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Visualizing the Future

Before performers take their places in front of a green screen, every aspect of their characters’ looks and imaginary world has been made real by visual development artists. A new department certificate in Visual Development at Santa Monica College gives students the complete picture they need to give life and heft to animation, games, and other media.

The certificate is the latest in SMC’s Entertainment Technology program, which offers degrees and certificates in Animation and Digital Media. Visual Development is also a new area of concentration in SMC’s Associate in Science in Animation, for which SMC faculty developed new courses that cover the pre-production process.

Happy to Be Angry

Karina McBeth, storyboard artist on The Angry Birds Movie, developed her skills and industry contacts at SMC. “The program has helped me in my career by refining my artistic abilities,” says McBeth, “and preparing me to work collaboratively!”

A California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) counselor recommended SMC’s Visual Development program to McBeth, who found herself enjoying “…the best resources available to students, like access to current software and industry-standard equipment.”

Those resources include instructors who are professionals in the field. “The small class sizes and having those instructors allowed me to grow as an artist and learn what the industry is currently looking for,” says McBeth, who wants to develop her own feature or television series.

Reason 1, Reason 2, Reason 3…

Joey Karwal was attracted to SMC by the Animation program’s strengths and SMC’s transfer agreement with CalArts. He notes another advantage offered by SMC: affordability.

“Between the affordability and just how good the program is, SMC’s a great choice for anyone,” says Karwal, who transferred to CalArts and is grateful for the SMC professors who helped him get there.

Gaming: Not All Fun and Games

Gaming brought Susan Tang to SMC, where she is studying game design and 3D art. She already has a bachelor’s in biology, but now wants to combine science and entertainment technology to create interactive educational games for children.

Like McBeth, Tang took advantage of SMC’s internship opportunities. She is working with a Santa Monica arcade game developer, and looking at other internship opportunities this summer.

Animating Careers

“Our Animation curriculum introduces students to the fundamentals of 2D and 3D animation, storytelling, and project management before having them choose a concentration in a specific discipline,” says Chris Fria, chair of SMC’s Design Technology department, which includes Entertainment Technology, Graphic Design, and Interior Architectural Design. The Animation program—with hands-on components and industry-standard software and equipment—prepares students for direct entry into careers in the animation field.

Start to Finish

While Visual Development addresses pre-production design, SMC’s other entertainment technology courses focus on the post-production side of creating games and animated works. From advanced Photoshop techniques to the latest rendering software, students develop their artistry using the same tools as today’s most noted designers and animators.

Critical Raves

The new Visual Development certificate is the latest example of why SMC alumni are prized by the entertainment industry—and why the University of Southern California (USC) and CalArts have transfer agreements for SMC students who want to continue their training and earn a bachelor’s degree.

And SMC now offers a pioneering Bachelor of Science in Interaction Design (IxD), a rapidly expanding entertainment industry sector. “We’re reaching a point in technology where everything is becoming interactive,” says Tang. “Games are that way now, and TV—even commercials—will become interactive eventually.”

(A longer version of this article first ran in the July 26, 2016 issue of SMC in Focus)

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