Why Computer Art

Our Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects Department combines the power of computer-generated images with active imaginations, great stories and highly skilled artists. The results are beyond impressive - they are breathtaking.

If you are interested in the great animated films by Blue Sky, PIXAR/Disney, DreamWorks or the photo-real visual effects by Sony Imageworks, this is the department where you belong. We teach the most advanced digital applications used in the film industry. Taught by more than 60 working professionals each semester, our students develop the personal and professional skills required to succeed as visual artists in a highly competitive, creative medium.

Educational Spotlight

The following interview was conducted by Chaos Group. Chaos Group, formed in 1997, provides innovative rendering solutions for the media, entertainment, and design industries. In 2009, they released V–Ray, an interactive rendering engine used throughout the industry.

When did you first develop a passion for art?

As a kid, I'd doodle the characters from the cartoons I watched. My dad was a painter when he was young so when he saw that I had a talent for art, he pushed me to do better. I'll always be really grateful to him for that– even if I sometimes give him a hard time for it.

When did you decide to enter the world of computer animation and visual effects?

When time came to decide what I wanted to do for my career, I ended up taking a pre-college course in computer animation at the School of Visual Arts and I loved it.

Learn more about Ellen Su's projects at ellensu.tv

How did you come up with the idea for the Spacebound short?

Towards the end of our summer right before senior year, Kyle Moy and I decided to team up and work on this entirely new project. We had been throwing ideas back and forth for a while, but we didn't want to team up until we came up with a story we both really wanted to work on. We thought it'd be cool to work on something that wasn't just a gag–reel but at the same time we didn't want to make it too moody. The story of Spacebound gradually evolved over time. It started out to be solely about the relationship of the boy and dog, but as we were making it and experiencing new things in our own loves, it developed to be this bigger metaphor about the journey of life and its end.

How was it like to work with the team? What did you learn from the process?

Working with a partner is pretty different from working on your thesis alone. Now you have two people with lots of ideas and sometimes they clash. You have to work together to unify them and make it a consistent, single vision. I couldn't have asked for a better partner than Kyle. He has great ideas on character performance and camera layout and is an extremely hard worker.

In addition to Kyle and I, we had some help from underclassmen as well. We had some really great team members like Diana Kim and Tori Buenger. Diana is a dynamics artist and she created all the star trails for us, plus that one shot of the star breaking up into tiny pieces. Tori is a compositor who really helped me out since this was the first project I'd comped in Nuke. Another amazing team member was our composer, Johan Ericsson Degerlund. He is based in Sweden so we skyped a few times and exchanged notes through emails. In a day he was able to knock out an amazing track, almost exactly the way we wanted.

One of the biggest challenges for me was learning to do new things and to use new software. We mainly used Maya, Photoshop, Mudbox, V–Ray, Nuke, AfterEffects and Openpipeline. I highly recommend Openpipeline for anyone working on an independent film and don't know how to create their own pipeline. It's great for keeping multiple assets organized and keeping your work in progress versions separate from a master file you can easily update and reload if you're referencing.

What was the role of V–Ray in your workflow? Which features did you find most helpful?

This was my first time lighting. However, V–Ray really made it easy for me. I mean, right out of the box with default settings, the renders already come out beautiful. On top of that, the documentation on www.spot3D.com was really thorough and user–friendly. The ability to set up different render elements in a single render layer was extremely helpful. We were able to render out a single multichannel EXR file that would include things like the reflection, specular, Z-depth and AO pass which we could then shuffle out in Nuke. Also, VrayblendMtl is amazing. It was essential to getting our helmet shader. Pdplayer is a great tool for checking your rendered sequences. The playback is extremely fast so we would know almost immediately if something went wrong with the renders, and you could also shuffle through the render elements or load up several sequences as layers.

Go behind the scenes at spaceboundthemovie.tumblr.com

Tell us more about your learning experience at the School of Visual Arts.

The three great things about SVA Computer Art are that:

  1. It is located in NYC, home to tons of commercial and film visual effects houses.

  2. All our professors are working professionals which is great for networking and internship opportunities.

  3. We have an amazing faculty, especially with John McIntosh as our chairman. He's such a character and is a big part of the culture as well. he is very much a part of the students' everyday lives, chatting and joking around with us (and a lot of trolling).

I've learned so much from not only the professors but my fellow students as well. I feel like the most important thing I've learned here is how to handle yourself in front of others and the ability to collaborate. For anyone starting out in this industry, my advice (besides working really hard) would be to be open to giving and receiving critique. There is always room for improvement and you have to realize that or you won't move forward. The people you go to school with are the people that you'll eventually work with. Strive to make the industry a place of friends and open connections.

What are your ideas about establishing a career in visual effects and animation?

For the future, I've applied to several feature film studios as well as local commercial houses. It's a rocky time for everyone in the VFX industry but I think this is the perfect time for our generation to come in and be a part of a great movement. There's a lot of tension between Hollywood and FX houses but maybe this will open the door for more CG artists to showcase their talent for directing. We also haven't seen many 3D animated feature films for adults which I think would be really interesting genre to break into.

Watch Spacebound here!