Interview with Game Character Academy

3DTotal catches up with Judd Simantov, co-founder of online training school Game Character Academy, to find out more about what inspired the creation of the school, how their own experiences and personal ties to the industry allow them to offer innovative courses and what their hopes are for the future.

What is Game Character Academy?
Game Character Academy is an online school focused on teaching character art and character rigging/technical art for games and game cinematics. Each course runs for 18 months and the students will be taught by lecturers who are hand-picked professionals from the games industry.

The co-founders of Game Character Academy are Rich Diamant and Judd Simantov, who combined have over 22 years' experience working in the games industry. Judd Simantov was the Art Technical Lead at Naughty Dog and was responsible for the rigs and pipeline created and used on the Uncharted series. He then moved onto developing the rigs and pipeline for The Last of Us. He has since become an independent contractor where he does consulting, rigging and tools development. Some of his clients include Naughty Dog, Blizzard Entertaintment, Insomniac, Crytek, Riot Games, Sucker Punch and Big Red Button.

Rich Diamant was the Lead Character Artist at Naughty Dog and was responsible for the creation of Nathan Drake and many of the other pivotal characters in the Uncharted series. He was also tasked with the role of managing and overseeing the character department for Uncharted 1 and 2. Rich was also part of the early RnD team working on The Last of Us, before making his way to Blizzard Entertainment. He now works at Blizzard, where he is the Lead Character Modeler on their next gen MMO. Rich is also the creator of Diamant Tools.

What influences led you to create the Game Character Academy?
We've both (Judd and Rich) been responsible for hiring and managing teams over the years and as much as the games industry has really grown and matured, there still aren't that many quality schools out there that are producing the kind of skilled people that are directly hireable right out of school. With your more conventional careers, you have professors that are experts in their respective fields and it works, but in the games industry you really can't be considered an expert unless you actually work on games. Online education is at a point where we can redefine how students learn and, more importantly, who they learn from. If you step back and think about the fact that you'll be learning from leads and supervisors at some of the best companies in the world, it almost seems surreal. Also, because we're an online school and we don't have the same overheads as a physical institution, we can offer a world class education at a much lower price than your conventional schools.

Why do you feel working in the games industry is a worthwhile pursuit?
The games industry is really at a stage now where people can no longer think of it as just a bunch of geeks in a garage making games. It's become a multi-billion dollar industry (with continual growth) and a very sustainable career path for anyone who

is driven and passionate. The creative challenges, day to day collaboration and reward of putting a product out there that entertains so many millions is really an indescribable feeling. Career paths have also become more specialized than ever and so there are so many ways of making your way into the industry. At Game Character Academy, because we offer both Character Art and Character Rigging/Technical Art courses, we are catering to both artistic and technical, problem-solving types of people.

What makes the Game Character Academy different to other online training schools and sites?
First and foremost it's the quality and experience of the people you will be learning from. When you look through the list of companies and games that our lecturers have worked on, it speaks volumes for the wealth of information we'll be offering to our students.

Secondly, to our knowledge, there are no other schools out there that are focused on these two disciplines (character art and character rigging/technical art), specifically for games and with such an extensive curriculum.

Also, the fact that students will be learning from and interacting with industry professionals already gives them a very strong network base for when they are finished and ready to job hunt. This really speaks to our ultimate goal, which is to become an industry standard stepping stone for game developers into sustainable careers in the industry.

Can you describe what you feel the strengths of online education are over other, more traditional, options?
There's no denying that sitting in a classroom and seeing other students and the lecturer face to face is of great value. But unfortunately what that really means is that you are limited to who teaches you and who can be taught. For example, a person might not have the means to attend their chosen educational institution, for relocation or monetary reasons. Not to mention the fact that many people have responsibilities and jobs, and so that sort of education is just not an option for them. With online education anyone in the world can sign up and get a better, cheaper education, with a more flexible schedule.

The other side of it is that very few industry professionals are going to quit working on awesome games and lecture at a physical institution. However, they are willing to spend a couple of hours in their evenings and at the weekend to educate and be a part of something that benefits them and the industry in the long term. To us, this access to top professionals is by far the strongest benefit of our school and online education.

Could you explain why you have chosen to focus your workshops specifically on creating video game characters? Does this not limit the skill set of your students?
Our focus will be on game characters and cinematic game characters. We thought long and hard about how generalized we wanted to go and we concluded that in order to really teach people at the level we intend to, we needed to have a focused curriculum that doesn't get watered down. With that said, the curriculum will be very extensive and so if our students do want to make the jump from games into features or VFX, it shouldn't be a problem. For example, if the students are taking the Character Art course, they will be delving into advanced sculpture principles, extensive anatomy, hard surface vs organic modeling, realistic skin shading and texturing, normal maps vs displacement maps, hair, and much more. These are all things that are very much applicable to any character artist career in the computer graphics industry.

For the Character Rigging/Technical Art course, the students will learn extensively about facial and body anatomy, understanding muscles and their structural role in characters, all the ins and outs of Maya and its tools, realistic rigging vs cartoon style rigging, the importance of good topology, Python scripting and API development, and a whole lot more. This will really give the students the diversity and preparation required to be able to work as a rigger/technical artist in any setting. In essence, by focusing our curriculum we feel like we are actually increasing the student's skill set. How does that saying go again, a jack of all trades and master of ....?!

Can anyone study with Game Character Academy?
Yes, anyone, anywhere in the world can sign up, provided they can speak English. That is unfortunately the one limitation we are plagued with. The students are not required to be 100% fluent in English, but they must at least be able to communicate and comprehend the basics of the language. In a nutshell, if they are reading this interview and they understand a good 5-10% of it, then they should really sign up right now [Laughs]. Just kidding!

Are there any partnerships you have that benefit the students?
Our lecturers will all be working industry professionals and we've gone through a rigorous selection process, where we've hand-picked people that we feel will fully represent what we stand for. Our lecturer base will continue to grow, so keep checking in on the website for a list of all the lecturers and their respective companies. There are some pretty awesome people from some amazing companies that will be working with us. We've also tried to diversify the types of lecturers we work with, so that we have all our bases covered. As an example, building a character or rig for an MMO is going to be different from that of an AAA action adventure game, so we've made sure that we cover the different techniques and approaches so that our students are not limited in any way.

Another partnership we're really excited about is with CGSociety and their CGWorkshops. They're a strong affiliate of ours and we'll be promoting their workshop courses as supplemental education to our existing curriculum.

What are the Game Character Academy's future plans for both the company and its students?
At this stage, we've just launched and we're really hoping to build up a nice student/lecturer base so that we can continue to develop the school, keep improving ourselves as educators and really start the process of educating and producing top quality graduates. We will also be looking to strengthen our relationships with companies and create a strong

bridge between our school and employers. It's really in our best interest, as well as the companies that will be employing our students, to make sure we're teaching skills that are going to be relevant and that our students are always up to date with the latest trends.

Finally, why should people choose to study at the Game Character Academy?
We're an institution that wears who we are on our sleeves. We want to work with passionate, talented people who have an interest in working in the games industry and just need the right platform to get their careers going. We're looking to invest in each and every individual student and really commit to developing them into outstanding professionals that companies will leap at the opportunity to hire.

Character art and character rigging/technical art is who we are. It's what we eat, sleep and breathe and this is our opportunity to share that passion and pass on all the great things we've learned over the years to our students.

To sign up now, or learn more about the school, go to . We look forward to working with you!

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