Posts Tagged ‘Cogswell College’

Project X’s Driven – Partial Team Retrospective

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Recently, we touched base with some of the team members/Cogswell Students that had worked on the Project X short film, Driven. Given that no press has been generated other than a short blurb on the Cogswell website, we decided to reach out and hear what some members of the team had to say about working on the film.

The following text is direct from each person specified, and may or may not feature edits done in order to provide a smoother reading experience.
    

From Taylor Hodgson-Scott:
    

WHAT I DID ON DRIVEN!

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

I was the Lead animator on Driven, responsible for a heavy share of the 3D Animation. This involves making the characters and vehicles/bicycles move believably and have the characters emote in a way they can connect to the audience. As the lead, I also headed up the other animators to make sure their shots were consistent with the shots around them and the motion style we were targeting. Ultimately, the director had the final say, but delegating some animation critiques to me allowed him some time to allocate elsewhere in the production, and allowed other animators quick feedback.

I also compiled the reel, taking all of the latest animations/rendered shots and editing them together to view internally, and allow us to see the flow of the film and if each shot flowed into the next fluidly. Editing is important for capturing a feeling we need to convey- especially in the last third of the film when things are amping up, quick well-timed cuts are necessary for the feeling of speed.
    

PROGRAMS I/OTHERS USED!

3D Animation, Modeling, Rigging in Autodesk Maya 2011
Edited the film in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5
Texturing and Matte Painting done in Photoshop CS5
Rendered using the Renderman plugin for Maya 2011
Compositing was done in (Eyeon) Fusion (6)
    

DEVELOPMENT TIME:

About 4 months in Pre-Vis (Pre-Visualization), which included storyboarding and low quality animation to roughly time the film out
About 18/20 months in Animation/Rendering
    

FOR OTHERS HOPING TO MAKE A FILM!

This is more of a general mantra than a step-by-step. Production Pipeline is much better cataloged than what I can explain in this e-mail, but here’s a few rules of thumb that may be more helpful than the gritty process.
    

1) You need a story that you really want to tell. It helps if it comes from a personal feeling, because that will help drive the story and performance as you flesh your film out. It can also come from wanting to tell a series of gags or just having good times, but if you don’t care about the story it will fail and be painful to work on

2) You need to seek out and employ constructive critiques from others, inside and outside the film production. This is not about using other people’s ideas and make their version of your film, but rather taking their input to improve your work. Sometimes you need to instead take the spirit of a critique when making changes, but people are perceptive and pick up on problems that you’ll be too close to see.

3) Do as much planning in the early stages as you can, it will pay off tenfold down the road. Sometimes you’ll have to destroy an entire storyboard sequence and build it up again to do it right, but if it’s gotten deep into the animation stage already it will probably be too late to economically fix and meet deadlines.

4) Communicate with your team. So many students and (bad) professionals alike forget to do this, and it is key on getting stuff done. If you’re making a change that affects someone else, don’t leave them out of the discussion if you can help it.

5) Love it! If you love what you’re doing, you’ll be able to stick to it. Finding even the smallest thing to get excited about in a film or a scene can help carry you through the tough times.

    

From Peter Mo:

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

    

As Lighting Supervisor on Driven I was responsible for ensuring consistency and maintaining a quality standard for the lighting department. Lighting is at the tail-end of the 3D production process (Composting and Video Editing come after, but they deal with 2D), so lighters often run into problems that go unnoticed through the 3D pipeline. Render crashes due to Maya nodes created during production, problems with topology or object placement or animation that only appear when you see how they interact with light, crashes and loading issues from referencing other scenes are just a few examples.

Troubleshooting was a big part of my responsibility because technical problems, ranging from little nuisances to show-stoppers, would arise on a regular basis. A lot of my early work was assessing what we could do with our available resources in terms of computing power, people-power, and streamlining things as much as possible.

We used Autodesk Maya 2013 and Renderman for lighting. Renderman has advantages over Mental Ray in a 3D animation pipeline: fast and high-quality motion blur, fast displacement rendering, and Renderman’s Deep Shadow system. Mental Ray’s raytracing capabilities are better, but we would use reflection mapping to fake glossy reflections.

We also used camera-projected textures in the 3D scene to better control the look and style. We rendered all frames in 32-bit/channel OpenEXR image format, which allowed us a lot more flexibility in color correction without worry of color banding. We rendered out many different passes per frame to allow us to adjust different lighting elements independently, such as diffuse, specular, reflectivity, and more, before combining them together.

Unlike the two previous projects in which I was working with students who had taken lighting class, I was working with a team that had little or no prior lighting experience. Lighting and rendering took place over 2 semesters, including a lot of training in the beginning. Even after lighting was mainly complete, re-rendering of certain things went on until the very end if changes were needed or if a problem could not be fixed in compositing.

We used render presets and light rigs as a way to keep things consistent across the shots at different times of day. We had a pre-dawn and sunrise setup for Acts 1 and 3 and an afternoon setup for the flashback portion in Act 2. The light rigs were updated and improved as needed and everyone would reference one into their scene to use as the primary light sources, for moon, sun, and sky lighting. Additional lights for characters were added on a per-shot basis and setups that lighters create that worked well were shared for others to use when appropriate.

For compositing, we used Eyeon Fusion 6. It is a powerful node-based compositing program which allowed us to quickly change or fix visual elements which would take much longer to do on the rendering side. Making certain parts of the composition modular and reusing them in each other’s scenes reduced the amount of redundant work we’d need to initially perform in order to build up a composite from scratch.

Useful effects and techniques that individual compositors came up with were also made modular, such as color correction nodes for shots that had been approved, or a heat-distortion effect that worked well. All monitors used for compositing were color-calibrated to ensure the closest possible image when viewed on any of those monitors. In additional to traditional 2D compositing techniques such as color correction, rotoscoping masks, and paint fixes, we also incorporated 3D techniques directly in Fusion.

To save on render-times for a lot of the vegetation in the environments, we pre-rendered various sprites, generated point clouds of their locations, and then imported 3D cameras and the point clouds from Maya into Fusion. The vegetation sprites would be attached to points on the point cloud and rendered from the 3D camera and placed over the 2D shot, all in Fusion.

Compositing took about 2 semesters worth of work with a few dedicated compositors and a few more that were splitting time between compositing and other responsibilities. An additional month could be counted for training since none of the students had ever used Fusion before. We had a Digital Tutors account and students studied many of their Fusion lessons. I also gave some lessons based on my experience using Fusion on previous projects.

For the first time on any project, we used our own in-house render management software instead of commercial software. It was customized to our needs and the developers were very responsive to our suggestions for improvements and additional features. Commercial render management software we’ve used in the past was not reliable and we couldn’t get the type of support we needed when problems arose. It definitely helped us all maintain our sanity–without it we’d pretty much have to take shifts around the clock to babysit each render job, especially at crunch-time.

Thinking back over the events during the production of Driven, I admit I was concerned how everything was going to come together at the beginning; however, the technology we used ended up working well enough and seeing how far the initially inexperienced team had come by the end of the project was very satisfying. I’m very proud of all the students who had sacrificed so much of their time and energy to making the film the very best they could.

    

From Steven Chitwood:

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

Steven handled the VFX on the short, “All effects were done in Maya 2011, specifically. I used Maya fluids, particles, nParticles. Types of effects were fire, smoke, dust, explosions, and liquids. All effects were either rendered with Mental Ray or Renderman.” he says. Other programs used in the making of Driven included ” ‘Zbrush’ for 3D sculpting of characters and some environments, ‘Renderman for Maya’ (the Rendering engine used for the film), ‘Eyeon Fusion 6′ for Compositing, and finally ‘Mel’ and ‘Python’, for scripting.

To manage the team, a combination of verbal communication, along with email and other means were used to provide both official and unofficial ‘check in’ updates. “We used Google Docs for documentation including tasks for each departments, deadlines, and milestones. We did keep track of everyone’s hours and their tasks so we could accurately predict of where the project was going.” says Steven.

On the project pipeline, Steven said the following, “I was not in PX (Project X) during the beginning, I jumped in almost mid-way through but here’s my take. We first start off a pitch that Mike had and we discussed things of what did work and what didn’t for the story. Concurrently, we started create to concepts of the film while the modelers and animators were developing the layout of the film, also, the riggers were doing some RnD (Research and Development). Once some of the concepts were starting to be officially approved, modelers would start to make the final assets and create textures for them. Once assets, textures, and animations were done, those shots would be handed off to the lighters.

Lighters simply then light shots and render them and bring them to the next stage: compositing. Compositing is where we bring all the images together to make the final shots, making final tweaks to make the shots the way we want it. Keep in mind, when animators are done with shots and the assets are created, we also hand off those shots to the effects department (me).

There, we create the fire, smoke, dust, etc and then render those effects as well in separate images, just like what the lighters do. We then bring those also into the comp to finish the shots entirely. While we are doing this film, we are also doing an ongoing edit for the film. Towards the very last stages of the film, we edit the film and see what ever else changes/fixes we need to do.”

Lastly, in short the pipeline process is as follows “story->concept->look development->layout->modeling->rigging->animation->effects->lighting&rendering->compositing->final edit”, also “We decided to create our own render-farm. Our render-farm was used to expedite the rendering process.”

    

It’s very clear that a lot of work wen’t into making the short film, everyone that worked on the project had a part in making it all possible. Fantastic work everyone!!

Source: Official Driven video, Youtube

Juan Rubio
Cogswell College

Patrick Osborne to Deliver Cogswell Commencement Address

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Source: Animation Magazine

Sunnyvale, CA — Cogswell College, a 600-student educational institution offering a unique curriculum fusing Digital Art, Engineering and Entrepreneurship, will host Academy Award-winning animation director Patrick Osborne (“Feast”) during the school’s commencement ceremonies on May 16th. The event begins at 11 AM, and will be held at Club Auto Sport in San Jose, CA.

Based on the theme of “Learning to enjoy the blank page in front of you,” Osborne’s keynote will address Cogswell’s Class of 2015.

“It is such an honor and privilege to have Patrick Osborne, a brilliant and gifted animation industry director, agree to speak to our students on one of the most important days in their lives — college graduation,” said Dr. Deborah Snyder, Cogswell College’s President & Chief Academic Officer. “His exceptional talent serves as a role model for many of our students who aspire to walk in his footsteps. We are so grateful he is willing to share his experience and ideas with our students, as they embark upon the next phase of their careers.”

Osborne is the winner of a 2015 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his original short film, Feast. Starting in 2008, he worked in-house with Walt Disney Animation Studios, where he animated on Bolt, Tangled and Wreck it Ralph, and acted as Head of Animation on the Oscar winning Paperman. In addition, Osborne was also the co-head of animation on the smash hit animated feature film, Big Hero 6.

Osborne began his professional career as an Animator at Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he animated on an assortment of films, including I Am Legend and Surf’s Up. He later worked at gaming company Electronic Arts, Inc., where he contributed to the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 videogame title.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, he is a 2003 graduate from the Ringling College of Art and Design with a BFA in Computer Animation. Osborne lives with his wife, Ali, in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles.

Source Article: Animation Magazine

Juan Rubio

Goodbye to Cogswell

Friday, May 8th, 2015

It passed by in a flash, just like I’d expected it to when I first arrived here. To be honest, some days did drag on especially long—mostly during finals week when I was running on empty and animating furiously at 3 in the morning. Even during the roughest spots of my education here at Cogswell, I always felt blessed that I was doing what I loved and never regretted the amount of work that went into it. Whenever I had doubts, I would remind myself, ‘you could be in nursing school right now,’ and instantly whatever difficult project I was working on didn’t seem so bad anymore. Getting to do what I loved every single day was a luxury that it seems I’d fought my entire life to have.

I definitely learned some important and valuable lessons during my time here. Some I’ve noticed as a bystander, others up close and personally. I’d like to list a few here.

1. Don’t wait for things to change, be proactive and be the change.
One of the biggest problems I’d see around school were plenty of students complaining about their lives or the way things were run. A lot of whining, but very few people taking the time to make a change or coming up with solutions for problems. This may sound harsh, but if people put the same amount of energy into just making things happen rather than constantly expressing dissatisfaction, we’d be in a different place altogether.

2. The connections you make now will carry on to the future.
You know the kids you’re going to school with? Take a good look, because chances are you’ll be working with them later. Don’t be a jerk. Share cookies. Give positive feedback rather than dismissing their efforts at what they’re trying to do. The relationship you’re forming now could be the key to establishing good connections in the industry later.

3. Don’t be arrogant.
Yes, be confident in your work and what you can bring to the table… but please don’t be that person that’s so absorbed in their work that they come off sounding hypercritical and judgmental all the time. Always be willing to take criticism and advice, and be supportive instead of condemning. You’ll be kicking yourself later when you try to get into an industry full of extremely talented people who by contrast are actually willing to listen and learn.

4. Always be willing to work hard.
It will pay off. If you want to be an artist badly enough, a strong work ethic comes automatically. The desire to design or create will overpower the one to veg out and binge-watch the entire series of Doctor Who (just barely) Remember that you are competing against tons of people talented and obsessed with their craft. You just have to be better and even more obsessed!

While it’s exciting to get out into the real world and make things happen, it’s also difficult to leave the school where I’ve spent the last three years of my life. As the building is going to be demolished, it’s sad knowing that everything’s going to be torn down and that the place I’ve practically lived in will no longer exist. Cogswell will continue of course, but this building in particular holds special memories.

To the remaining and future students; work hard, play hard, and I want to see you guys do some great stuff! Go Cogswell!

Sierra Gaston

Blue Sky presentation at San Jose State

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Image from fashions.toprate10.com

The Shrunkenheadman Animation Club at San Jose State is a pretty remarkable group. Many people at Cogswell might not be aware that Jeff Jackson, Cogswell’s storyboarding and drawing animation teacher, actually came from San Jose State and started the Shrunkenheadman club. Being a particularly large club, comprised of both illustration and animation departments, there is a very strong sense of community and kinship. They have a track record of hosting some impressive speakers/presenters, and last Thursday was no exception. Blue Sky representatives came to SJSU to give a presentation about their studio, including Matt Munn, Lead Animator.

Munn showed work from his early days as an animator (which visibly proved EVERYONE has a starting point) and gave some helpful advice. What stood out the most for me was the advice to “follow your heart.” As a previous nursing major, this really resonated with me. I’d left everything to go to art school because, in my heart, I felt passionate about animation and creating things. As graduation approaches and I reflect back, I don’t regret my decision; I’m glad I made the dive into animation.

I feel that both Cogswell and the animation department of San Jose State could learn from each other, and I hope to encourage networking and connections between the two. After all, we have the potential to be future co-workers so why not create professional relationships now!

Sierra Gaston

Monolith, the future of 3D

Friday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Tuesday, 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

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

Thursday, 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.

Cogswell Alumni Work at Impressive Companies

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Recently, I’ve been researching Cogswell graduates to add to a contact list for an alumni reunion. I was pleasantly surprised and amazed at some of the names that cropped up—not only were there an impressive number of graduates working in the industry, quite a few held job titles like Lead Animator, CEO, Art Director, and even more still owned their own companies. Previous to doing this research, I’d had no idea they existed; and I thought I’d share their job titles as a resource to other Cogswell students.

In the Los Angeles and Bay Area regions, we have a number of alumni working at Disney, DreamWorks, EA, Sony Animation, Cryptic, Activision and other large, well known studios.  They are storyboard artists, technical artists, designers, animators, layout artists, riggers and hold tons of other positions. I was blown away to learn that, among others, one of our alumni is a Lead Animator at EA games. In addition, we also have alumni with positions such as: Art Director at Sony Animation Entertainment; Lead Lighter/Compositor at DreamWorks, Lead/Senior designer at Crystal Dynamics; Vice President of Production at Toonbox Entertainment; President/CEO at Logigear; Broadcast Designer at NBC; Supervising Engineer at Warner Brothers; and the list goes on. Alumni from all degree programs are talented leaders.

We are a very small college, and yet it seems we have a very large amount of alumni in comparison holding impressive positions within the industry. Most students aren’t even aware of the credits that our graduates hold. Personally, I feel like Cogswell College is a bit of a hidden gem in the Silicon Valley—not everyone knows that we’re here, but those who do find Cogswell know that they have stumbled across something unique.

~ Sierra Gaston
Digital Art & Animation student at Cogswell College

Incoming Students! Orientation at Cogswell

Thursday, January 15th, 2015


Today marks the beginning of a new semester, and the matriculation of over 30 new students! With each new incoming group comes new potential—I look forward to seeing what talent they have to offer, and what they’ll accomplish in their time here.

I remember when I came in as a transfer student three years ago, and how thrilled I was about the future; I couldn’t wait to learn and improve. Every day I came to school full of excitement, and passionate about what I was being taught. Everything was so very new. I still feel as passionate now, in my last semester, but there’s something extra special about your first year because the possibilities are open and endless. You’re not sure quite where you’re going or how much you’ll achieve at the end, but inside you’re driven by the thrill of possibility to become whatever you want to be.

For the incoming students, I’d like to say welcome and don’t be afraid to dream big. If you work hard and keep your goal in mind, opportunities will find you. Also, don’t be content to just wait for things to fall in your lap—you have to chase after what you want to accomplish.

I’m really excited to see what this new group of students will do with what they’re learning at Cogswell! Welcome freshmen!

Sierra Gaston