I’m not exactly the best person to ask this question. Like a lot of people here, I’m self-taught. Everything that I learned, I figured out on my own. That’s largely because when I started:
a. I was still 15 and college still was a lil’ bit off.
b. It was 1989. The tech was still in its infancy. The software was crude and expensive. Today’s common knowledge was yesterday’s trade secret. The idea that any major university would teach this stuff wasn’t on anybody’s mind.
c. There were no training materials and certainly no internet. Anything CG related (ie. books) almost always had to do with coding ray-tracers or simulations.
That said, looking at the syllabus, if you want to do CG then this is not the major for you. The 3D portion is VERY basic. It probably won’t teach you anything that you couldn’t learn on your own by watching a few Youtube videos.
The major itself is far more focused on the more essential elements of design as well as some traditional art basics. If 3D is really what you want to learn then I would think VERY hard about how you spend your time and money. A major such as this would likely prepare you for a life of designing magazine ads, concert posters, or promotional material for corporations instead of working on games, movies, and so on.
The way I see it, you have a few options - none of which are to skip school, btw.
You can take this major, learn as much as you can about design, art theory, and so on. Either concurrently or right after, you could then supplement what you just learned in school with some independent study. Learn from some Youtube videos. Buy some topic specific training material from Gumroad. Subscribe to a service such as Pluralsight or Udemy where you can stream various courses.
All of what you do on your own time will require you to be self-disciplined and dedicated. Nobody will be grading you. You’ll have to create art on your own time and get feedback from online communities. It’ll all be an additional expense and bit of risk; Not all videos are made equal. Some are better and more informative than the others. It depends on the artist making the video.
On the plus side, however, you’ll learn some real world techniques covering topics that DO interest you. With enough practice, eventually, you’ll be producing beautiful work like the stuff that you see online. Also, because it’s independent study, you’ll be the one pacing yourself. If you feel that character modeling is still far too advanced or esoteric of a topic for you to approach properly, you can choose to start with something simpler and work your way up. You’re setting the tone and, effectively, designing your own personal major.
The reason for still taking this “official” major boils down to two very basic things. First, a diploma is never a bad thing to have. It gives you a little cred. Second, while it may not have anything to do with 3D specifically, a good artist also knows a thing or two about more traditional topics.
I’ll be honest with you. I can’t draw for crap. Never could. No matter how hard I try, I still suck. HARD. However, I’ve been aided by the fact that I’ve taken a handful of art history and theory classes along the way. I understand what separates good composition from bad. I know the importance that light and shadow play in a piece. I know the difference between hot colors and cold, what complements something and what contradicts, and so on. Using real clay, I’ve also taught myself the fundamentals of human and animal anatomy. I’m not great at all forms of traditional art, but I do shine (enough) in others that it has helped my CG work over the years.
Having a traditional art background can really make you a better CG artist. Unlike Super Smash Bros, CG isn’t about button mashing until you get the win. There’s a time and a place for technical artists, but knowing more traditional art and design can help further your creativity if that’s your thing.
All of that 3D self-study stuff that I suggested above. However, instead of going for a 2 year visual design degree, maybe opt for a more pedestrian liberal arts 4 year degree with a minor in art.
The liberal arts major can be something “normal” like English, finance, or whatever. A minor in art, however, can let you explore all of that stuff about art history, theory, and design in a way that gives you an overview, but in a way that sets you up for success moving into your 3D self-study.
Going for a regular, boring liberal arts degree isn’t a waste of time though. For one thing, you want to be a well rounded person, not just a well rounded artist. There’s something to be said for reading the works of Plato, discussing the cultural impact of Wuthering Heights, or just taking a French class.
People say that you’ll never use that stuff in real life or that you’ll soon forget it. However, there’s stuff that I learned in the 7 years that I took Latin (grades 6-12), that I still find ways to slip into conversations today. If all you can talk about is work stuff then you’ll be damn boring at social functions. Granted, talking about how ancient doctors in Athens or Rome diagnosed diabetes is just as boring, but it beats talking about how one co-worker hates your or is sleeping with the boss.
The other advantage of a liberal arts degree is that it’s a little less demanding than if you had been focused on, say, physics or computer science. You read some books, write some papers, and take some tests. Not a whole lot of big projects or lab work to take your time. Most college students would use that extra time party (f— yeah), but YOU - being the industrious type that you are - can put your nose to the grindstone and learn how to create badass art.
Find a school that offers a more CG oriented major. Maybe find one that only offers CG and is taught by industry vets.
The plus side is that you’ll get training for people who do this stuff for a living, the stuff that you learn won’t just come from text books, and you’ll be learning modern topics instead of stuff that’s 5 or 10 years out of step.
One downside might be that you’d probably have to leave Indiana. If going that far from home and spending money on housing expenses is out of your budget then that could pose a problem. More over, such programs tend to have fairly competitive entry requirements. I can’t speak from personal experience though. You’ll have to find some graduates of said programs.
WHATEVER OPTION YOU CHOOSE…
Never stop learning. Always use that free time that you have to learn something new. The moment that you stop learning, you’re dead in the water. You can be in the business for 20 years and you’ll always have to find time to stay on top of the latest technology and techniques. CG is forever evolving and so should you as an artist.
Also, take that “Ten Thousand Hours Rule” to heart. If you don’t know what I’m saying then let me quickly explain. The idea is that, to master any skill, you need about 10k hours worth of practice to go from zero to hero. If 10k hours sounds like a lot to you… it isn’t. In practice, it’s really just about the same amount of time you’ll spend getting a college degree - 4 to 5 years.
Honestly? Nobody really becomes a master. You can be at it for 5 years or 50 and, as I said, there’s always something new to learn. However, after 10k hours, you won’t suck like you definitely will during your first 100.
Make no mistake about it. You WILL suck for the first few weeks (or more). The critiques you get, even if they’re super helpful, won’t be all that glowing. Hearing that your works sucks will hurt. As long as you take it in stride and internalize the helpful suggestions, you’ll be fine. Every new work that you create will eventually suck a bit less than the last. Eventually, the only one that’ll think that you suck will be you and, if you’re lucky, people will pay you.
ANYWAY… Unless money’s a big problem, which I can identify with, never skip school. Do you want to break your poor mother’s heart?
(As long as you’ve got the talent to back it up, you can still be employable without a degree. Having one never hurt though. In certain fields, having a degree is also a must if you want to get to more management type level. Even then, I know a bunch of people who never went to college and make $200k per year. Higher education - if you can afford it - is still a very good idea, imo.)