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UNG's digital arts program is real game changer

UNG digital arts program a real game changer
In 2015 the University of North Georgia (UNG) launched a new academic program. The Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in digital arts is available on the UNG Dahlonega Campus; a minor in digital arts is offered on the Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses.

There was a time, not long ago, it was believed that kids playing video games for hours was a waste of time. But soon those same children who grew up with a joystick or controller in their hands will have the opportunity to make a decent living as adults creating video games.

In 2015, in response to the growing regional demand for digital artists in the video game and movie industry, the University of North Georgia (UNG) launched a new academic program. The Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in digital arts is available on the UNG Dahlonega Campus; a minor in digital arts is offered on the Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses.

"In Georgia, film production is king, but video game development is catching up," said Pam Sachant, visual arts department head at UNG. "The digital visual arts program is steadily growing, with 45 students now enrolled, up from 12. That number will continue to grow as we add more degree concentrations in the future."

UNG is making plans to add a bachelor's degree in game development, with concentrations in game art, game design, game programming, and game studies. The departments of visual arts, computer science, and communications, are collaborating on the course content

The computer and video game industry in this country generated $30.4 billion in revenue in 2016, according to figures released by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the trade group of the video game industry in the United States.

That figure, representing revenues from hardware, software, peripherals, and in-game purchases, is an increase of 6 percent from 2015. And, with virtual reality systems such as Sony Play Station VR, Vive, and Oculus Rift steadily finding an audience, the industry is poised for explosive growth.

In Georgia, the ESA reports the video game industry has created 3,200 jobs, with an average pay of $96,000 a year, nearly double the state's average household income of $54,000. Overall, the video game industry generates $168 million in the state.

David Clifton, assistant professor of digital arts, recently attended the Southern Interactive Entertainment and Games Expo (SIEGE) in Atlanta, one of the largest video game industry trade show in the country. Clifton talked to vendors and game software representatives about the skills a student would need entering the digital game workforce.

"Based on the feedback I received, I feel good about the course offerings we have at UNG," Clifton said. "All the companies at SIEGE cared about were skills — skills that UNG students already have. Our students are current in terms of the software we use in the classroom, for digital painting, sculpting, surface rendering, and world building."

Daniel Johnson has more than 20 years of experience in traditional and digital illustration.. Before coming to UNG as a full-time instructor this semester, he worked as a digital animation artist and illustrator for a number of Hollywood productions, most recently on "Rouge One," the Star Wars movie released last year.

Johnson, who teaches introductory classes in computer design, computer graphics and animation, said he wanted to be a part of UNG's growing digital visual arts program, particularly upon learning it was a four-year degree program, rather than a two-year or certificate program offered at a technical college.

"With everything going on in Georgia — film, television, animation, video games — and the connections that can be made with some of these companies that will allow our students to enter the industry, I want to be a part of that," Johnson said. "The Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office is doing things right when it comes to the movie and games business. When a student graduates from UNG with a digital visual arts degree, they won't have to go very far to find work."

Next semester Johnson will expand his teaching duties, with courses in digital illustration, special effects, and the history of animation. He tells students to pay attention to the companies or production studios whose work catches their eyes.

"I tell them to do research. If they want to design games, get to know more about the companies making the games they like to play, learn about the culture, know the other games they develop," Johnson said. "If they want to do computer animation, check out the companies that do it best, and follow them. And the same goes for movies. It's all about having a passion for what you want to do, and doing what you love."

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