Teaching came to me by chance, not by choice. I had never planned to be a teacher. It’s one of those things that destiny springs on you and changes the course of your future forever.
Before the call to this “adventure”, I guess you could say I was an ordinary game developer. I was happily and sleepily working away on game art, something I enjoyed doing.
Things were I guess, comfortable. When I got the offer to teach at a local college, I was excited at the prospect of starting something different.
Teaching was challenging
If you ask any teacher how it is at the beginning of their career and they will tell you a similar story. Getting up in front of a group of forty people is nerve-wracking, to say the least. The magic comes with how quickly you get over that; you seem to get exponentially better at public speaking and learn to be comfortable with who you are.
Being a somewhat introverted person, I found natural confidence I never knew I had. I discovered hidden talents and abilities which made my teaching career very fulfilling.
The best part of being a college teacher was the unfolding of love I developed for the students. Despite being so in-experienced as a teacher, I found in myself, the key ingredient: I cared about them.
I loved hanging out with the students. I saw myself in each one of them. It was like each one was a reflection of myself.
I found that I related to them. Their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their personalities, their love of making “cool stuff”.
I was there once.
I was a hopeful student with a dream to make it as a professional artist in a very exciting field.
The most incredible thing for me was watching the struggling student overcome all odds and rise to the top of the class.
In a way, It was like watching first-hand, the tenacity and power of the human spirit. I watched some poor souls toil and tumble to keep up with the rest of the class, not really understanding the concepts, trying and failing, trying and failing. But never giving up.
I discovered the secret power of an encouraging word and believing in someone.
I’ve seen people going from the bottom, rising up and producing the best work in the class. This to me is one of the most satisfying things to witness as a college professor. I discovered my positive and encouraging words had so much power.
When you help someone, anyone, in any way. you go home at the end of the day feeling like it was a great day.
We all just want to be happy. We all just want to wake up and go to a job that has meaning and do something we are talented at and get well paid and appreciated for our efforts.
I’ve had a great 12-year career as a games artist. I’ve been through it all, the crunches, the late night and early mornings, the comradery, the layoffs, studio closures, the beer.
There’s a special feeling you get after pulling an all-nighter with your team-mates. We were all just happy about hitting the deadline and delivering a barely-working demo!
I wish that all my students get to experience the things that I did as a games artist. It’s an experience that’s worthwhile and really grows you as a person.
I’ll get back to why I started Game Arts Academy later.
The Journey Begins…
These days, the journey to becoming a professional games artist is a long and difficult one. There are many ogres, snares, traps, and pits and enemies to confound the most eager aspirant. It was much easier to get your foot in the door when I was a student than it is now.
You can compare it to making it as a pro basketball player. yeah, it’s that difficult.
Today, you have to have a lot more courage, resilience, perseverance, patience and confidence. Without these fundamental “inner game skills,” you are doomed before you even set out on your journey.
The bottom line is, these days, If you want to be a professional game artist, you have to prove yourself worthy.
There will be many tests and trials and only the most dedicated and hard-working, will gain the prize of employment in this highly competitive field.
So what are these enemies and traps I’m talking about? let’s look at the situation many, if not all graduates find themselves in after graduation.
Let’s assume you are a new graduate. After you complete your game art program, you are thrust into the “real world”. The warm, cushy incubator of college is gone. The support, classmates, peers, teachers college life…gone. This is when the real trial begins. Now you have to deal with the first hideous enemy…The student loan debt.
LVL 1 Boss: Student loan
You now have this massive monster of the student loan to contend with. How are you going to pay this beast off? Well, I guess it’s time to start applying for work.
The biggest mistake game art graduates make is taking the shotgun approach and applying to every single studio in town with hopes that one of them will get back.
The first week goes by and nothing, the second-week passes and still nothing. Now 3rd week, “uh oh. what’s happening?”
If you have heard back, it’s always along the lines of: “Thanks for the application, we’ll contact you soon.” then, nothing.
Weeks and weeks go by. You think: “Well I’m not hearing back from anyone. I gotta do something. I have payments due, plus now my parents are on my butt.”
“I guess I have to take that barista job at Starbucks.” A year goes by and things are “comfortable”. You get a regular paycheck. You are slowly paying off that monster debt. You go out with friends and have enough to cover rent. “But what about all that time and money I put into my education?” you think. Was it all a waste?”
“I know! Maybe I’ll try to work on a new portfolio piece!” You try to start a new project, but always doubt yourself. “Is this even good enough? it’s garbage! I’ll start something else. Oh who am I kidding, I’m just not good enough.”
Years and years go by and nothing changes. you are still paying off that student loan, working that mediocre, boring job.
So, my friends, you see, this boss is a very difficult one to overcome. Many otherwise talented graduates who just needed the time to refine their skills, end up fall through the cracks.
You can end up being defeated by this first level boss if you are not careful.
As a professor teaching game art, this is the saddest thing for me to see. This is one of the reasons I created Game Arts Academy.
A New Hope
I love a good adventure story. Especially the ones about the unlikely hero that overcomes all odds. A hero that defeats his own demons and is victorious in the end and who wins the heart of the princess, or destroys the magic ring. All the great movies and stories follow this template. The heroes journey.
Joseph Campbell was who first coined the term “heroes journey”. He describes a template or path that every “hero” must take on the road to success.
Along the way, they are tested, meet allies and enemies, and prepare for an ordeal—some kind of showdown or difficulty that will truly test their mettle. The ordeal forces them to face their worst fears. And when they survive this, the ordinary person is a hero and is rewarded, usually with knowledge or insight.
To my surprise, when I launched this school, I discovered that even the pursuit of becoming a games artist follows the template of the heroes journey. Game art graduates are actually “initiates” that are tested and are to be proven worthy of gaining the ultimate boon of the “game art job”.
It’s actually quite fascinating, The road to becoming a games artist is in fact, like a video game!
Only the students that are dedicated, committed, hard-working and tenacious will work on their portfolio pieces against all odds and gain employment.
As with any adventure, there is always an excitement of starting out on the journey. Students in the first few weeks of joining one of our boot camps quickly make progress and produce great work.
Then almost like clockwork…they meet their first inner adversaries. Soon, we start to see the real reasons they never made it as a games artist. Self-sabotage.
The Inner Goonies
When I put together Game Arts Academy, I knew that there were going to be adversaries and inner demons to conquer. By about the 8th week into the program, students really begin to struggle.
You come to a point when you are working on a thing for so long, boredom with your project sets in. You get of sick of looking at the same thing day in and day out.
This is like crossing a long barren desert. If you want to make it as a games artist and produce a high-quality professional portfolio piece, then you must take this road. It is very difficult to stay motivated and focused when you are traversing the no-man’s land called “the grind”. Not everyone makes it out of the desert, especially if you are working by yourself.
“The grind” stage really tests what you are made of. How much do you REALLY want this? Do you have what it takes to power through and cross the finish line?
We set up Game Arts Academy to help the aspirant on their journey.
In order to overcome the “inner goonies” You need a good defense strategy.
We provide motivation, constant support, and feedback. We do regular check-ins and team meetings every Friday. During our calls, we have open discussions about our inner struggles. The group collectively comes up with helpful solutions to those issues.
I wanted Game Arts Academy to be a team effort. Even though you are technically competing with your classmates for a job, in my experience I find that when everyone helps each other out we get much further than if we try to do things on our own. If you have the skills and inner game down pat, you will eventually find a job anyway.
So the spirit of Game Arts Academy is team-work.
We are a team and a family.
This working together prepares the initiates to become great team players when they do land the job at a games studio. As a team, it’s much easier to conquer the inner demons.
Sometimes the universe actually tests our students with “lesser job offers”.
While working on their flagship portfolio pieces, some students will actually get offers for other 3d work that has the appeal of quick and easy money. This threatens to distract them from their main objective of landing meaningful employment in the games or films industries.
There is a danger of being trapped doing boring 3d work for some marketing company for example. If they resist the temptation of the offer, then they pass the test and prove themselves worthy of getting what they really want. it’s fascinating to see.
In order to accomplish the main objective, one needs to develop what we call “the inner game”.
See, it’s not simply about being a skilled 3d artist. That will only take you so far. In order to counter the “inner goonies”, one needs to develop the strength and virtues of character to oppose them.
We teach and encourage our students to persevere, be persistent, have hope, develop courage, antifragility and practice self-discipline.
These are all faculties that not only help with gaining employment as a games artist but also prepare them to face other challenges in their lives.
When you are in college, you are given a sword. A sword of software skills, hard work, and perseverance… Here at Game Arts Academy, you learn how to wield that sword.
There are so many graduates at any given time applying for the same job as you are. I estimate that every graduating year a typical game studio will receive around 1000 applications.
You really have to prove that you are not only highly skilled above your competition, but that you are a trustworthy, confident person they can count on.
We address the need for these virtues here at the school, not only in our meetings but in fun little games and challenges designed to develop the inner skills you need in order to succeed.
Your Health Comes Before Game Art.
I love working out. I love staying fit and healthy. It makes life more enjoyable to live.
Every morning, before anything else I take loving care of my mind, my spirit and my body.
Upon waking, I meditate for 30 min to an hour, I pray, give thanks for my life and then I do my morning workout, which can be yoga or weights.
By doing this I set a positive precedent for the day.
“I have loved myself first. Now, having taken care of myself, I am in a good place to take care of my students and others.”
I once went to the gym and saw a guy with a T-shirt that said “Stronger Than Yesterday” it has been my personal mantra ever since. Each day i seek to be a better version of myself than I was yesterday.
Because I love self-care so much, I thought I would make it a cornerstone of what we teach in our school. In order to be highly a highly efficient employee, who easily meets deadlines and doesn’t “burn out” you have to learn how to work smart and take care of your health first and foremost.
If you look after your health, your productivity will increase, you can produce higher quality work and you go home feeling refreshed after a long day.
At Game Arts Academy we teach our students not only how to work hard, but also how to work smart. We’ve adopted a workflow we encourage all our students to use called the Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short 5 minute breaks.
During those 5 minute breaks, we encourage our students to get away from the computer, stretch, meditate, read a book, grab a coffee or anything else that gets them away from the screen.
Our students report amazing results after implementing Pomodoros into their workday. They notice increased energy, productivity and overall sense of well being. We are not only training our students on the tools of the trade but also how to be happy, productive employees anywhere they go.
Socially Responsible Developers
About halfway through my career as a game developer, my life started to change. Some people would call it the very early stages of a “spiritual awakening.”
I started to realize that life was much more sacred and mysterious than I had thought it was. As a result, I began to deeply examine my core values as a human being on this planet. I pondered what was important in my life and how I was using my creative gifts.
At the time, I was working at a big AAA studio. The game I was working on depicted scenes of violence and terrorism.
I became aware of the power of influence that video games had on shaping the minds of the players. Violence, in particular, provoked deep thought in my mind.
“I started asking myself, why are so many games so violent? Why is murder and killing considered the norm? Why are there so many games about war, guns, blood, guts, and over-sexualization of women?”
How are the themes in video games changing the way we view the world and each other? Is violence in video games desensitizing an entire generation to the horrors of war and the plight of our world?
After struggling with the answers to these questions, I came to a decision that I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t use my God-given artistic gifts to contribute to something I didn’t believe in.
So I quit my job.
Now I know this is a very touchy subject for many people, Students, and developers alike. With so many billions going into game development each year and violent games making up the majority of those numbers, it’s difficult to step back in the face of such a behemoth and ask ourselves, what are we doing?
There are thousands of people who depend on this industry for their lively-hood and well being of their families. It’s not easy to think about doing something else when you have mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay.
Video games are truly a powerful medium. I believe they are modern societies way to tell stories and myths. Myths and storytelling are an important part of a healthy society. With myth, we learn about ourselves and pass along important lessons about life to future generations. In the distant past, myth was spoken around a campfire, these days video games have the power to reach a worldwide audience. The realistic graphics of modern games helps tell a story that is far more visually suggestive than word of mouth stories could ever be.
There are great games out there. Games that take the player on epic adventures and tell great stories with powerful lessons.
Video games, in my opinion, can be used for good or for evil. I believe as powerful creators, we developers, always have the choice of how we contribute our talents to a particular project.
We can choose to further promote violent games and remain unconscious, taking home a paycheck week by week because it’s convenient. Or we can choose to work for studios that are in the business of telling great stories that teach, educate and inspire us through this journey of life.
So, here at Game Arts Academy, we teach our students how important that choice is.
I leave them with things to think about. I don’t force them to think like me. I just ask important questions and ask them to think.
Whether or not one of our students chooses to follow this is not up to us. But up to the free will of the individual.
We believe as a training academy, that we have a responsibility to teach our students social responsibility as developers.
We do not, however, allow any overly violent or sexually exploitative content to be created here at the school. We try to work with our students to come up with creative ideas and depict scenes that don’t need to use violence as a crutch to tell a good story.
I created game Arts Academy because I believe it is the continuous unfolding of my life’s purpose. Game Arts Academy is a marriage of everything that I am and what I believe. Artistic expression, technical knowledge, spirituality, self-development, and a healthy, happy life.
It is my gift to the world.
As I evolve through life, so does our school and so do our students.
Game Arts Academy is not just a video game art school. It’s a way of life. It’s a blessing to all those who visit us.
You find us here, get refreshed, learn important life lessons and carrying on with the rest of your life journey.
Game Arts Academy is for the students.
Game Arts Academy is for the graduate who has lost hope in their work and in life.
Game Arts Academy is a place where lives can change.
Game Arts Academy is a place of creative inspiration.
Game Arts Academy is my gift to you.