Insider's Guide - Champlain College
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 Alex Mannion, a 3D Environment Artist, about the ins and outs of studying at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, U.S.A.
What’s the name of your school?
What’s the name of the neighbourhood?
Champlain’s main campus is located in the dead-center of the city, otherwise known as the ‘South End’. It’s about a 10 minute walk to downtown or to University of Vermont. Both places have some really great food, shopping, and awesome views!
Closest train station or public transport option?
There are a few bus stops that are right on main campus, and all VT buses are free for Champlain students! Champlain also has free shuttles that run on a 7 minute cycle all day, and will take you to Lakeside campus or downtown Burlington. The city also has bike paths on nearly every street, and the drivers are definitely used to having to watch out for bikers. As someone who typically hates road-biking, I loved biking to work every day over summer my Sophomore year from Champlain’s off-campus housing!
How long have you been there?
I recently graduated after 4 years of majoring in Game Art and Animation!
Why did you choose to study here?
What got me to take a tour, was seeing the impressive work from students in years prior. When I went for a tour, the amazing view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks from the main campus immediately cemented Champlain as my top choice school. Also as a dog lover, Burlington is a dream come true - there are so many dogs around town!
Champlain College also has a great reputation, and seeing the work that lines the halls of the Communications Creative Media(CCM) building went a long way in selling me on the school, and the game art program itself!
The first thing you see when you walk outside your school?
Stepping out of the CCM building, you’ll see a bunch of Victorian era mansions, framing a view of downtown Burlington, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack mountains, all at once!
If you’re stepping out of one of the Gen Ed, Business, COR, or ITS buildings, you’ll see that stuff too, but with the addition of the beautiful, modern, and newly constructed CCM building and IDX Student Life Center.
If you’re stepping outside of the library, you’ll see all of that, plus the beautiful Gen Ed/COR/ITS buildings and a nice courtyard. Then if you turn around, you’ll see Champlain’s incredible library, which has a study room with probably the best view in the city!
The closest shop to outside your school is:
Apart from Champlain’s on-campus supplies store, my favourite close shop is Kerry’s Kwik Stop. They specialise in random goodies and junk food. They even stock those M&M ice cream cones I haven’t been able to find anywhere else since I was young. But, if you take the Champlain shuttle to Saint Paul Street, it’s about a 5 minute walk to Church Street which has just about every type of shop you could want!
Your school is great, but you wouldn’t mind a bit less:
Cost and fluctuation. Champlain is an innovative school, but sometimes the changes that happen mean losing the on-campus MakerSpace, the on-campus Auntie Annes, or 2 entire labs. Also with such an outstanding campus, and with such fantastic hardware, there comes a pretty large cost. It’s expected, but it’s still pretty rough.
The unofficial uniform of your school is:
Sweatpants, a Champlain hoodie (either the green pull-over or the grey zip-up, both sporting a Champlain logo) over some sort of anime/gamer themed t-shirt. Sodexo compostable coffee cups or reusable mugs are also a very common sight around campus.
Once winter comes around, all bets are off. I and many others prefer a couple layers and a nice thick L.L. Bean coat, but it isn’t uncommon to see people running around campus in a short sleeve t-shirt, shorts and sandals in 0°F weather.
A mandatory stop for anyone new to your city:
Church Street! It’s about a mile long stretch of brick roads that are blocked off from cars, and filled with awesome places, and it’s super close to campus. There’s also a Ben & Jerry’s on the North end of Church Street. Their 2000s pop/punk/emo playlist, and the smell of freshly-made waffle cones are unbeatable! Another hotspot for Champlainers on Church Street is Quarterstaff Games, which is a local tabletop games and comic book store. They host events all the time and everyone who works there is super friendly.
A common myth about your school is:
That you need to play a lot of games to enjoy it. Champlain is a very "game-driven" school, but once you’re at Champlain studying Game Art/Design/Programming, you’ll have a pretty difficult time finding the time to play games.
Working in the labs or studying abroad for a semester at Champlain’s campus in Montreal or Dublin is a great way to find your tribe at the school.
Champlain also has some other popular programs like Business, and Cyber Security, so you’ll have the chance to talk to people who don’t live and breathe game development as well. Plus, there are all the usual clubs and activities like open-mic night, occasional dances and themed events, the ski/ride club, the outdoors/hiking club, and a bunch of gaming clubs that proudly accept gamers of all skill levels!
A massive night out for students at your school is likely to be:
Probably hanging out in someone’s dorm room, a common room, or a conference room playing DnD or video games. Burlington is still a college area though, and it has a huge DIY music scene with a few nice official venues, and a ton of awesome basement shows, so there are options for everyone! A lot of times people will also go down to Lake Champlain and hang out on one of the beaches, or get sidetracked along the way and wander into Burlington’s arcade bar, The Archives. The Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction is also a great place to have a night out, from seeing a drive-in movie to attending a renaissance fair!
You won’t find a better place to eat than at:
Nunyuns Bakery & Cafe. They make homemade donuts every weekend, and they stock Vermont Coffee Company coffee (without a doubt the best coffee I’ve had in Vermont). I’d go there weekly and get a loaf of bread, a grilled cheese, a donut, and a large coffee.
Their owners are super nice and friendly, and they always hang fantastic locally made art on the walls! They’re also located in Burlington’s ‘Old North End’ which can be a refreshingly different area from downtown Burlington (where Champlain is located).
The strangest thing you’ve ever seen at your school is:
There’s an instructor whose office lights are programmed with a motion sensor to turn on when they leave, and turn off when they enter (and it’s been like that for years). Whenever I was leaving the labs late at night, passing by their office would give me a good chuckle. Another time I was sitting in the dining hall with a friend at around 10pm, after being there for about an hour, we saw a student emerge from a nearby bush with a nerf gun.
One thing you’d never change about your school is:
Their commitment to providing students with an up-to-date learning experience, and their willingness to quickly adapt to industry changes and trends. Most of The Game Studio faculty also take student input and requests extremely seriously.
All of the Game Art faculty are really excellent at facilitating critique, and getting students to learn how to give and receive it constructively too.
This is a big plus since most of my time at Champlain was spent in computer labs surrounded by creative peers who were able to consistently provide invaluable feedback.
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is:
More on-campus food options. Sometimes Sodexo gets a little old, and sometimes it’s 12am and you’re in an on-campus lab and you want a snack while you’re grinding away.
Also, Champlain has some great professors, especially the Game Art faculty, but it’d be great to see them hire more specialised faculty for helping guide people through their chosen specialisation. Studying abroad in Montreal and being taught by a Senior Environment Artist at Ubisoft while focusing on environment art was invaluable (shout out to Vince Joyal!), so having more professors that have a centralised or concentrated experience, but on main campus, would be a godsend.
You learned a wide range of skills and software in the Game Art and Animation Program. What subjects or tools did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed Professor JoAnn Patel’s Advanced Seminar class in Houdini! It was really focused, but still allowed students to explore the software in their own way. Some people ended up creating really cool tools, my favourite being Patrick Tennant’s procedural paper scatterer Houdini Digital Asset (HDA).
I made a procedural cable generator HDA which is extremely simple, but was extremely useful in the environment I created it for. I also knew I was on the cusp of graduating and losing access to my free MAYA and Max licenses, so I learned Blender in my free time, and actually used it for a couple projects. Surprisingly, but thankfully, my professors were all in support!
What advice do you have for students thinking of studying for your degree?
The game industry at the time of writing this is expanding, and so if you’re confident that you love creating so much that you can do it full time, Champlain’s Game Art program will take you from that mindset, to actually being able to secure a job doing what you want to do. It’s important to remember though that it will require a ton of dedication and commitment, so make sure you prepare yourself! Learn how to take care of yourself by eating right, getting on a healthy sleep and work schedule, and strike a balance between work and play.
How would you describe the school community?
Champlain’s game studio is pretty small and tight-nit, and while there are subset friend groups, everyone is well aware that the game industry is pretty tight-nit. Everyone here is extremely accepting, and loves to see others succeed!
As someone who very narrowly got accepted to this school, and was clearly bottom of the barrel, I can honestly say that nearly everyone welcomed me with open arms. My insanely talented and inspirational peers helped so much in getting me to where I’m at today!
Someone gives you $1M to pimp out your school. You use it to:
Champlain used to have a fantastic hobbyist maker-space over at the lakeside campus, and I want it back! When they got rid of it, they’d replaced it with a membership to a nearby maker-space, but it just isn’t the same environment. It would also be pretty sweet to have a place near the labs that has a punching bag room and a nap room. Sometimes you just need to get some energy out or have a little nap.
What personal projects are you working on at the moment? How do you stay motivated?
Some of my peers and I are currently working on a summer challenge put forth by Max Laudenslager, a class of 2020 Champlain alumnus, and the owner of the Champlain Game Art Alliance discord! I keep in touch with my friends who are also working on the challenge, and this helps keep us all motivated. Posting for critique and giving updates also helps motivate; it’s always inspiring when an accomplished Champlain alumni comments on your progress.
Where do you see yourself after graduation?
I’m looking forward to pursuing AAA game or VFX development as an Environment or Level Artist. I’m currently considering a couple options right now; a luxury I couldn’t have dreamed of having without Champlain’s help! I grew up in central New York and want to get a start in the industry while remaining close to home and my family, so I’ll probably be looking to work remotely from nearby for a little bit. However, I love the northern west-coast and wouldn’t mind eventually heading out there, either! Ultimately, I’ll go wherever the job I’ll be happiest at will take me. I loved my time in Burlington, VT, but I think I need to take a break from it for a while.
Alex Mannion is a 3D Environment Artist driven by technological innovation! His background in architectural drafting, programming, and music all help to fuel his creative ambitions. Alex enjoys making things look good, but above that, he loves making creative people’s jobs easier!