Alex Alvarez Talks Art, Education, and Founding of Gnomon
Discover what makes Gnomon unique from our Founder Alex Alvarez.
Our first live stream of 2021 was a special one as we welcomed our founder and president Alex Alvarez. Joined by our host Adam Hartel, Alex discussed his early passion for art, his unique educational journey, the creation of Gnomon, and why the school remains a leader in the entertainment industry more than 20 years after its opening.
Like many kids, Alex got into art at a young age, but unlike others, the passion, and obsession (call it what you want) never went away. By the age of nine, he got his first computer, an Atari 800 with a modem, and began making ASCII art. During high school, Alex became heavily interested in drawing, inspired by his love for sci-fi, fantasy, comic books, and illustration.
With parents and counselors pushing him toward a more traditional path, Alex enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. While the school had a fine art major, he wasn’t able to explore the illustration work that inspired him and felt discouraged by mentors who considered that artwork to be “low brow.” Luckily, the outside world didn’t feel the same way.
Soon, computer graphics began gaining mainstream attention with video games like Myst and blockbuster hits such as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 (and for old school fans of VHS computer animation experiments, shoutout to The Mind’s Eye). As he became more curious about the mix between computers and art, Alex decided to take a year off from Penn.
After working as a colorist at Malibu Comics at the age of 20, Alex realized there were, in fact, real-world jobs for artists. While he briefly returned to school at the Art Center College of Design, he ultimately wanted to work with companies using the latest software so he could self-teach. As Alias’ application engineer, Alex spent several years going to studios providing education and support for their software, and this experience sparked the idea for Gnomon.
“It became very obvious that a lot of people wanted to learn about 3D because it was so new,” Alex said. “I started teaching at Art Center, which was kinda funny because I dropped out and the following term I was teaching. It was really fun. I loved teaching. It was really rewarding to help people.”
When Alias purchased new computers, Alex and a friend were able to take the old ones and open a training center on the weekends. While it was a gamble to quit his job for this new venture, it felt like the right thing to do. In October of 1997, Gnomon officially opened in the same location it stands today; our 35,000 square foot lot began with 1,000 sq ft. and only one computer lab.
From the beginning, Gnomon’s curriculum focused on improving fundamental skills, based on the idea that a strong artistic foundation will translate into 3D software skills. “If you can sculpt in clay, you can sculpt in ZBrush,” Alex said. “That’s why Gnomon has always been and remains to this day an art school. Our majors are visual effects, games, and modeling, but the curriculum design is art.”
Alex understood that being around like-minded, passionate people would provide a solid support system, motivate students, and inspire them to put in the time and hard work to become better artists.
“Anybody who is really, really good is only good because of time,” Alex said. “Nobody was born talented. There’s no art gene. That doesn’t exist.”
It was also important to Alex for potential students to have the opportunity to work with admission advisors who are artists themselves and provide portfolio advice and mentorship. “Ultimately, if you get into Gnomon, we feel that you have what it takes to get to graduation,” Alex said. “Students start Gnomon with a certain amount of potential. Our job is to take that potential and guide them to employability.”
If you’re interested in speaking with an advisor, please sign up for an appointment here.
And be sure to check out our Q&A section with Alex during the live stream starting at the 1:20 mark to hear his thoughts on Blender, where he sees the industry going in the next 5-10 years, virtual reality, our online classroom experience, and why he chose the name “Gnomon.”