Animation, Gaming, and the Future of Art and Design at Otis College

Has anyone ever tried to question your dream with a criticism like: What are you going to do with an art degree? Or playing video games is not work! Or is drawing cartoons just a hobby for kids, right? Otis College of Art & Design has some answers for them—and maybe for you, too. In January 2022, Provost Jiseon Lee Isbara announced that after 25 years, their Digital Media program was moving with the times and introducing separate, newly created undergraduate degrees of Game & Entertainment Design and Animation. In August, they announced new department chairs – industry veterans Joffery Black and Ron Bernard.

While the school remains steadfast in its commitment to core programs in art and design, including such indelibly analog physical arts as ceramics, Otis College President Charles Hirschhorn indicates that they are becoming equally committed to the digital realms. In one particularly interesting example of how this cluster of new media fields is becoming expansive and connected, Otis has partnered with Activision, the game design company behind Call of Duty, Tony Hawkand Skylanders, for a project that also included the Fashion Design and Digital Media programs. Inspire with three Call of Duty games — Cold war, Modern warfareand Infinite Warfare — Fashion design students developed a digital fashion collection and associated visual environment for a high fashion digital runway collection.

“It’s not just digital media or video game design or animation — it’s also digital fashion, environmental design, product design and toy design,” says Hirschhorn, well aware that Otis’ mission is to prepare its students for hands-on, career-oriented work in the creative Economy must inherently include the Metaverse – and equally aware of the fact that gaming is a multi-billion dollar global industry and that animation at this point not only goes far beyond children’s entertainment, but beyond the entertainment sector itself.

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“Animation is a field that is constantly evolving with new techniques and software, so our program must prepare students to be innovative, flexible and adaptable to changing tides,” says Animation Chair Ron Bernard. “I’d like to explore some of the newer, paradigm-shifting areas of virtual production, social media and augmented reality,” he says, touting careers in character and technical animation, motion capture, visual effects, games and advertising – in fields ranging from entertainment to education, medicine , the military and social media.

Ron Bernard, Chair of Animation at Otis College of Art and Design

Ron Bernard, Chair of Animation at Otis College of Art and Design

“I’ve always been in love with animation,” says Bernard LA Weekly. “I have very fond memories of spending my childhood watching all the behind the scenes and filming of early Disney animation, Fleischer Studios, Will Vinton’s Claymation and many others. I remember watching movies like 1945 Anchors weigh and 1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and to be fascinated by the integration of live action and animation.” Bernard later studied traditional 2D animation from longtime Disney animator Larry Lauria, who encouraged him to further explore VFX. “It was a natural fit for me,” recalls Bernard, “because I have a background in computer programming, physics and engineering. The connection between animation and science has become an exciting topic for me, as I have dedicated my career to animation, VFX and motion graphics.”

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Everything came to a close for Bernard when he was able to work closely with Phil Nibbelink, who was the supervising animator on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in his animation studio in Beijing. “Life has an interesting way of boomeranging,” says Bernard. “I just hope that I can inspire students like Phil’s work has inspired me.”

Joffery Black, President of Game and Entertainment Design, comes from a long tenure at Heavy Iron Studios working on games based on Spongebob Squarepants and To the prodigy. Black previously helped build and lead the animation and VFX programs at the Los Angeles Film School. His experience as a modeler, texture artist, igniter and illustrator in games, features and animations as well as in AR and VR gives. All of this gives him a unique perspective on the “What will you do with an art degree?” conversation. “The obvious career path is game studio jobs,” says Black, “but it doesn’t stop there.”

Joffery Black, Chair of the Game Design Program at Otis College of Art and Design

Joffery Black, Chair of the Game Design Program at Otis College of Art and Design

Black says LA Weekly how he came at a time when games started to improve visually thanks to the PlayStation 2 console and superhero movies finally had the most realistic looking effects of the time like 2002 Spider Man where Tobey Maguire played. SpongeBob SquarePants: Bikini Bottom Battle was the very first game he created. “The impression I had after the experience was,” says Black, “‘This is only going to get better and I can’t wait to be a part of it!’ After 20 years, it’s still as exciting and fresh as it was when I first started!”

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Black further agrees with Bernard and Hirschhorn that skills in these new fields are absolutely expanding into more sectors of industry. “The new BFA in Game Design program will give students the opportunity to learn the practices and techniques that have become part of the game industry,” says Black. “On the plus side, these skills translate into careers in the next frontier of real-time development jobs, such as mobile and console games, virtual and augmented reality, virtual production, Web 3.0 and meta,” plus AI and other hybrid experiences and interface.

Darel Carey Mural at Otis College

“It’s exciting to know that Otis, a historic institution in art and design, has embraced the vision of game and entertainment design,” says Black LA Weekly. “The upcoming program will begin the exciting education currently taking place not only in the industry, but specifically in the industry here in Los Angeles. With games, virtual production, VR/AR [virtual reality/augmented reality]XR [extended reality]and continued emerging technology with tremendous growth over the next few years, I am truly excited for Otis to be part of the education and foundation for our students!

A student mural on the Otis College campus

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