Posts Tagged ‘cogswell’

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

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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

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

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!

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.

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

Star Thief Studio Animation & Interactive Book Teaser

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Star Thief Studio is one of several on-campus Project-Based Learning studios at Cogswell College. These studios mirror professional production studios and allow students to collaborate with their peers – whether they be artists, animators, technical artists, engineers and sound designers – to create outstanding large scale projects.


Star Thief Studio is guided by faculty with industry experience and student work is regularly critiqued by industry professionals. We are focused on creating engaging story-driven content in the form of animated shorts and interactive stories. Currently Star Thief Studio is working on an unannounced project which will feature a stand-alone animated short and an interactive version of the story, bundled together as an app for the iPad.

Our development artists work in a dedicated studio space and use everything from pencil, paint and clay to Maya, Zbrush, Mudbox, Photoshop, Renderman and Fusion. Much of our digital painting and sculpting is done on Cintiqs. Our engineers use tools like X Code, Flash Professional, and Maya, writing code in Objective C, C++ Maya API, Action Script, Mel Script and Python.

Star Thief Studio offers students the opportunity to be an important part of a major project that will deliver a great experience, film credit and professional quality content for their demo reel. The large group, project-based environment of Star Thief Studio gives students the opportunity to develop and exercise the skills needed to work effectively with a team over an extended period of time. Skills like communicating professionally, being a team player, taking initiative and learning to lead, as well as managing time-sensitive tasks and completing work within deadlines. In the end, students will have work for their portfolios which has been refined to an extremely high standard and used in a major animated and interactive project.

See more at:
Video created by Cogswell alumni and Cogswell students:
Rachael Sass
Andrew Long
Jose Hernandez

Happy Holidays

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Jack Kirby Happy Holidays fan art, found on

Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Festivus for the rest of us! Finals Week is here, and the holidays are happening right now. While all of us are hard at work, studying, taking tests, giving presentations and more, we’re all looking forward to the end of it all. It’s just three more days now until we can say goodbye to the all nighters, the unhealthy amounts of coffee and the energy drinks. All of the stress and hard work that everyone has been putting forth will all be worth the effort once the semester ends on December 20th. I know I’m looking forward to home cooked meals, cozy weekends and hot cocoa, but I won’t ever forget what truly matters around this time of year.

It isn’t about the presents or the free stuff, it’s about the family and friends you spend your days with. The priceless memories that are formed each and every day, particularly around this time of year. It’s a time to look back and reflect upon the year: did I accomplish everything I set out to do? Or did I have a great year anyway? Whatever the case, take the time to seek out your friends, family and loved ones, and remind them why they matter in your life. Don’t forget to have fun and be safe my friends!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Juan Rubio

Cogswell Kicks Off 2nd Annual After School Program with San Jose’s Independence High School

Thursday, November 20th, 2014


Sunnyvale, CA, November 10, 2014 – Cogswell College, a leading educational institution offering a unique, project-based curriculum fusing Digital Art, Engineering and Entrepreneurship, has just commenced its 2nd Annual “After School” program with 48 students currently enrolled.

Cogswell College designed this program in conjunction Mr. Jack Aiello a senior instructor with San Jose’s Independence High School. The After School program represents a shared endeavor between Cogswell College and Independence High School, and is made possible for the high school through a five year grant from Goodwill to Independence High and Cogswell’s support of providing free instructions and usage of their studios and equipment.

The Cogswell After School program will run for eight weeks, and offers courses in the areas of Digital Audio, Digital Animation and Game Design. This unique program engages students in a project-based learning environment led by Cogswell faculty, and features classes modeled on a redesigned Cogswell curriculum – one that is specifically suited to meet the needs of high school students.

Abraham Chacko, Cogswell’s VP of Admissions & Marketing, and facilitator for the After School program, said, “The teenagers who attend Independence High School are from the Silicon Valley, so when they realize that we are offering custom designed classes to them in digital animation, game design and digital audio, their ears really perk up! They know that future jobs within companies like Disney and Pixar might be within reach, if they have the knowledge and exposure to these digital art forms early in life.”

“We are delighted to be in the second year of this program. Last year, the response to this wonderful program was terrific. We had 50 students participate in 2013,” Grettel Castro-Stanley, Independent High School’s Principal said. “Those students reported back to us that they learned a lot, were inspired and encouraged, and had a great deal of fun in the process.”

Independence High School’s Jack Aiello is a “Project Lead The Way” – trained instructor who teaches Introduction to Engineering Design at Independence High. He is also a coordinator of that school’s pre-engineering program, Space Technology Engineering Academy Magnet (STEAM). He serves as the faculty facilitator for the Cogswell After School program in tandem with Chacko.

“Running an after school class with 20 students at Cogswell, working in a project-based environment, is far more advantageous than the more traditional teaching model that involves lectures or video presentations at the front of a classroom of 35 or more students,” says Aiello. “The hands-on computer and audio equipment, programming tools and industry-experienced instructors that Cogswell offers us are a tremendously valuable resource. The partnership with Cogswell allows our students an exciting peek into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ world of the digital creative arts, and gives them a leg up into the super competitive, post graduate world of securing creative jobs in the digital space.”


Located in San Jose, CA, Independence High School is one of the largest high schools in Northern California. With a student body of approximately 3200 for the 2014-2015 year, Independence is also part of the East Side Union High School District. The high school is one of about 400 State of California school participants in the California Partnership Academies (CPA) program. The program stresses rigorous academics and career technical education, with a career focus. Schools involved with the CPA program boast the highest graduation rates (95%) in the state, attributing this to their focus on pre-engineering and technical education programs and smaller learning communities.

For more information on Independence High School, please see:


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, videogame, 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 videogames “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:

Contact for Cogswell College:
Rachael Sass
Creative Services Manager
Sunnyvale, CA

Media Contact for Cogswell College:
Dan Harary
The Asbury PR Agency
Beverly Hills, CA

Michal Makarewicz, Directing Animator at Pixar Studios Coming to Cogswell

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Cogswell Career Development Center Presents: Michal Makarewicz
Wednesday, November 19th
6:00 PM
Dragon’s Den

Have you ever wanted to see an industry professional do an animation demo? Ever wonder how to develop your project? Cogswell College hosts Michal Makarewicz today to answer your questions and more.

Michal Makarewicz, Directing Animator at Pixar Studios and Instructor at Animation Collaborative, will provide an hour-long animation demo at Cogswell. Whether you are new to animation or more experienced, Michal offers tips and techniques for developing your animation project. The presentation is in partnership with Animation Collaborative – an organization that offers workshops throughout the year on various animation industry specialties.

Concept Art Process for Award-Winning Short Animated Films

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kong Vang

Robert Moog’s Birthday

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Google Doodle - Moog

Hello Everyone!

You may not have known but yesterday was Mr. Robert Moog’s birthday. If you don’t know who Robert Moog is and you are into the creation of music in any way, it’s about time you found out. Mr. Moog was the creator of the most famous analog synthesizer, The Moog Synthesizer. He created it in the mid 1960′s and inspired not just musical artists but nearly an entire genre of music. His accomplishments with how this little machine sounded and the range of nearly limitless possibilities is what made this instrument timeless. This creation gave way to the creation and experimentation of many more different synthesizers in the way of both hardware and software. Many of our students here at Cogswell, including myself, are all very thankful for the huge step that Mr. Moog took.

All of that aside, if you happen to use “The Google” yesterday, you would have seen their front page doodle of a fully functioning Moog Doodle that is mapped into a 4-track tape recorder. Not only is it extremely impressive but its also super fun…AND you can record a little tune and link someone to it!

So Mr. Moog, we salute you and thank you for your truly amazing work!

Link to Analog Moog Synthesizer:


What Happened at the Maker Faire???

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Even though I was not one of the lucky attendees of the Maker Faire this year I was still able to get a wonderful play by play of the events that occurred in the span of the weekend. What I found out was certainly words of praise from the children young and old that attended the faire. Everyone who stopped by the Cogswell booth and interacted with the group that composes the new class, Genre Electronica, loved what they saw… or heard, rather. Our group of talented students had a few different setups and were recording sounds from anyone passing by who would be willing to lend their voice. After they recorded some samples from people, they would begin to compose dance music. There was even a couple of young professionals that were begging our students to upload to YouTube the rap that they laid down as part of the demonstration. Overall, this was a spectacular event for Cogswell, Genre Electronica and everyone involved. Congrats to you guys!


Genre Electronica at the Maker Faire

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Genre Electronica at the Maker Faire

I just wanted to throw this out to remind anyone that has forgotten or to let anyone know that hasn’t heard yet. The Maker Faire is in San Mateo this weekend, May 19th and 20th! The Maker Faire is a two-day, family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. Cogswell’s very own Genre Electronica will have a spot at the faire and will be creating Electronic Dance Music with the sounds that they record at the faire (soooo cool). So, if you have time this weekend, grab a ticket and head out to pay our Cogswell students and all the other Makers a visit. I can promise that it will be worth your time! Have fun!