Willie Jimenez takes us behind the scenes and reviews Brainstorm School and explains what it was like and whether he would actually recommend it to others looking to the digital illustration and concept art.

What is Brainstorm?

Brainstorm is an art & design school with a heavy concentration in Entertainment Design based in Glendale, Ca with a core focus on problem solving, story-telling, & design.  Brainstorm has a catered curriculum of design fundamentals and process that are necessary to be a concept artist for video games and film industries.  The founders, James Paick and John Park, both have extensive experience within art & design for games and film as well as over 10 years of teaching and art education experience. The school was ranked in The Top 5 Best Digital Illustration Schools for 2018, by The Rookies.

About Me?

I’m a Navy vet, who recently received two certificates at Rocky Mountain college of Art and Design. The first in 3D character animation and the other in 3D pre-production. Before the Navy I studied architecture and worked on indie comics.

After receiving a few scholarships to come out to Burbank and take a few courses at Brainstorm, I ended up moving out there for three months and taking three courses at the same time (Character Design, Rendering 1 and Advanced Sketching).
So a little disclaimer here… This is what I saw and what I experienced. Your experience can be completely different, as everyone is unique.

First impressions

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it would be the same as any other school, but it’s very different. It took me some time to adjust. First there’s no scoring of homework or assignments of any kind, except critiques. Theres no real accreditation at Brainstorm. You quickly learn that you get out what you put into it.

The idea is that your work will get better and it will reflect in your portfolio and that's what's going to get you hired. With 60 hours of homework, trust me you will grow and get better. At Brainstorm though it's not regular homework that needs to be done but weekly projects for ten weeks. No one warned me of the workload until after I was signed up for three classes - some students were struggling with only two courses at the same time.

Not having scores or a set bar for you to reach is actually a very interesting idea. It makes it so that both beginners, and advanced students can all work together in the same class. The critiques are very individualized and no matter how good you are your work can always be better. So the more work you put into the assignments the better the critiques will be. The critiques can be about anything and everything. At my old school if the assignment was about a certain subject then you were only graded on that subject. Where here are Brainstorm they will review and make notes on everything they see, even if it bleeds into another subject or a class outside of what was being taught - you hand in assignments on perspective and you get nailed for the anatomy, which is great, because it pushes you to spend more time and deliver more complete looking work.

The Teachers

As advertised they are industry professionals who know their stuff. Since you’re there in person, you get to develop closer relationships with them. I felt like they were really invested in helping people out and you could ask them questions about anything. Most of them studied at places like Art Center, Red Engine and all kinds of places. They bring with them the experience of working in all kinds of companies.  

They stay extra hours and they share their personal info so you can contact them. They pay for models to come in so you can do life drawing. Bring food some times. Share free access to their gum roads, and even share links to things they think you should read and watch. The instructors are very accessible.

I even stopped John Park and asked him a few questions about the industry. He wasn’t even my teacher and was helping out another student. He was totally cool about it. Granted I waited my turn and I wasn’t rude or anything like that.

The Students

Students come in all ages and from all parts of the world. There was a lot of professionals and people with real work experience. Some were students else where like Art Center and FDZ. Student would meet up to study and/or  grabbing something eat all the time. We’d also meet up to go to stuff like l life drawing or other events.

The work produced by the students can be intimidating. Most students were inspiring and pushing each other and putting in extra work; going above and beyond what the instructors asked for. There was a lot of friendly competition and we all helped each other out. It’s like all the top students of other schools from all over come to meet here. Making the move to LA, taking that leap. I was impress with the other students which kinda was the wake call I needed to step things up.

Living in California

I'm a New Yorker so living in Cali and getting to know LA and Burbank was a different experience for me. Burbank is the center of the animation industry and there are a lot of companies the area. Art schools and classes all over the place. I’ve been to Gnomon a few times. I tried to go life sketching as much as I could. CTN was going on while I was there, and there were portfolio review events over at Center Stage Gallery. There was lots to do and learn out side of the hours of being in school. I meet a lot of people in the industry who have worked everywhere I wanted to work for. The air is dry and getting around is sometimes annoying, but its a great place to be.

What I’ve learned

I was self taught when it comes to 2D illustration, for the most part. It didn't take me long to figured out I had a lot to learn, and Brainstorm pointed out all me weaknesses. I learned more and did more projects in the 10 weeks I was there then I had in the past few years. I don’t recommend taking three classes at once to everyone, but getting through it showed me how far I could actually push myself. It also showed me how much other student trying to break in are getting done in comparison to what I was doing previously. Time management is a huge thing both at this school and at your job when you start working.

There are many advantages to being able to pick and choose your classes and what you want to spend time on, rather than taking and sitting through filler classes at a 4 year diploma course elsewhere. The speed in which you learn at Brainstorm is very impressive.

There's no job placement or accreditation at Brainstorm, all you get is a kick ass portfolio. Which honestly is all you need. It's up to you how much work you want to put into your assignments. Some courses let the students pick the direction of the class or the subject of your next project. You can either spend days on it or you can get it done all in one night and hand it in the next day, but you get what you put into it. Theres only so much a school or teacher can do, you have learn to push yourself.

Life after Brainstorm…

I now have a better idea of what I need to study next. Now that I’m done I’ll be going back and fixing up some assignments: adding color and making things more presentable. Brainstorm wasn’t a means to an end it was more like a new beginning. As one of my instructors would say, this is an endless pursuit; you never stop learning.


Being self taught and learning from books and tutorials, I think the best things about this school were the critiques, the draw overs and the personal attention. Even if its only once, it's good to have someone check your stuff out now and then and sort of course correct you. This helps point out things that are hard to see on your own. After this I’ll do schoolism, and CGMA. But this was great and a different experience being in person, even if it was for that one semester. This was the biggest value Brainstorm had to offer and it made all the difference.

And if nothing else you’ll leave with a love of Lo Fi hiphop - the official sound track of Brainstorm.