Insider's Guide - School of Visual Arts

Insider's Guide - School of Visual Arts

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 Em Hackley about the ins and outs of studying at School of Visual Arts in New York.

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 Em Hackley about the ins and outs of studying at School of Visual Arts in New York.

School of Visual Arts
A multidisciplinary college of art and design known for its unparalleled faculty and innovative curriculum.

The Specifics

What’s the name of your school?

School of Visual Arts.

What’s the name of the neighbourhood?


Closest train station or public transport option?

F and M train.

How long have you been there?

Two years.

Why did you choose to study here?

The resources that the Computer Art + Visual Effects department offer is great and extensive. In addition, the alumni that come out of this program go on to work on impressive projects and studios.

You’re learning a wide range of skills and software,  what subjects or tools are you enjoying the most so far?

I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning and using Nuke as a compositing program. My VFX classes are the ones I look forward to the most. The process of shifting my mindset from a layer-based to a node-based workflow was surprisingly smooth thanks to my amazing VFX I and II professor. Compiling and integrating elements into a scene is incredibly satisfying and rewarding work.

Image Courtesy of SVA

What advice do you have for students thinking of studying for your degree?

Start now! There are a handful of softwares that, even if not industry standard, help ease you into the concepts and workflows you’ll be eventually learning. Watch a lot of movies, and watch even more behind the scenes. Ask lots of questions! Most people I’ve encountered in this field enjoy talking about what they do, and like to ‘show off’ their knowledge and skills.

The Scene

The first thing you see when you walk outside your school?

One of the other school buildings and some residential apartments! SVA doesn’t have a traditional campus, so all of the buildings are scattered about lower Manhattan.

The closest shop to outside your school is:

Good ol’ Trader Joes, right around the corner. It is my go to for grabbing some quick food or drinks.

Your school is great, but you wouldn’t mind a bit less:

Commuting. Once you stop living in the dorms, it is generally difficult finding an affordable place in Manhattan, so a lot of people commute from either other boroughs (like Brooklyn) or even out of state daily.

The unofficial uniform of your school is:

Oversized hoodies to keep us warm in the well air conditioned labs.

A mandatory stop for anyone new to your city:

Chinatown is my go-to for introducing people to the city and the amazing food that is created here. Especially going to get Dim Sum - it's such a fun and delicious experience.

A common myth about your school is:

That SVA is a fairly anti-social school. Although it's definitely not a party school, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun and make new friends.

A massive night out for students at your school is likely to be:

The Halloween party is definitely the largest night out for the student body. The costumes that come out of that are insane!

Image Courtesy of SVA

How would you describe the school community?

SVA’s community as a whole is generally split up by major - there isn’t too much interaction between these communities, but within them, more specifically the Computer Art department, people are kind and tight-knit, and there is a great sense of solidarity and community with everyone working in the labs together.

The Superlatives

You won’t find a better place to eat than at:

Yaya Tea’s rice balls are my go-to for easy and satisfying meals at great prices. I find myself coming back there at least once a week, I can’t ever stop thinking about their takoyaki rice balls.

The strangest thing you’ve ever seen at your school is:

The photo of The Rock as seen periodically in the restroom stalls.

One thing you’d never change about your school is:

The people. Especially within my department, everyone is always wonderful and supportive of one another.

Everyone [at SVA] has such inspirational drive, there is never a dull, directionless moment. The staff are some of the friendliest around, always eager to help and show you around.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is:

A more unified curriculum. Most teachers teach to their specialities, and while this can be incredibly advantageous, it also can mean you can miss out on core lessons like Rigging or Lighting.

Image Courtesy of SVA

Someone gives you $1M to pimp out your school. You use it to:

Upgrade and add to the equipment closet the department offers for checking out equipment. I’d love to see more Black Magic Pocket 4k or 6k cameras, as well as upgraded headphones. I’d also look to expand licenses, and giving our department a dedicated Break Room, with a mini-fridge and microwave.

What personal projects are you working on at the moment? How do you stay motivated?

At the moment I am currently learning/teaching myself how to use Houdini and make my own FX; less project based, and more concept based. I help myself stay motivated by following other wildly talented and successful Houdini artists. I find it something to strive for.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I see myself going wherever the work takes me, at an established studio. My dream studio would be to work for Weta Digital or ILM - the advancements they make in the industry are truly inspiring. I’m not one for traditional freelance work, I enjoy and seek out community settings.

Em Hackley is an aspiring VFX artist.They became infatuated with this industry at a young age, watching James Cameron’s Avatar, and instantly falling in love with the artform. Em is a strong believer that VFX helps push creative narratives and boundaries, and is within itself a very complex and alluring artform. You can find more of their work on their website and Instagram.