Anna Rackard talks about her time spent at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

ANNA RACKARD recently received a bursary to attend the Digital Painting at the Gnomon School in LA.  Read more about Anna’s experience.

“I recently completed a 10 week part-time course in Digital Painting at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Los Angeles. ‘Gnomon’ specialises in computer graphics for careers in the entertainment industry, their courses range from beginner level to intermediate and advanced, with an emphasis on courses aimed at 3D visual effects and the gaming industries. They also run a limited number of online courses, these are ‘live’ online and therefore happen at inconvenient times if you live as far away as Ireland.

There were people from all over the world taking the class, but the majority were young American university graduates who were doing either a 2 year full time course in Digital Production or 3 year full time course in Entertainment Design and Digital Production. The Digital Painting class was just one module in their overall studies. I was the only person in the class who worked in film & television drama, most people’s interest seemed to be in the gaming industry and more specifically in character design.

My aim in doing the course was learn digital ‘environment’ painting skills, specifically relating to film & television drama. An important thing to point out here is, what we (in Europe) call concept illustration is more specifically called environment design in the US. The difference between them is ‘concept’ artists illustrate everything from robots, to props, vehicles, backgrounds etc. etc. Environment design/painting is only illustrating backgrounds/sets etc. This difference was a little confusing at first, especially when it came to looking for the right course.

The Digital Painting course I did was a very different from a standard painting/illustrating in photoshop course. The tutors there all work in the film or entertainment industry, so their approach, the workflow and short-cuts etc. are all specific to film, they know where the emphasis should be, what’s important in an illustration/design and what isn’t. Mood, lighting, scale, detail and realism are all important aspects of illustrating for film, and there is a specific approach to dealing with all of them.

All of the courses at Gnomon are booked online on (or after) a specific date and some of them book out extremely fast. The course I had originally planned on doing, Environment Design, had already booked out by the time I tried on the allotted day. A friend recently applied for a storyboarding course at Gnomon which sold out online in 3 minutes. Although I had been in regular contact with admissions at the college, this was not something they had warned me about. This application process makes things difficult when planning to travel from abroad, especially booking flights, accommodation and time off work etc. I did have a second choice course in mind, which luckily was available, so I would advise having a backup course if you are planning a trip. There is another school, the Concept Design Academy – they have an early enrolment process for international students.
Initially I was worried the Digital Painting course was not suited to what I wanted to learn, but once I explained to the tutor what I was specifically interested in, he tailored my coursework to suit my needs. Also although I considered myself reasonably familiar with Photoshop, I realised I needed to do some ‘catch-up’ and did an online course in my own time. There are lots of courses available on ‘Gumroad’, on YouTube, and from the Gnomon website itself. You can buy individual downloadable DVDs from the Gnomon Workshop website, If you are disciplined and can set yourself projects to do, so these tutorials can be very worthwhile.
The 3 hour weekly classes were taught by demonstrations on a large screen, and then we had coursework to do during the week. This is where the real learning happened, how much time I spent each week on the coursework had a direct impact on the level of progress I made. Aside from actually attending the class, the main benefit for me was being away from the distractions of work, and therefore having the time to focus on the coursework, That is the difference between doing an online course and being there in person, there is more motivation to ‘do’ when you are physically there.

10 weeks is a considerably long time to take off work and also to live in Los Angeles which, with the current exchange rate, is not a cheap, I would not have been able to attend without assistance from Screen Training Ireland. Having done this course, I would say Los Angeles is the best place to find courses tailored so specifically to the film industry and also tutors who are used to working to the highest industry standards.

For anyone considering traveling to LA to study, whether it’s to specialize, improve existing skills, or learn completely new ones, I would recommend it! The 3 month visa waiver is the perfect fit, time-wise, Our tutor missed one class due to work commitments and an extra week was added on, so some flexibility at the end of the 10 weeks is also a good idea. Attending a second course at the same time would be very do-able, and a great use of time, doing 3 courses would be possible but would be a heavy workload. I would advise anyone considering attending any of the schools there to talk to admissions and get as much information as possible about the application process before booking”.


Anna Rackard July 2015