Insider's Guide - CG Spectrum
Whether you’re already at school, looking to find a new school or even considering moving overseas to study, nothing beats hearing from the students themselves! We speak to Jon Sharratt about the ins and outs of studying online at CG Spectrum.
What’s the name of your school?
Tell us a bit about how you came to be studying at your school.
I am 36 and in a full time job freelancing so my journey to this point has been a long and adventurous one. I originally always wanted to work in the games industry since I was a young lad, I played a lot of games.
I actually started at a traditional university studying Computer Science: Games Programming but found the teaching style didn’t suit me and couldn’t justify the cost my parents were paying for it. So I decided to take a different approach.
I had been doing a lot of self studying in programming before I joined university and built websites for my Counter-Strike teams. I decided to burn all of my work onto a CD-R and brought out the Yellow Pages (really showing my age here). I posted my work and armed with a rotary telephone started cold calling companies to try and get a foot in the door to prove myself. I had a lot of positive rejection from all kinds of companies and was great for character building early on. Thankfully my parents were super supportive in my decision to take a chance doing this.
I then finally got a single slither of hope and a chance to start working for a small Internet Service Provider company in the West Midlands (UK). From there, my software engineering steered more towards web / server software coupled with phone support for customers.
I also managed to convince the owner to allow me to start and run a game server company called Pulse Gaming selling voice and game servers to the Valve game base (Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress).
Fun fact: We were one of the very first UK providers of bandwidth to the original release of Steam.
After moving to Warwickshire and then eventually London where I am today I worked and learnt every step of the way working and leading teams for some incredible projects. Fast forward to this year and I decided to re-ignite and shift my mindset towards learning and taking game development, art and animation seriously.
I had a lot of positive rejection from all kinds of companies and was great for character building early on.
I wanted to unblock and improve my ability to create art and animation for my own games I was creating for a 48 hour game jam called Trijam which happens every weekend. Some of my original games before starting with CG Spectrum can be found here. Having now started to study, speaking with mentors and being part of the CG Spectrum community, I am looking to make this my full time job in either games or film.
Why did you choose to study at CG Spectrum?
I did a lot of research across many schools, and CG Spectrum appeared to come across as having a great set of mentors with real world experience. Coming from a self taught background it appealed to me to have a mentor each week to blend learning and motivation alongside a self study curriculum.
CG Spectrum also offered an environment / community of similar people to help be a catalyst for myself and others, via the Slack channels, career advice and weekly live streams that I found inspiring each week.
How is your background in software engineering helping you in this course?
I think the biggest part is soft skills and time management. Having worked in and led teams during my time as a software engineer helps greatly and hopefully for the future. I also think mechanically and some of the technical challenges in software perhaps become a little easier to understand and overcome.
When it comes to what matters with art and animation fundamentals, it really doesn’t help - this is very much a different world, there is a long but exciting learning journey ahead.
Tell us about your experience studying at CG Spectrum.
My mentor is Alex Lori, an absolute legend who keeps us on track and inspired as we progress each week. Although I do feel for him having to get up early each morning due to time zones.
The biggest takeaway is always going to be, you get out what you put into it, like anything in life. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but if you put the effort in, you are going to get the most out of the weekly classes and your mentor, it's that simple.
Coming from a self taught background [CG Spectrum] appealed to me to have a mentor each week to blend learning and motivation alongside a self study curriculum.
On a side note, there are additional meetings each Friday with different mentors that help you even further if you are stuck on a problem. This has never been limited to just looking at course material (although that is fine too). I have presented personal projects for review and to help fix problems (thanks Simon Warwick for rigging advice). Make the most of them as often as possible.
Being an online school, what does a week at CG Spectrum look like for you?
I am still working full time as a freelancer in my day job, so my week is certainly crammed full in the evenings to try and get the most out of the learning experience.
A week for me is currently broken up across challenges and coursework just now. After work is finished for the day, I am straight on it back into either coursework or a personal project such as the Rookies weekly drills or challenges each day. I also try to throw in some programming for good measure to explore how I can apply my current skill set to what I am working on such as plugins for Maya and Substance Painter.
Currently, on a weekend, I am all in working on the Rookies weekly drills. I tend to try and challenge myself to pick a single new area to learn something that perhaps isn’t taught on the main CG Spectrum curriculum, but complements it.
You’re learning a wide range of skills and software in the Foundations for Game Art & Animation Diploma course. What subjects or tools are you enjoying the most so far?
I genuinely am enjoying all aspects just now, I love learning new tools, techniques the Foundations course has to offer. Being still very new to art and animation I am trying to keep an open minded approach to try “all the things”.
For the Foundations curriculum, we are heavily focused on using Maya for modeling and animation coupled with Substance Painter for texturing. Recently I delved into the world of Renderman which I am loving for presentation and interactive preview.
What has me super excited and hyped moving forward in my third term is to start getting into the world of procedurals within Houdini, then also trying to learn Substance Designer. Looks to be a great blend of technical and artistic skills.
What advice do you have for students thinking of studying online?
Everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways. Here is some insight into the way I think when doing self study:
- You will not always have the most productive days, my rule is to never have a 0% day no matter how large or small, progress is progress. Not limited to art creation, could be as simple as updating or organising your profile for your portfolio.
- You are going to have to balance and prioritise time from other areas in your life to get the most out of studying remotely.
- As a general rule of thumb, I tend to tackle larger / hard tasks when energy is high and easier / small tasks when you feel your energy depleting.
- Remember to get sleep and take small breaks, it is super important especially if you are older like myself. It is easy to get carried away. I set myself a time to finish, anything over that time I am incurring energy debt for the next day.
How would you describe the CG Spectrum community?
In a word, inspiring.
The mentors are great, but I personally really enjoy the students' work being posted in Slack. The work ethic and art they produce is incredible and just puts a smile on my face (especially the digipaint channel). Every student I have come across is always willing to help motivate and look out for each other, the Slack community has a really nice aura and vibe about it.
You’ve taken part in a number of Rookies drills and challenges, and were a finalist in the Eddie Robot contest. Why do you take part in challenges? What have you learned as a result of participating in activities above and beyond your coursework?
I have learnt there is soooo much talent out there from other entries and students all across the world. You obviously compare yourself to others in the community and should do, and The Rookies is great for that, but I think it is also very important to accept that it is going to take time and experience to get there. Having something to aspire to when you see the winners in each of these challenges and contests really helps with motivation I find.
Surround yourself with an environment / community of similar people to help be a catalyst for yourself and others.
Specifically, within the Eddie contest, I learnt I should plan my concept upfront a little more to firm up my idea before even opening Substance Painter. I had a very loose concept that I went with, I then opened up Substance Painter and started hand painting each of the details. A lot was trial and error, having a stronger concept at the beginning would have really sped up the time it took to create.
The strangest thing you’ve ever seen at your school is:
Not so sure about the strangest but a fun surprise was Simon Warwick pretending to be chased by a Zombie (in the wrong direction I might add!) for his virtual backdrop using the Unreal Engine live on stream.
One thing you’d never change about your school is:
The feeling that all of the mentors and students really do care about you as a person and what you are trying to achieve in your career. At the time of writing being in the midst of a COVID lockdown, it is super important to keep positive human connections, even if they are remote.
What personal projects are you working on at the moment? How do you stay motivated?
Currently, personal projects are combined with CG Spectrum coursework so I have limited time with work day to day, but I have made it a priority to focus on The Rookies weekly challenges and contests.
As far as motivation, it is a constant thought. I eventually wake up in the morning and do what I am doing as part of a team for a larger meaningful project every day. I then can say “I was part of it”. Main thing right now is to just enjoy the process and take every opportunity that comes my way. Above all, it is super fun.
Where do you see yourself after graduation?
I am looking to continue studying into the advanced diploma course all of next year whilst continuing work full time in my freelancing day job. I have to focus on building my skills and then eventually build a portfolio of work I am proud of that showcases the relevant skills to eventually start applying to companies.
All of the work I am doing now across CG Spectrum and The Rookies are small stepping stones. Right now it is about learning, iterating and making mistakes as quickly as possible to learn from them.
Fingers crossed I can make it into the industry alongside other students in CG Spectrum - I just have to work hard and get that chance. Although this time I can use The Rookies for my portfolio rather than a rotary phone, Yellow Pages and a CD-R!
You can find more of Jon's portfolio here at The Rookies.