A New Year, A New Career

A year ago today, I was the lone research coordinator/assistant for a psychiatrist at Stanford University facing impending lay-off.  I had feared economic instability my entire adult life and had thought that full-time work in the sciences and research would keep me securely employed; and here I was facing exactly what I had planned to avoid.  I’d received formal notice that by the end of March I’d be grouped with the 10% of unemployed Americans.

Today, I am a new MFA candidate at the Academy of Art University School of Illustration with a primary focus on Concept Art for games.  I’m happy I was laid off from research coordination!

It turned out that my lay-off was the beginning of a clusterwin, a simultaneous chain of positive events. At around the time I was informed of the life-expectancy of my job, the special edition of Mass Effect 2 arrived in the mail, complete with the art-book for the game’s pre-production.  I had seen concept art before, even created some, but the illustration of the Illusive Man that made a profound impression on me:

Concept Art by Matt Rhodes

The original title in the Mass Effect trilogy set a new standard for emotionally engaging digital actors.  To push the quality bar even higher, the art team painstakingly developed sophisticated concepts and new technologies for the characters of Mass Effect 2.  Personalities and back stories were woven into every detail of the designs, and several characters were born out of production paintings like this one of the Illusive Man.  Capturing more than just his appearance, the painting portrays a moment that defines the spirit of the character.

Mass Effect 2 Collectors’ Edition

This is it! I thought.  This is what I want to do.

I realized that Concept Art is the synergy of everything I had done before and everything I wanted to do.  It is my calling. I conferred with family in the entertainment business who then referred me to friends at Alligator Planet LLC who in turn gave me an invaluable start.  I enlisted in art classes at the local community college and applied myself – earning a 4.0 GPA and building a portfolio over the course of the year.  I received feedback and encouragement from my peers and instructors in school to make the leap.  Joe Ragey, who taught me about storyboards and using Corel Painter to create digital art, gave me particularly valuable information about which art schools to apply for.

I investigated the schools, compared my options, conferred with admissions representatives at different schools, debated between shooting for a second BA or an MFA, assembled my [download id=”3″], held my breath, and clicked the button.  It was December, and I’d submitted my application to join the Illustration School Graduate Program at the Academy of Art University in Spring 2011.  A week later I heard from my admissions representative that the Director of the program had not only accepted me as a student, despite how I didn’t come from a formal background in the arts, but he also waived one of my required classes!

I can’t fully express the feeling I had at that moment, let alone the feeling I continue to have.  Needless to say, I am beside myself with excitement for this opportunity, to immerse in artwork, and work towards my calling.  It’s going to be very difficult and very challenging, and that’s exactly what I need from school.  Here’s to a new year, and a new career!