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

In this blog post I will be comparing CGMA with other online classes I have taken. I will also be comparing it to Brainstorm School in Burbank (which I loved and you can also find a full review here). After taking a few online college courses, I was given the opportunity to take a few classes at Brainstorm School, through scholarships I had applied for. During that time I got to explore a range of classes and was able to really work on some of my weaknesses through peer and instructor reviews, assignments and my portfolio work. Despite the scholarships, I couldn't continue living and paying rent in California, so I had to look for alternatives, hence why I chose to explore CGMA.

Fundamentals of design

With help from another student, I was able to find a similar course at CGMA that I wanted and needed to take. I took fundamentals of design. I have known about CGMA for a long time but the cost and risk of taking a course online kept me away. But I really enjoyed the course and felt it was really good value for money! I got to see my work improve and I enjoyed my time there. The cost doesn't differ much from Brainstorm School, but what you don't need to worry about is relocation and rent! There are of course advantages to taking courses in person, like making better friends with the students and the instructors and meeting up to do homework together. These things added to the experience at Brainstorm School and the student pushed each other to do better. Online education has its limitations in that sense.

What I did like about CGMA was that the course description on the main website was honest and very informative. The website provided a week by week breakdown of what you would be learning. They also described in detail what kind of assignments you would undertake, and examples of work from past students. We got through a lot of material in the timeframes promised and I definitely gave a lot - I got out what I put in!

Class Summary

We learned every about universal design principles used to create everything from characters, props, environments, and vehicles. This class was about learning what is good design. The eight weeks were comprised of lectures on all core design principles, as well as discussion of the techniques and approaches of implementing them. Β We learned to create our own style guide, become our own art directors, and design buildings and structures.

Week 1 | The Design Process
Week 2 | Shape Design
Week 3 | Research and Reference
Week 4 | Style Guides: Foliage Design
Week 5 | Developing Strong Design
Week 6 | Lighting for Narrative
Week 7 | Sketching for Production: Interiors
Week 8 | Line & Shape: Prop & Vehicle Design

Hands down, CGMA has a great online experience - replicating the experience of going to a physical school.

How it Works

At the beginning of the week a new lecture opens up with an assignment - it's up to you to get it done by week's end. Everything is provided, like links for outside reading and more information and examples of past students work to give you something to aim for. Halfway through the week you meet the class for an online session. This is when you get to ask questions live and go more in depth into the week's lecture. You are given an opportunity to ask questions before hand if you think your going to miss the live session and you can catch the reply later after it's over. If all else fails, you can alway email the instructor directly as they are usually pretty good about getting back to you on time, or extending your homework deadline because you need their response to move forward.

The online experience Β 

The online interface is simple and easy to use. There is an instructional video to help you navigate the interface. Everything is separated and broken down into smaller tabs that are easy to use. Your classes are separated and this is broken down week by week. You will also find assignment tabs, lecture tabs, lecture notes, and a submissions gallery, where you can view everyone else's homework. Finally, there is a forum for live Q and A sessions.

Hands down, CGMA has a great online experience - replicating the experience of going to a physical school. Coming from someone who has taken a few online classes, CGMA has a website that is just better and more suited for art classes. CGMA is also great at providing a sense of mentorship and community - although it wasn’t necessary for you to take part, you could attend weekly online group chats, where the lectures get reviewed and you can ask questions live. You also had access to the live Q and A of the previous semester.
There are several advantages of taking online classes. For example, I did a bit of some unplanned traveling while I was taking the course. I was able to continue school with no interruption (Side note - when you take your tablet with you please remember the Wacom pen as well!)

The classes

What matters when it comes to these schools is the material you learn and the type of assignments you do. In college the work was easy and straight forward. you only got graded on one thing at a time. Usually, if the lesson was on perspective they can kinda ignore most of everything else. They only grade you to see if you understood the week's lecture. But both in CGMA and Brainstorm the critiques where more intense. Seems unfair but you really get more out of it, and the assignments where larger and iterating was key! These two aspects made these school stand out and helped me improve a lot faster.

I didn't see any group projects. But there was a lot of interaction between the students. In the week after the assignment was due, you were able to check out other people's work in the homework gallery. All the work you completed with critiques, was put on your profile page like a portfolio so you could see your work getting better. Β Depending on the teacher and on the assignment the critique can be pretty long. The teachers do a good job of making sure you understand the lesson before moving forward. In some ways this is where the real learning happens. And it where you get your moneys worth.

In conclusion

CGMA was great! I got a lot more out of it than I expected. The instructor was very helpful and we are still in contact. I though it was the best online experience that I have had. I still think I get more out of going to a physical school and you need more self motivation with online learning. If I had all the money in the world I would be at Art Center or Brainstorm. But If you are like me and don’t have all the money in the world or living somewhere far from everything, I don’t think you can beat CGMA. I should also say that my experience with Schoolism is through their subscription. Which I’m about to sign up for again for one of their new courses.

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