Video Game Developers Seek Higher Learning The Buzz


If you have some artistic ability and computer aptitude, consider a career in 3D animation, design or programming in the video game industry. But talent alone may not be enough to get you the job of your dreams. Increasingly, employers are looking for developers with some higher education.

The experts agree that video game development is a very competitive field. But there is room for newcomers with talent and a strong work ethic.

"The video game industry continues to grow at a strong rate annually," says Graeme Gish. He is the director of curriculum and instructional delivery at a film school.

"No one knows how far it will go. But it has continued to grow every single year with a strong growth rate, and everyone feels it will continue to grow."

Gish says the video game industry is the second strongest industry in North America after the entertainment industry. "What I have heard a number of times is the revenues of the video gaming industry actually outstrips Hollywood," he says.

"There is a need for students trained in this field of game-related art," says Dan Soine. He is the director of public relations for an arts institute.

Video gaming is a lot more mainstream now than it was in the past, Gish says. "It is considered to be a career, whereas two or three years ago, it wasn't trumpeted really, at least by mainstream education," he says. "There are a lot of people interested in getting into it."

From Gish's perspective, it is important to get a post-secondary degree to find work in this field. His school's program in 3D animation and digital effects is a one-year intensive immersion diploma program. Students get the equivalent of a two-year education in one year, according to Gish.

"In order to break into the field, you need an education," Gish says. "There is no question about it. That is a given unless you are one out of 100 gifted hackers who occasionally get hired."

Raymond Yan is vice-president of art for Nintendo Software Technology. He is also the acting department chair for animation for the associate's degree program of applied arts in 3D computer animation at a technology institute.

When Yan is reviewing resumes for Nintendo, the first thing he looks at is candidates' work experience and the quality of their portfolio. Then he will look at their educational background.

Yan agrees that a post-secondary education is necessary to learn not only the digital tools of the trade, but also how to use them to create quality work.

"They need to know 3D animation, software [and] the 2D digital tools like Photoshop," he says. "You need to know these things, but more importantly, you need to know how to apply them to make something that looks good."

Yan adds that most people trying to get into this field are straight out of high school. At that level, he believes, they don't have the content skills to create programs that would be marketable.

"[Post-secondary] programs that are one, two or four years provide these students with the necessary practical training," he says. "They learn the fundamentals of animation itself, looking at the digital tools plus production.

"There are a lot of people who know how to use Photoshop. But to actually make an image that looks good requires you to understand color, composition, lighting, timing and proportion. All of these things have nothing to do with the software," he says.

"The software helps to create the image faster, but ultimately you need to understand content skills."

Yan says high school students should study art. "The reality is that anyone can learn to draw. It is just practice and knowing the principles," he says.

"Creativity, I really don't think you are just born with it. It can come from your life experience, from your interest, how open-minded you are to try new things. Study the content courses -- study art history, study literature, study acting."

A background in fine arts is important, agrees Gish. "It is important to combine that with some production training to make it in the industry. You need to have that foundation, the art component, and you need to have that commercial production component, so you can focus those general arts skills in on creating commercial art," he says.

Jason Chu is the chief operating officer of a technology institute. He says it takes a range of skills to make it in this field.

"For someone to become an expert in 3D graphics or animation, one needs to be able to tell a story, have artistic abilities, master the techniques of 3D modeling and texture mapping, understand the concepts of lighting and camera manipulation and have a good grasp of motion," he says.

"In order to become a qualified video game programmer, one must master topics in math, physics and computer science," Chu adds. "The math and physics are needed to solve problems relating to computer simulation and graphics applications."

Another area one can focus on is game designing, Gish says. But it's not easy to get training for that area.

"You need to have a sensibility for what makes a good game, and it is hard to train people for that," he says. He adds that some schools have game designing programs, but those who go into designing tend to simply have an aptitude for it.

Animation seems to be one of the more popular tracks for students to take. Graduates can find work in other fields, such as the entertainment industry.

Starting salaries in the field for video games can range from $30,000 to $45,000 a year. With experience and talent, you can make six figures or more.

The cost of any post-secondary education can be daunting. But the skills you learn in such programs can put you at the top of your game in a competitive and exciting field.

Links

International Game Developers Association
This site offers information about breaking into the field

Checking in on America's First Video Game College
Read about one training institute