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The Changing Nature of Game Art Education

Game art education can be a widely variable experience, and students need guidance to make the right choices for their education.

Heinz Schuller, Blogger

July 7, 2020

3 Min Read

After a few decades in the game industry, the opportunity came up to teach. It was a colleague of mine, Allen Turner at Wideload games in Chicago, who invited me to visit a game capstone class at Columbia in Chicago run by another colleague, Tom Dowd.

There it really struck me how there were so many young adults coming up wanting to work in the industry, and they really need the help and guidance of experienced game devs. Thinking back, I had come up at a time when there was nothing like that available (early 90s), let alone schools or even the web.

So after trying out adjunct teaching for a few years at Columbia and DePaul, I really liked it, and six years ago took an Instructor position at DePaul in the Animation department. It allows me to continue making games, which I do with some friends in Seattle.

Teaching is an interesting challenge. In the industry we tend to go narrow and deep with our skills, while teaching requires us to go wide and learn a ton of new skills. And learn them in a way we can effectively teach them to others, which is an order of magnitude over just knowing how to do something. It's made me a better game artist.

But in the last several years my priorities have changed.

Schools are obviously very expensive, and there's no doubt that current and future students are questioning the value proposition of investing in a degree, especially in lieu of the pandemic, the move to on-line learning, and the abundance of resources freely or inexpensively available on-line.

Those who have worked in the industry know that a college degree in art isn't a requirement to get hired, we look more closely at an applicant's portfolio and experience. But educating one's self requires a lot of self-discipline, and the ability to self-direct. Some but not all students are capable of doing this alone to the degree that they become attractive to the industry.

That's why it's more important than ever to spend time providing students with the most direct, candid information about the industry, and feedback on their work. Students need to understand the value and process of networking, establishing industry relationships, and leveraging social media to build their visibility to the industry.

They have to understand the balance between technical skills and art fundamentals, and they need to specialize and tailor their curriculum for the job they want.

To make this happen, students absolutely have to take control of their education, and not rely on generic advisors or the 'system' to take care of them; it won't. And if the program they're in isn't giving them what they need for their chosen role, I strongly recommend they should make a change sooner than later, even if it means changing schools among other options.

These are the lessons I teach now beyond just art process. Game artists need to know how to navigate through this difficult time more than ever, there's too much at stake.

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