Student Day in the Life: Art Institute of California's Robert Smith

In this Gamasutra educational feature, junior year student Robert Smith shares the daily work in being a student of game design at the Art Institute of California in San Francisco.

My Tuesday starts at 9:00a.m., sometimes earlier if I have homework that needs to be done. At about 10:00a.m., I make the hour and a half commute to the Bay Area where I attend the Art Institute of California in San Francisco (AiCA-SF).

I have two classes on Tuesday. My first is Storyboarding, and my second is Lighting and Texturing. Both classes are delivered in four hour blocks.

12:30 P.M.
I get to school knowing I still have to apply my textures to the homework from the previous week before class starts. That kind of stuff happens when you don’t have the programs at home. Luckily, the school has all of the programs more or less readily accessible to its students at all times.

All of the classes us students take at AiCA are designed to tie directly into the industry of our choice. Storyboarding, which is best described as similar to making comics from scripts, is all about prepping what will be on screen and making it visual for the team before modeling, animation, and other steps take place. That way we can figure out all of the problems, camera-wise, before weeks have been spent on a scene or level.

Meanwhile my Lighting and Texturing class is designed to teach us how to make the levels and characters light up and become hued. Since normal models are simply a dull grey, texturing is the process through which all your favorite characters really get life. The cool mix of blue, purple, and black on Cloud's pants? That's texturing. Lighting the scenes is, as can be guessed, making elements of a scene visible. We learn about the theatrical aspects of lights and the gameplay aspects, like which things should be lighted in certain ways to keep the player on the right track.

Art Institute of California-SF

1:00 P.M.
Storyboarding starts. Today’s Storyboarding class is about pitches. The assignment is a pitch for a 30 second commercial for any product we choose. I am going to be pitching a commercial for DC’s upcoming comic, 52.

During our break I play some of the new Syphon Filter for PSP, finally justifying my purchase of a PSP. After most of the class has gone I go up and present my pitch, focusing on the recent five page preview that was put online.

It goes over very well, with the critiques consisting of, “That’s good. Now get to work on the boards.” That’s this week’s homework: get all the storyboards from the pitch done. Twenty-five or so boards.

With my pitch out of the way I head across the street to the main building. AiCA-SF has three buildings all centering around the U.N. Plaza. I head into the computer lab that my next class takes place in and I start applying my textures to the teacher-provided models. The scene is an alley with a dumpster and trash can.

I made the textures while at home, but didn’t have the right version of Photoshop to get them applicable for texturing.

6:00 P.M.
I have my scene all nice, finished, and tucked away. Right at the start of my next class we turn in the homework and settled in for a lecture on making glass and other reflective surfaces.

This teacher is actually an employee of Secret Level which has recently been bought by Sega. Every teacher at Ai has actually been a part of their respective industry. The man responsible for the Army Men franchise (Keith Bullen) was my Game Design teacher.

No matter what the class, there has always been one thing constantly told to us. Make contacts! That’s one of the things every teacher stresses to us students, and the teacher has just mentioned that again.

After learning about glass, we go over Toon Shading, more commonly known as Cel Shading. After going over this we have two options, to make our own cartoony character to Cel Shade, or use his own model of Zim from Invader Zim. I choose to make my own Green Lantern.

For the next hour I work on modeling the character in Maya.

Smith's Inspired Green Lantern

10:00 P.M.
I pack all of my stuff up and get ready to leave. Once I get home, I have 3D Camera Techniques homework to get finished. More storyboarding.

I finally get to bed a little after midnight.


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