From learning software tools to leveling up your drawing skills, Gnomon Education Lead Beau Janzen shares advice on how to get started as a digital artist in VFX and games.
Meet Beau Janzen, Gnomon’s Education Lead responsible for developing curriculum for Gnomon’s VFX courses. With more than 25 years of experience in visual effects production, Beau has served as CG Supervisor on critically acclaimed TV series like Game of Thrones, Stranger Things and The Walking Dead and feature films including Batman vs Superman, Man of Steel, X-Men, Speed Racer, and the VFX Oscar-winning Life of Pi. Oh, and did we mention that he’s also won two Emmys for his work on Gotham and Westworld?
As a Computer Graphics Supervisor charged with overseeing all aspects of 3D production for major studio releases, Beau is well-equipped to guide top professionals through large collaborative projects. His role as Education Lead makes him a central part of your learning experience here at Gnomon, but what exactly does that mean for you as a student? Read our Q&A with Beau to learn how he can help you develop the skills, confidence and experience you need to build a successful career in digital arts:
As a beginner, which software tools should I focus on learning first?
When starting off, it isn’t critical to learn a specific piece of software. As an artist, you need to drive the software—not the other way around—and whatever you create needs to be the product of your artistic vision. It’s essential that you get control over your toolset and not be satisfied with the simple results you can get from pushing a few buttons.
Ultimately, software changes all the time, so it isn’t important when starting out to be pushing the same buttons the pros use. What’s important is to begin acclimating yourself to making art using software tools while pushing yourself both artistically and technically. There are plenty of free, open source packages available, like Blender, that aren’t in standard use in studios, but are great to use as a starting point. Once you get the feel of using one toolset artistically, it’s easier to switch that mindset over to another piece of software.
How important is it to develop drawing or sculpting skills?
Don’t overlook your analog art! Using a mouse isn’t a substitute for pencils or clay. If you aren’t able to draw on paper, it’s going to be an even bigger challenge to learn that skill while immersed in complex software. Consider your artistic pursuits to be like cross-training, with some exercises better suited at targeting specific muscle groups. Once you build strength in certain areas, you can pursue more ambitious exercises as you become physically capable of doing more and more.
What’s the best approach to developing myself as an artist?
Focus your ambition. When you start learning how to make your own art, it’s going to be awkward at first. In pushing through that awkward phase, it’s important to set yourself goals that help you maintain control over your work. This means starting off simple as opposed to biting off giant projects that fall apart. If you want to learn digital modeling, it’s better to take on the challenge of modeling a beautiful pair of scissors and diving deep into the details and subtleties of the curves and bevels than to take on the dragons from Game of Thrones before your skills are there.
What other skills do I need to learn to work in CG?
There’s a huge variety of skills involved in producing CG work, with a lot of specialties you probably haven’t ever even considered. There are experts in grooming digital hair and building digital clothing. Someone has to set up characters so their muscles are able to flex and their skin looks organic and not like plastic. Simulation artists need to understand how fire behaves and how water splashes and fills with tiny bubbles of foam as it churns.
When you’re working in CG you’re recreating entire worlds, and as a CG Supervisor I’ve had to learn all sorts of weird things as I researched topics to help make effects. I’ve learned about the combustion process when a gun is fired, the phyllotaxis of how plants grow, and the names of all the types of feathers on a bird wing. I made a snake and had to learn about how the glottis and tongue sheath operate along with the jaw to help it breathe while swallowing large items. I even had to go to a butcher and purchase a bag full of pork eyeballs to study eye anatomy when making a horror movie. It’s really an amazing career to be a “creator of worlds” and learn so much.
Want to learn more about educational opportunities at Gnomon?
Check out our Foundation in Art & Design courses, as well as Gnomon’s 10-week Individual Courses , our full-time, two-year Certificate in Digital Production program, and full-time, four-year Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Digital Production.
Founded in 1997, Gnomon has trained thousands of students and professionals for careers in the entertainment industry. Find out more