Insider's Guide - CG Cookie
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 Omar Domenech about the ins and outs of studying online at CG Cookie.
What’s the name of your school?
It’s called CG Cookie. Why is it called CG Cookie you may naturally be wondering? We’ve also tried asking the same question and it’s a mystery as to why it’s called that, not even their creators know the answer. There have been many theories over the years ranging from Aliens, loving grandmas, unfulfilled cooking desires, Ninjas, etc. but most likely the truth is simple, everyone just loves cookies, it doesn't matter if they’re CGI.
Tell us a bit about how you came to be studying at your school.
It was the beginnings of 2012. There was still some time left before the world was to be destroyed by the Mayan Prophecy. I had been doing graphic design for a while at a place that had an awful working environment and I came to hate doing graphic design because of it. So, I started looking for some other thing to learn that would eventually let me quit the awful job and make a living out of something else.
I was thinking maybe I could teach English? I can speak it fairly well… Nah, how about my dream since childhood of becoming an Astronaut? No, that’s too easy, I need something more challenging. What could I do?
So, it was during that time that my cousin asked me to download some tutorials for him since I had the fastest internet connection, along with a software called Blender. He wanted to learn it so he could do some visualisations for his work. I downloaded the thing for him and since I already had them, I started watching those tutorials. I got interested in 3D right away, just moving the viewport in 3d space was mind-blowing and moving the default cube around made me feel like Neo, rotating the cube was like, oh my god, this thing moves at my command.
The tutorials I downloaded for my cousin were just a couple of basic lessons and I wanted more, it wasn’t enough, and so I started scouting the internet for more content. YouTube had a few things but no good stuff, I checked other famous websites but things weren’t explained very well until I stumbled upon a CG Cookie Jonathan Williamson tutorial on modeling a building. His modeling speed left me speechless. Who was this person? What was CG Cookie? I clicked the link and saw the library of tutorials and a while after that I subscribed at CG Cookie.
Why did you choose to study at CG Cookie?
I chose to study at CG Cookie because the teachers really know how to do their thing.
When I started scouting the internet for more content, the steep learning curve had been taking its toll on me because the tutorials I was finding on the internet weren’t explaining things very well. So, when I stumbled upon CG Cookie, the first thing that stood out was how good the content was explained; teachers had a way of pacing lessons that left no room for doubt in your mind.
At CG Cookie in time you get involved in the community and you start to know the people behind the usernames, you make online friends and that reinforces your attachment to your learning place. I also like that things feel more personalised, perhaps since it’s an organic group and not a massive unmanageable industrial level enterprise where the individual has more of a chance to get lost.
Being an online school, what does a week at CG Cookie look like for you?
What does a week at CG Cookie look like for me? Well since I have a full-time job from 8am to 5pm, I developed the habit of taking snippets of time here and there of the work day. For example, I have an 8:00am start, but my work day doesn't get pumping until 8:45am, so I realised early on that if I arrive around 7:30am, I can do around an hour of training in the morning. Then, at lunch break, you can take around an hour as well after eating to keep on learning and then when the workday is over and it’s time to leave, you can stay in the office and take an extra hour or half hour again before you go home.
That is easily 2 to 3 hours a day that you reserve to fit in your learning. Now if my math is correct, that’s 10 to 30 hours a week that you would otherwise lose. No ok that’s actually 10 to 15 hours a week, my math was actually wrong but I’m going to own that and leave my mistake there. I’m actually a graphic artist not a mathematician, so there you go.
When I stumbled upon CG Cookie the first thing that stood out was how good the content was explained, teachers had a way of pacing lessons that left no room for doubt in your mind.
Anyway, that’s how I learned to hack the workday to get the most out of my week to keep on learning computer graphics. When there’s freelance work or homework from CG Cookie courses then work continues after office hours. 3D in general is never over, too much information to absorb and skills to sharpen.
What subjects or tools are you enjoying the most so far?
That’s always a tough question to answer because I always try to make up my mind as to what part of the CGI pipeline I enjoy the most when doing generalist stuff, and I always find myself enjoying the whole thing, even UV unwrapping!
When it comes to tools, I’ve used 3DS Max for a while, a bit of Zbrush, a little bit of Nuke but mainly I’ve stuck to Blender over the years. Of course, there’s the thing about it being free but after a while what you come to appreciate is that Blender is really powerful and the all in one package is very convenient. Blender development is crazy fast, the software is always getting improved at a faster and faster rate. The open source community is kicking it out of the park.
I like hard-surface work, although I’ve always wanted to learn how to do characters. I really really like modeling, it’s so cool to shape stuff in 3D, it almost feels like it hacks the part of your brain that has to do with the dopamine chemical and all that jazz. But then, after your model is done and it’s there in the viewport, you can almost hear it scream “shade and texture me please!” and like a puppy that has to run towards the ball when it’s thrown, you can’t help but to comply.
And then after you’ve done all that work then comes the lighting part, it’s where you get to make it appealing and let all that shading work come to life. It’s hard to make up my mind, I like all of that process.
What advice do you have for students thinking of studying online?
Do it! Long ago for 99% of the people an education wasn’t an option, knowing how to read and write was probably the equivalent of having a Porsche park in your garage, a chick magnet and certain institutions had a monopoly on education, they didn’t want people getting all smart and educated, the access of information was for elites. Fast forward a couple hundreds of years and knowledge was still on print, in books, you had to physically move to where those books were and pay lots of money when certain places had those books with that sweet knowledge inside.
It was not until very recently, just a couple of decades ago when information went digital, the zeros and one witchcraft, and even more recently when because of the internet, information got freed from the shackles of printed paper and is now widely available for most people.
So, forget about the traditional ways, what matters is that the knowledge gets inside your brain, whether it comes from school, university, books, scroll’s or a computer screen. My point is, if you search online, people that work in the CGI Industry say all the time that their employees never ask “where did you graduate from?” they are just interested on what you can do, on your portfolio and demo reel, your skills and your personal characteristics.
I know there’s that thing you feel that you have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at a place because it is somehow socially approved, but studying online for an artist is every bit as great as any other socially approved methodology - learning is learning no matter the medium.
How would you describe the school community?
I would describe it as a merry bunch! It’s cool that you can learn along with people from all sorts of different countries, even though you don’t know them in real life, I mean in the flesh, you still feel the different cultures bubbling up. And you start noticing things, like the Germans are always good at math and they are artists at the same time, what’s up with that?!
Also, it’s great that teachers interact with you a lot, I guess they are part of the community too. Access to teachers has been great since they can help out in a lot of ways - you get a sense of gratitude towards teachers all the time, like ahhh schmuck thanks for teaching me this stuff, I wouldn’t be able to figure this out by myself, so meeting teachers has like a rock star kind of vibe.
At CG Cookie in time you get involved in the community and you start to know the people behind the usernames, you make online friends and that reinforces your attachment to your learning place.
Also, the people around are always glad to help out, whether is posting stuff in the forums or doing some Slack meet in person. More advanced 3D users really go out of their way to help out a fellow in need. Sounds cliché but I’ve seen it, it’s real, I’ve been a part of it, admittedly not as much as I would like but that can change if someday I make 3D my full time job.
Why do you take part in 3D challenges? What have you learned as a result of participating in activities above and beyond your coursework?
I have participated in CG Cookie live courses and Halloween competitions and stuff like that. Those are huge XP boosters, just by participating is like winning a boss fight and gaining a new ability that lets you progress further in the story. It takes you out of your comfort zone, challenges you, makes you nervous and because of it your brain tries to conjure up lots of stupid reasons why you shouldn’t be participating, so it’s also a good lesson on how not to give up.
The strangest thing you’ve ever seen at your school is:
A troll. Not in the Harry Potter sense but a troll, like a user that was too unpleasant. It only happened once. There was this guy that was giving people a hard time, just posting garbage and annoying people in the livestreams. I don’t know how he was dealt with, but I think he just got tired and moved on.
Also, I once was part of a CG Cookie testing where I got invited to the backend of the website, a part never seen by the common folk, inaccessible via normal ways, where only a few have ventured. It felt eerie, like I was going inside The Matrix to its core or like in that episode of Rick & Morty where Rick sends Morty inside a hobo that had an amusement park inside his organs.
One thing you’d never change about your school is:
The name. No matter how many times people ask why is it called CG Cookie, it will never be enough as to warrant a name change.
And the teachers would be cool if they stayed the same since they are so good at what they do and the content they create. But that’s a bit hard to keep since people make changes in their life all the time. Good teachers are what good chefs are to restaurants, no matter how beautiful the place or how great the waiters are, if the food sucks you are out of there never to return.
What personal projects are you working on at the moment? How do you stay motivated?
Shading and texturing a backhoe tractor and also remodeling my apartment. I don’t know if that is a cliché but I’m trying to do some renders to see how my apartment would look like setting it up as I would like it to be. That idea of getting to see a previz of your place has been a motivation for a couple of people I know to get them trying out 3D.
Staying motivated for me comes easy, I don’t know if it’s because 3D isn’t my full-time job and I use it as an escape from normal boring office stuff. But sometimes you take some time off and then you get complacent and you have a bit of trouble getting back to working, but what I do is start, just start. I open the software, see some cool images on the internet and just start, there’s no other way. I also like picturing in my head the finished image, for example a cool high tech hovercraft flying helicopter plane, and I can see it in my head being all cool, and dazzling the eyes of people I show it to, and that keeps me motivated.
I also keep a list of cool things I would like to do, like model a fighter jet, sculpt young and old Eddie Vedder, do low poly cute stuff, do a very short creative animation, making appealing lighting, do a nature scene, architecture visualisations, try to make a hyper realistic render, a character someday, etc etc.
Where do you see yourself after graduation?
Well there is no graduation really, there’s always a lot of new things to learn. I think that if you manage to get a job in a studio or manage to do freelance work, you could say that you have graduated. I mean, that is some serious stuff and that means you are now ready to do this professionally I guess.