wisp of hair. With a simple gesture, an eyebrow is lifted, a nostril flared or a muscle flexed to express emotion or vitality. They examine symmetry and perspective to craft works that literally stand on their own. Just as a startup needs basic underpinnings, so does each piece of
sculpture- it is obviously ill formed otherwise. With a basic level of sculpting skill, non- artists can render product ideas, make characters of customers (or partners) and render reference works that can be examined at all angles to show the effects of point of view, lighting, handling and usage.

Similar evaluation methods can be applied to painting, dance, music and acting. Each art has its own language to express, elaborate and accentuate. Traditionally, colleges have focused on writing skills and the results are unquestionably valuable. But, when we are talking about creating enterprises and making industry-ready graduates who can commit themselves to making startups successful, a broad exposure to creative methods can only help students become increasingly aware of their own unique perspectives, limitations and realistic expectations within fiercely collaborative environments. At the very least, traditional hands-on art classes offer engineering and business students the opportunity to stand up to critiques and to develop their voice in ways that can be applied to their chosen specialty.

However, what is strongly suggested in this paper: art skills should be applied towards telling a story to an audience. In many Fine Arts programs, the concept of coherence is not always considered an important ingredient. Unfortunately, graduates from such programs are not always well suited to startup ecosystems. Associate professor Reid Winfrey says, “Cogswell is a design school. Telling a coherent story, whether in a drawing, an animation, a 3D model or a game, is the most important thing.” As students advance, they engage in collaborative projects in which they take on roles in telling a story that is bigger than they themselves. These collaborations develop the “soft skills” that are a trademark of Cogswell students: the ability to imagine alternative scenarios and to harness their creativity across the boundaries of traditional disciplines to create new products, services and experiences through the resources of those involved.

Disposition
Creating artworks yield significant value beyond the expression possible via written words alone. Whether in class, club or studio environments, students form teams to produce sophisticated, collaborative works, to develop workflows and to define roles for themselves within dynamic project environments. Describing these with words alone does not do them justice, just as simply describing a business plan does not a startup make. At the heart of Cogswell’s approach are project teams that coalesce around bringing characters to life and bringing meaning to the stories they produce together. By way of example, here are two kinds of team approaches: the studio and the agency.

Studio projects involve a mix of engineers and artists who come together over multiple semesters to build an animated film, mobile app or video game. Since these projects evolve from concept to story and character development, through pre-production and production processes, students must wear many hats. They become co-creators, imagining scenarios and bringing them into being with sketches, clay models and written scripts. Each scene is storyboarded for evaluation and to inform the team as to the articulation needed for character models, environmental assets and audio soundscapes. Clay reference models are put under lights to identify how they can be presented with realistic integrity. Character sketches are elaborated to show emotion and emphasis, bringing to light the students’ deep understanding of anatomy and movement as they have learned through figure drawing.

interactive ebook emotional timeline from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTv8U7n_cIg


Going through multiple large projects, a student becomes a senior team member. These students are given responsibilities that mirror real world practices, to show “newbies” the ropes and to work collaboratively to solve the very real problems that inevitably crop up. For instance, once all the characters have been digitally modeled and rigged (their anatomy has been programmed to move appropriately when animated), the lighting and textures for scenes require unique skills in which a master rigger might become a junior lighting artist or a novice animator might supervise a group producing texture art to finalize the project. Veterans of such projects take to honing a breadth of skills in order to make themselves indispensable to the team and with an eye towards roles they might choose to take on after graduation.

Another kind of project is that of serving as an agency for external clients, often startups themselves. Typically, startups must focus their scarce resources on building a product that customers love. They don’t have the bandwidth to articulate their corporate message or the means to present their brand with sound and animation. While the outcome of such projects might be a one-minute video that exudes the client’s brand, the path to achieving an acceptable outcome provides students with opportunities to toy with a variety of possibilities and to respond to real-world feedback. In these projects, the students’ artistry must take a back seat to the story they will tell on the client’s behalf. They must imagine with the client to describe a world that will unfold with time.

Client meetings include all students on the project team. Students ask the questions and develop a variety of treatments for the client to consider. They learn to decode expressed views, develop briefs and receive critiques. In but one aspect of such a project, audio students provide soundscapes to evoke the emotions and energies that often go unexamined in traditional engineering and business disciplines. Mixing audio with characters and animations affords powerful story options. The students must listen carefully to both what is said and unsaid by clients who are often unaccustomed to working so closely with elements such as these that can unlock their narrative and bring their story to life in the world.

As the process continues, alternatives take on a resonance with the client and students can hone in on true needs. Typically, clients are surprised by the options and the freedom they have to choose or discard as they see fit. The team then executes a series of options based on earlier feedback. At the end of a six to eight-week process, a client makes their final choice, such as what is now on display at Hacker Dojo. In this piece, students imagined a world where everybody and everything is connected. They worked with the client to develop scenarios where the Hacker Dojo could be seen as an enabling platform for networked learning. They then created video animations and audio sculptures to express that world via the visual element of a puzzle piece that is carried from one project to another.

Video at http://www.hackerdojo.com/


These design and engineering exercises are not unlike that of a startup (where a problem is identified and a solution developed that provides such a benefit to a target population as to underwrite the costs of production and distribution): They are more easily said than done!

Knowledge
Students working on studio and agency projects exhibit a fascinating ability to access knowledge as needed to become experts quickly. In one film project, the class decided to
make the central character an animated goat. In order to model that goat so that the team might realistically articulate its movements, the lead modeler was prompted to research the bone structure and anatomical behavior of goats. Little did he know that a goat has no top teeth at the front of the mouth. As he designed his goat, what he learned propagated naturally across the team.

This describes what John Seely Brown calls “pull” learning: spreading knowledge throughout teams to radically improve overall performance. In this case, no one started the project as a science lesson. After all, the group played around with many ideas before deciding a goat would be their central character. Now the entire team can tell you more about goats than you might ever wish to know!

In an interactive ebook project that features a seven-year-old boy as its central character, students immersed themselves in the psychology and physical processes involved with discovering the world outside the family, particularly for boys of that age. They naturally re-imagined their own childhood experiences and integrated surprising features that enable readers to use their fingers to nudge illustrations, to shine a flashlight into the woods, to combine stars into their own constellations, even to add their own doodles to the boy’s sketchpad.

At a quantum level, the knowledge gained by observing teammates while co-developing illustrated and animated stories based on direct feedback through critique and reassessments provides an education that cannot be matched. The knowledge is tangible, timely and appropriate to the project at hand. The lessons learned have proven to last and evolve throughout the careers that lie ahead.

Art To Venture
Want to get to know your customers? Identify them in practice, develop characters that stand out and create a story around them. Animate your story with scenarios in which they experience problems getting to where they are going. Share your story and get feedback on your perceptions and descriptions. If what you share rings true, your potential customers will see themselves in your story and offer up their own accounts along with their appetite to change things if they could. Your customer stories need to be refined continually to provide your venture with perfect knowledge of every aspect of who they are and where they are going.

This is what many call “customer development”. It’s the lynchpin for validating a business idea and is second nature for experienced entrepreneurs. In its execution, there are no short cuts. Each new venture must start with a blank canvas and develop a true picture in order to build the right product. The stakes are high and failure must be accompanied by learning in order to pivot into a successful next chapter.

Unfortunately, most ventures develop these stories with mere words and numbers on paper. As should be clear by now, the language of words and numbers lack the movement, expression and emotion that surface through pictures, timelines and animations. Simple slide decks typically illustrate what was written, not what is true at a quantum level. Art, even as illustrated here, reveals what can otherwise only be described as a “gut feeling”. When “customer development” is executed in a straight- jacketed way, with a goal generating hoped-for data and optics limiting field of view, then a venture is doomed out of the starting gate.

But, when customers emerge in sound and motion, fleshed out in 3D, moving through scenarios that reflect the world as it will be, employees and investors “get it”. Creating such new worlds, to make a “dent in the universe” requires more than applying technology to a problem, it also involves articulating possibilities that do not yet exist and behavioral responses that have not been imagined before. Without bringing forth the skills we have described here to harness a collective imagination and to document using the technologies now at our disposal, ventures are limiting their chances for success.

Conclusion
On a recent tour of the Cogswell campus, a visitor abruptly stopped in a hallway and exclaimed, “This is what makes this place unique”! He pointed to the open door to his left, which led to a clay-modeling studio filled with students rendering figures poised to leap. Then, he pointed through the glass window to his right, which revealed a class of students at keyboards working their way through a Python class. “You force these people together”! It’s true. Engineers don’t have to go to another building to find an artist. Video game designers can find engineers without looking too far. For colleges to do what is described here might only require such close proximity, as is now available at USC.

Increasingly, employers from startups to studios to enterprises are not looking for what a student did in college. Rather, they are looking for what an individual might contribute as part of their team. A recent graduate who learns by “pull”, who commits enthusiastically based on the experience of previous projects, who toys with ideas and who mentors collaborators, stacks up well against more seasoned alternatives. Being comfortable crossing boundaries, mixing coders, designers and technicians, requires an imagination for what is outside a given skillset. It requires an appreciation for the perspectives of others and for the endless possibilities that can be brought into play.

And, just maybe, as artists become part of engineering teams and as non-artists learn what is to be gained through practice, the problems that are identified and products that are built can more fully benefit the population that uses them. Through the practices described here- sketching behaviors, employing storyboards to describe processes, developing personas to gain insights, painting scenarios and articulating the narratives that unfold in any business- loosely coupled teams can more effectively execute their plans, engage customers and persuade investors. What art offers might ultimately be a more refined imagination that opens new worlds of possibility to ventures of all kinds.