I have now been the lead educator for the Game Art & Design (GAD) concentration at DSA for more than half of my teaching career. In that time, I have grown as an individual, an educator and a gamer through numerous personal and professional opportunities and experiences. However, as a CTE teacher, it is often easy for one to get stuck in the rut of using a curriculum that is provided for you and simply being repetitive over the years. I have seen this behavior in some teachers and have even experienced it myself from time-to-time as the year drags on and we grow weary from overextending ourselves. But, I didn't go into education, and game design specifically, to spin my tires in the mud. This week, I took a long overdue look at just how I have been doing this with relation to teaching 3D modeling.
I have long found 3ds Max to be the most difficult piece of software for me to teach. It requires a different way of looking at digital art, which is traditionally a very flat piece of work. Don't believe me? Look around the Internet at digital artwork. You will find fan art, concept art, simple 2D animations, digital photographs, personal videos, company advertisements, logos, graphic design and yes - video games. All are flat.
But, in recent years, digital 3D artwork has become more relevant. Back in the mid-1990s, as cost of computers started to become more reasonable and advances in hardware and software seemed to occur on a daily basis, a variety of industries began to focus on using 3D artwork in their operations. The cost was reasonable compared to the statement using such technologies made about your work or company. Pixar pushed the popularity of 3D digital animations in entertainment with Toy Story. The game industry was not far behind with iD Software's release of games like Wolfenstein 3D and the original Doom. And the film industry started moving away from using real-world dangerous special effects and adding computer generated (CGI) scenes, effects and even characters. As a result, the use of 3D digital artwork has become ubiquitous in entertainment and has now moved into other industries such as advertising, architecture, and research/development, to only name a few industries. Now, the current trends point toward the integration of 3D printing and the use of virtual reality (VR) to give the individual an even more personal experience with one's product or art. And, this will result in the increased demand for skilled 3D artists.
Warning: Poor excuse follows - as a teacher, I am often stretched well beyond my knowledge, ability, interest and energy levels. Combining this with the state providing me with usable, though often poorly created, video tutorials to teach 3D modeling, I fell into the aforementioned rut with 3D modeling. However, after years of using these tutorials and considering the increasing importance of these skills, I made a conscious effort this quarter to do something about it.
Last year, I began digging deeper into creating 3D models myself. I began by using a book in the Sams Teach Yourself in 24 Hours series which focused on learning 3ds Max. This started to get my skills up-to-par and although I shared a healthy bit of what I learned from this book last year, I continued using the provided videos and still had personal difficulty with using the application. Since the start of the end of third quarter, when we started to work in 3D, I have done some critical thinking about this decision and dug even deeper into personally using the software.
Many of the tutorials I was provided all those years ago contain errors. Most of the errors are minor, like using words incorrectly. Need I say more than identify that the mesh is not edible, it is editable? Or they could have been edited better prior to distribution. For instance, there shouldn't be bells ringing for class change, intercoms making announcements, students talking in the background or clearly making abrupt ends to tutorials because they are being made during the school day. But, more importantly, the version of 3ds Max used for their instruction, as well as some of the techniques expressed in them, is very out of date. This causes confusion on the part of the students and leads them down the wrong road for learning the best practices to prepare them for a future in 3D digital art.
So, about two weeks ago, I decided to focus on the most egregious videos I was provided in my initial training for Scientific Visualization, the introductory course in the GAD concentration. Of the items I previously used, students seemed to experience the most difficulty with the tutorials in objective 6.03, covering the use of materials and maps. This resulted from the tutorials using what is now a legacy component known as the compact material editor while the current default in the software is the newer slate material editor. Although both have all the same options available in them, the compact editor requires several more steps prior to adding materials to one's model, constantly requiring one to move between parent and child materials in the same rollout locations. On the other hand, the slate editor is node-based and allows you to visually see how everything connects in one central view with the parameters of each material/map located off to the side. In other words, it's considerably more intuitive! So, I started with recreating those specific tutorials.
Prior to making the new tutorials, I had to work my way through the original items and script them out. This also allowed me to figure out where and how the differences occur in each version of the material editor. Most of the differences were relatively easy to spot, though I did run into a few problem areas. After two weeks of scripting, modeling, and recording, I shared the tutorials with the students. The kids who reached those particular tutorials expressed a healthy dose of gratitude to me for replacing the out-dated tutorials with the updated ones. While I still have several other tutorials to create, I now have a good start and summer is just around the corner. On top of this, I have a better personal understanding of 3D modeling and using 3ds Max in particular.
One of the highlights of being in the Game Art & Design concentration at Durham School of the Arts is attending the East Coast Game Conference (ECGC). This event, which is held annually in Raleigh, boasts the largest gathering of professional game designers on the east coast. The focus of this year's conference was virtual reality (VR). Students had an opportunity to listen to talks such as:
While all of us could attend talks in any of the sessions tracks including: narrative, art, design, audio, programming, serious games, Indie games, Unreal engine, and portfolio critiques, I spend most of my time listening to the speakers in the design track. Some of the topics that caught my attention were:
Baldwin's talk focused on making sure that team leads consider and touch on each of the following areas when doing critiques: sensitivity, clarity, inspiration, generosity, timeliness, honesty, openness, curiosity, time, follow-through, role identification and riffing. After the talk, I asked the students who attended this session with me how well I meet those requirements as defined in the session. Their response: around 70%. While this is pretty good as some of the items discussed mainly pertain to team leads at game companies, I know there are areas that I need to work on improving. With all that is expected of teachers, I know that I could put more time into critiques, both verbally and in print.
One way I would like to do improve my critiques is to plan on adding a day completely dedicated to critique every couple of weeks starting next school year. This will allow students to see and discuss each other's work as well as pick up tips from me on how to improve their skills. Also, such a day will give them a nice breather between assignments, allowing them to critically think about the work they are doing rather than just plowing through the assigned work. Learning critiquing skills is also an important life skill for students, so I may even have them take the lead on some of those days as well. I may try these techniques a couple of times this year as well, but as the we are coming up to exams and the year is ending before much longer, it really doesn't make sense to make any drastic changes to how we have been doing things all year.
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.