Desperately need a career change: Looking into getting a degree and career in CG.

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  03 March 2012
Desperately need a career change: Looking into getting a degree and career in CG.

Hey guys,

I've always been pretty good at drawing... don't really have a lot to show off, I was never smart enough to save things for the portfolio, but I've drawn things by pencil and digital for many years. I've drawn tattoos for my friends which everybody loved, I've drawn T-shirt and Challenge Coin designs for military (I spend 5 years in the Navy) and for my current employer (doesn't matter what I do now... heh).

Getting out of high-school I was looking at either joining ITT Tech and going into programming, which I've always been fascinated with, but never got into beyond simple 2-3 page programs/scripts; or into Art Institute of Portland, OR... and I wanted to do some kind of CG work. I was actually encouraged to do the second one by my Multimedia Design teacher in high-school. I was graduating with 3.8GPA. But... family had financial and relationship difficulties and I ended up joining the Navy for 5 years. I did Air Traffic Control and upon getting out either was going to do that in civilian world or take my current career path. I went with the second option because I was not fascinated with ATC all that much; even though, I was pretty good at it. Two years after being at my current job I am mentally breaking down... I hate my current job... I am making good money ($80,000-$100,000 (made 100k this past year, but that was with overtime, without it it's mid 80's). But money is not everything, and I'm very unhappy at my current job. After looking at my finances, I am realizing that I can live off around $60,000 (I have a wife and a 5 month old daughter... I'd rather wife not have to go to work), and as long as I enjoy my job or tolerate it it'll be fine. I am getting closer and closer to to mental break down point with the current job.... heh

So, after giving you my little life story over there, here's the deal... I want to get a degree in either Computer Engineering (I've always built my own computers and I'm fascinated with how they work... but I never had enough experience with the actual programming as I've mentioned above, so who knows... once I get into it I might fight it to be boring); or some sort of CG job. I know for a fact that I don't get bored with CG because I've had a blast playing around with Blender (open source 3d software) and Google's Sketch Up. I've played around with other software, but there's too many to mentioned, heh I've pretty darn good with Photoshop and a few other drawing programs. So, I'm leaning towards getting a CG degree/career because I know for a fact that I've enjoyed doing it since childhood and I'm not going to get bored.

However... 1. I have to make enough to support my family (I'm not trying to be rich, or anything of that sort... but having an income of 60+k is kind of a need... we live in Southern California and things are expensive here... plus I have to be able to pay for my mortgage and food). 2. I need to find a school that will provide a good degree.

It doesn't matter to me whether the school is in person or online, because I've done a few courses while in the Navy from a little community college both in person and online and I've exceeded in all of them (4.0GPA in History, Literature and Political Science). I would probably prefer online because it would eliminate the traveling factor, but if there are no good accredited online schools (that employers except degrees from, then oh well). I work on weekends (+thursdays and fridays), so going to school during first half of the week would be perfect. I just want a degree fast... because I don't know how much longer I can last at this job... I am good at it (I never do poor job at anything, even if I hate it... it's no my employer's fault that I don't like the job, so I'll do my best), but I just hate it.

As far as what I'm interested in... I'm really not 100% sure, but I've always been good at drawing environments... However, I would really enjoy anything that has to do with CG because I've done a lot of things on the spectrum and enjoyed all of them. A dream job would be in game-development. I LOVE playing games and I've played around with creating 3D models for mods (didn't save them either to show off.. they were swords and shields for Morrowind 3) and I made a smaller driving game (it was as basic as it gets) in Dark Basic program.

Another huge question is that do I even need a degree? Now here's the deal... I know a lot of people in CG field got there with their talents, and I commend them for it... but looking at my work, it's obvious I won't be able to compete. Here's the deal though: I am very determined and I learn quickly. Should I just learn as much information as I can from internet (and there are tons) or is getting a degree important for employment?

At the bottom of this thread I'll post some of my sketches and stuff... just to see what I've done (it's all I was able to find). Let me know if I even have any skill and should even try to get into CG? lol

If some of you who have the knowledge and experience, and don't mind spending a few minutes to guide me in the right direction or answering some of the questions in this thread, I would really appreciate it. I desperately need a career change and I've always loved CG... but I have to keep my family in mind, I can't just stop paying for mortgage and food.

Thank you very much for your help and time in advance,


My work:

There's more, but I don't want to make this post too long.

P.S. I'm not even sure if those are good... but I'd rather you see what kind of experience I have. I don't have very good foundation, since I've never taken any classes or courses.

Last edited by Russkiy : 03 March 2012 at 10:32 PM.
  03 March 2012

It is a competitive industry and there are not a lot of permanent and safe jobs, especially at entry level. As you are in a job where you can start studying without giving up work i guess you can find out without taking a huge risks...
Realflow forum:

Last edited by katisss : 03 March 2012 at 06:57 PM.
  03 March 2012
Thank you so much for the information. That's kind of what I came to realization to.... do I have what it takes to compete right now? The obvious answer is no. I don't have the technical knowledge of anatomy, color theories, lights and shadows to even begin produce quality stuff. Do I have a natural talent? I don't know if others would agree, but I'd say so... but I need to build up a good technical foundation. I do want to have a degree, not only because there would be someone to teach me the foundation, but to also just have a degree... it's always good to have in any case in today's world.

I see the two links you've mentioned and they offer short courses in certain subjects. Are there reputable online schools that offer online degrees? I know that Full Sail, for example, offers a good variety of degrees online... but they come with a $80-100k tag.... makes you wonder. Maybe I should just save my money and get am art degree from University of Redlands:
or California State University San Bernardino:

My other question would be... since I'm at the point where I could take my path into the technical world or take the artistic route.... which has more potential for success? Getting a software engineering degree has a lot of potential for permanent jobs; whereas getting a degree is a form of art can lead to small jobs here and there. Any thoughts? Maybe I should get a software engineering degree to be on a safe side and if I get a chance to get into gaming industry I can branch off? My worry is that I spend all this time and money and then it'll be a gamble as far as jobs go. On a bright side, it's a fun hobby... but would it just stay a hobby?
  03 March 2012
A community college in my area, Crafton Hills College, offers a Computer Information Systems (CIS) program. It's an Associate of Science Degree in Computer Information Systems.

The required courses are:

BUSAD 145/ Business Communication 4.00
CIS 101 Introduction to Computer and 3.00
Information Technology
CIS 114 C++ Programming I 3.00
CIS 130 Hardware and Information Technology 3.00
CIS 140X2 Networking for Home and Small 3.75
Businesses (Cisco CCNA 1)
CIS 111 Web Page Programming and Design 3.00

And I can choose to emphasize in one of four areas: 3D Computer Animation, Computer Assisted Graphic Design, Programming or Webmaster.

There are two options of learning a little bit on a technical side with some artistic emphasis:

3D Computer Animation requires these:

ART 120X4 Basic Design 3.00
ART 124X4 Drawing (3.00)
ART 132X4 Life Drawing (3.00)
CIS 163 Introduction to PhotoShop 3.00
CIS 165X3 Introduction to Computer Animation 3.00
CIS 166 3D Animation with Maya 3.00
THART 176X4 Fundamentals of Stagecraft I (3.00)
THART 179X4 Fundamentals of Stagecraft II (3.00)

Computer Assisted Graphic Design requires these:

ART 120X4 Basic Design 3.00
ART 124X4 Drawing (3.00)
ART 132X4 Life Drawing (3.00)
CIS 162 Introduction to Flash 3.00
CIS 163 Introduction to PhotoShop 3.00
CIS 164 Introduction to Fireworks 3.00
MARKET 100 Marketing Principles (3.00)
MARKET 110 Advertising (3.00)

Then there's also an option of going all computer-based with Programming:

CIS 113 Java and J++ Programming (3.00)
CIS 114 C++ Programming I (3.00)
CIS 116 C++ Programming II (3.00)
CIS 117 Scripting (3.00)
CIS 125 Introduction to C#.Net (3.00)
MATH 160 Precalculus (4.00)
CIS 203 Advanced Visual Basic (3.00)
MATH 250 Single Variable Calculus I (4.00)
MATH 251 Single Variable Calculus II (4.00)
MATH 252 Multivariable Calculus (5.00)
MATH 266 Introduction to Ordinary (3.00)
Differential Equations

Computer Animation has more 3D in it with some drawing. I've used both Maya (very little... but same concept as any other 3D program) and Photoshop (extensively). The Computer Assisted Graphic Design looks like drawing with a good emphasis on Photoshop, Fireworks and Flash (I've used all of them). Seems like it'd be more for Multimedia Design/Advertisement type of job, more than anything with what I'm interested in. This is just an Associates, so it's not that important what I choose, I guess. Then there's also full emphasis on computers and programming... if I decide to go that route.

I'm just wondering what has more permanency to it, art or IT field. I've already registed and applied to the college, so I'll be enrolling into Fall classes (they are not going to have summer classes this year). I figure I'll get a community college degree, then transfer to either University or Redlands or California State University San Bernardino. All those options are very close to my home and are more affordable than some of those online schools like Full Sail and Phoenix (which seems to be a rip-off).

Any thoughts?

  03 March 2012
You know what, After all my years in the vfx industry and seeing where its going I would advise doing a degree thats more technical and quite frankly useful in other areas. Because theres no stable jobs and fleeting employment. Its an industry where wages are going down not up and companies come and go.
So pick a course that's going to give you skills that are always going to be in demand ! There is no reason why you could not consider a engineering / architecture degree, which although technical leads to design and a whole host of other interesting stuff. ie simulation and the testing of structures ie Physics & Maths both of which are needed if you want to be a successful FX TD I myself did a degree in Architecture and look where I ended up .... FX TD.

good luck

  03 March 2012
It does seems as if computer technology is taking over everything, considering most of the "cartoons" and movies these days use some sort of computer generated effects or objects. But after watching people like Ryan Church, it's hard not to get inspired, heh

That CIS degree has required courses in some programming. I'm going to take those required courses first and see if I have enough interest to continue or branch off into the emphasis on 3d computer animation.

It would probably be easier to get my foot into the industry's door with technology background and once I'm working I can learn and branch off into other things if I'd like? Is that possible from anyone's experience?

Last edited by Russkiy : 03 March 2012 at 11:42 PM.
  03 March 2012
Quote: It would probably be easier to get my foot into the industry's door with technology background and once I'm working I can learn and branch off into other things if I'd like? Is that possible from anyone's experience?

Certainly people who are highly technical stand a better chance than most of getting into a decent studio, normally within 10 minutes on the floor you can tell who has the right stuff. But saying that so few places exist so the standard is very high. So as I mentioned do a degree thats going to be useful in other areas because who knows you just might not get in. Branching off can be easy for a TD ie the guy making the tools.

Quote: It does seems as if computer technology is taking over everything

It doesn't seem , it is .

  03 March 2012
So, that CIS degree with emphasis in Programming would do well? It can be useful in many fields from gaming to CNC robotics.

Or should I not waste my time with a community college and just go to a specific school like Full Sail? I hear a lot of mixed things about them and they're pretty darn expensive. I have GI Bill, so it can pay for a portion of the tuition fees... not everything, of course. Are there online schools or schools based around Redlands, CA or San Bernardino, CA that won't rip me off? There's an Art Institute of California - Inland Empire (based in San Bernardino) that offers Game Art & Design, Graphic Design, Media Arts & Animation, etc. I hear good and bad things about AI, just as any private pro-profit school. Their Online division from Pittsburgh offers a Game Art & Design degree for around 84k. Between GI and yellow ribbon I might be able to pull it off or cover most of it. Just not sure if it's worth it.

Last edited by Russkiy : 03 March 2012 at 06:55 AM.
  03 March 2012
i 100 % agree with Bob. i would definitly start to learn the Hard Stuff, like Math (algebra, trigo, analysis) + Physics( basic newtonian stuff) + modern programming stuff ( object oriented programming with Python first then C++) , i will start with maya or houdini as they are both very strong standard in the industry. and i will try to develop my artistic skills on my free time.

the point is that if you know programming you are more open to find a new job in other area , not only VFX.

i will also advise you to be able to pay a lot for your formation, the best work i've seen in technical areas from US artist is from i don't know the price there but i'm sure its really expensive, you don't only pay courses when you go in such class, you pay the contacts you need to find your first job ! the competition is really high in VFX and a scad students that has learn Programming in Houdini and Maya is sure at 70% to get a job in the industry ! (well for the 70% i don't know to be honnest, but i guess it is ...)

link to interesting formation :

you can access malcom kesson renderman course free on the internet , he is a teacher at scad

hope this helps !

cheers and Gluck !

ps : more over as you serve in the navy, maybe there are possibility to get financial help for your reconversion you could try to make some research , in france its possible i think so maybe in the US too !

ps2 : theres no pb to start CG late, i've a friend that is 47 and who start CG after being a university teacher ...

Last edited by SebKaine : 03 March 2012 at 11:47 AM.
  03 March 2012
Don't want to scare you but usually studios have a lot less technical than artistic staff, so don't count on the degree being the ticket in. Experience in the industry is an important factor. But maybe you really want to find out for yourself first how much you want to do this.
Realflow forum:

  03 March 2012
Originally Posted by katisss: Don't want to scare you but usually studios have a lot less technical than artistic staff

i can only talk about what i've meet in france, and maybe the situation is different in UK , GE and US,

but my friends who work as FX ,Shading TD or R&D TD, have few difficulties to find jobs , cause in france there is a lack of technical guy , but in animation and modeling for ex the competition is high and they like to employ cheap young artist.

if you want to be a concept artist in france for ex you really need to be excellent , and often it is not enough.

so take my pov with a grain of salt as far as the situation could be different in US.

but for what i know guys that have a good balance beetween art and coding can find a job easier with a better pay than the 100 % artist ...

cheers !

Last edited by SebKaine : 03 March 2012 at 02:05 PM.
  03 March 2012
Originally Posted by katisss: Don't want to scare you but usually studios have a lot less technical than artistic staff, so don't count on the degree being the ticket in. Experience in the industry is an important factor. But maybe you really want to find out for yourself first how much you want to do this.

Hard to get experience without doing the actual work. I'm not really sure how I would go about finding out more about the industry first-hand and whether I do, in fact, want to do this. I don't have any connections and don't know any people that are in any art/gaming/cg/etc. field.

I think a safe route for a person in my case would be to do what mr Bob has mentioned and get a solid degree in something that can be beneficial in several fields, that way I don't lock myself into one option in case I'm not up to the competition. I'll be developing my artistic skills on a side and once I get good enough I can always take online workshops and classes to get better in specific areas.

I have a feeling deep down that if I do in fact go to an expensive school that focuses in something like 3D animation, I'd be really good at it. I've done some 3D stuff before with Blender and even as a newbie I was pretty darn good at it comparing to many that posted their work. I tend to push myself above and beyond with everything I do. My wife hates this, lol, because I'll dedicate myself to a project I set out to do 100%. I will do it until it's complete and I forget about everything else, which frustrates her for obvious reasons. I just don't want to spend 80-100k and then go on a scavenger hunt to find a job that pays 30-40k.

Oh, and SCAD does look like a fantastic school, and they even have eLearning division from Savannah. Costs 122k for a Visual Effects BA for tuition. 4 years to complete degree full time. 3 classes a quarter. eLearning does seem to be flexible... but 122k... damn...

Last edited by Russkiy : 03 March 2012 at 07:38 PM.
  03 March 2012
Quote: I just don't want to spend 80-100k and then go on a scavenger hunt to find a job that pays 30-40k.

This is why I am drilling into you the need to do a degree that has transferable skills. ie engineering , programming etc etc. It is better to have a degree under your belt that gives you skills that appeal to a wide sector of work. See what happens > then if it does not work out > You wont of wasted your money on a useless degree.

  03 March 2012
The more I think and the more I look at people suggestions, I realize more and more that you're right. It's a much safe route and has more potential for broadening. I think I'll get that CIS degree from Crafton Hills and then transfer to CSUSB to get either BS in Computer Engineering or BA in Computer Systems (they have emphasis on Game Development and Graphics Programming, among others) so I can either go into hardcore from molecular level engineering of computer systems or into graphics programming and 3d stuff (animation, character modeling, 3d modeling, digital lighting, etc).

Last edited by Russkiy : 03 March 2012 at 11:29 PM.
  03 March 2012
Hi Russkiy,

I have been in IT (computer/network support/administration) my whole working life and have played around with 3D off and on for about as long, but never made a strong push to switch careers, even though I would love to do something more creative. Let me just add my thoughts to what the others have already said. I think you're starting to go in the right direction, but I wanted to mention a couple of things.

First, I think that IT (programming, support/admin, or combination) will have much better availability of jobs than CG, just from the fact that every company in this country needs some kind of IT help or staff, while CG is an industry that is very specialized.

I also believe that IT would have a shorter learning curve from starting from scratch to being able to get a job that pays $60k than CG does, but that could be my distorted perspective because I'm in IT.

Many IT jobs don't necessarily require degrees, but a degree and especially industry certifications like Microsoft, Cisco, etc can be a helpful way to get you through the HR filters and of showing that you have at least a minimum of knowledge about the subject. The certifications may apply more to my end of IT though, I don't know how much they count in programming. A degree is a great thing to have though, for a variety of reasons. I'm about to finish mine.

Second, as far as going to school for CG, I'm sure you've realized by now that the CG industry doesn't usually require degrees either (seems like even less than IT), because it's so much more dependent on reel/portfolio. The agreement among people in most threads that I read about this stuff is that you're better off using school to learn the fundamentals of art instead of taking college classes to learn the software. The consensus seems to be that you learn the software on your own with books, tutorials, videos, and practice.

So your CSU may be your best bet if you decide to go for the art side after all, or for tech, or both. In fact, community college first, then state college for Bachelor's just like you seem to be thinking about doing. Some schools like CSU Long Beach even have an illustration/animation track. If you are going to shell out big money, go for a place with an excellent reputation, like SCAD, or any of the other top schools in the field. Don't spend all that money at an Art Institute or any place that advertises and markets heavily, because they're just after your money without giving enough in return.

Lastly, figure out how much you will have available from the GI Bill and try to stick to that or whatever you can afford without having to take on student loans. If you go for a loan, at least make sure that you run the numbers through a student loan calculator online beforehand so you know exactly how much you will have to pay back each month after you graduate.

Oh, and one more thing. If you want to accelerate your trip through the technical side, look at things like Khan Academy and see if you can try to test out of a lot (most?) of the math requirements for the tech degrees.

Good luck!
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