Image courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design

How SCAD students are learning to fill real-time's rising demands

With 20+ years’ experience in immersive computing and UX design, SuAnne Fu serves as chair of the interactive design and game development department at Savannah College of Art and Design as well as faculty lead for high-profile projects for SCADpro, SCAD’s Innovation Center utilizing real-time technologies including Google YouTube, Google Daydream, Deloitte Digital, Samsung’s NBNL (Next Business No Limit), and Gulfstream Aerospace. 
What does The Rookies' #1 school for creative media & entertainment look like? The students at The Savannah College of Art and Design—or SCAD—can tell you. With in-depth creative courses in everything from architectural history to visual effects; an elite faculty with recognitions ranging from Emmy and Academy Awards to best-selling publications; and three campuses with nearly 130,000 square feet of classrooms, green-screen stages, motion capture suites, and more; students have everything they could ever desire to hone their skills. Plus, if the latest tech isn’t enough, anyone at SCAD can also study abroad in France before coming home to finish their degree.
With perks like these, it’s no surprise that SCAD students can now be found everywhere from Blizzard and Bethesda to Google and Oculus. However, according to Chair of Interactive Design and Game Development SuAnne Fu, those aren’t the only places you’ll find them.

There is an increasingly high demand for real-time experts outside of gaming, in industries ranging from architecture to aerospace. Supply is far below demand, so SCAD is training students to fill all sorts of new roles—fast.

“It’s hard to note what ‘the industry’ even is anymore,” Fu notes. “We’ve had students work at HoloLens, Gulfstream Aerospace, and Deloitte Digital using game engine technology. We even have alumni using game engine technology for accident visualization in court trials.”

An expanded industry

SCAD has prepared itself, and its students, to manage this shift for years. The university first started experimenting with Unreal Engine’s modding tools in 1999. Around 2004, the school then transitioned to using the Unreal Developer Kit, then formally adopted Unreal Engine into the curriculum in 2010.
Zoelie by SCAD Games Studio

“The Interactive Design and Game Development department alone has been using Unreal Engine for more than 15 years,” says Fu. “After working with several game engines, we found that Unreal Engine’s software interface was the most conducive for teaching our large population of artists and designers. Its user-friendliness helped artists create interactive content, while still allowing the more technical to use Blueprints or code to make actual playable games.

Image courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design
“That’s why we adopted Unreal Engine—for its ability to empower artists to create content in a space that was traditionally inaccessible to them.”
Image courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design | Fianna Heim
Today, Unreal Engine is used in over 80% of the game development courses at SCAD, where projects can consist of everything from creating a mini-environment in Unreal Engine with Quixel and Substance Painter/Designer all the way to building fully playable levels and prototypes with the help of scripting, particles, and effects-creation classes.
Image courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design | Chris Chojnacki
The school has also increased the teaching of real-time skills in many of its other disciplines, too. “Unreal Engine is also being taught in animation, visual effects, and even architecture, industrial design, and product design classes,” reveals Fu. “Entire departments are now deep in planning how to incorporate real-time technologies into their curriculum.”
SCAD Profile Img2 Dan Bartlett is the Associate Dean for the School of Digital Media at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). Dan has a wealth of experience as an animation visual development artist. He’s worked across feature-length and long-form television animation production, live action filmmaking, virtual production pipelines,  and virtual reality experiences. Dan specializes in teaching animation concept design, 2D & 3D character performance, and digital painting through practice-led workshops.

Enter virtual production

SCAD’s investment in a 10.9-acre expansion of its film studio complex—now, the largest university-centered film studio in the country—is the perfect example of how successful this incorporation of real-time technologies across disciplines can be.
Image courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design
“It is an exciting change for students in the School of Digital Media as well as the School of Entertainment Arts,” says Associate Dean Dan Bartlett. “The facilities have been built to include a Hollywood-style film backlot and a next-generation XR stage for virtual productions. Both schools are exploring the intersection of technology skills and cinematography skills to create a new curriculum that will embrace both disciplines.”

Unreal Engine will play a large role in this new curriculum and is on course to become part of the core software suite used throughout SCAD’s virtual production pipeline. 

In preparation for this new curriculum offering, faculty and technical staff from across the Schools of Digital Media and Entertainment Arts have spent the last six months refining their knowledge by attending the Unreal Education summits and using Unreal Engine’s teaching guides and online learning resources to bridge topics within the virtual production space.

“I believe it’s all part of this increased awareness that has been cultivated in the last five years: real-time skills will be the wave of the future,” Fu concludes. “It was very evident that even as the game industry boomed, the parallel design and entertainment industries would also demand real-time skills. At SCAD, we have the benefit of being in the ivory tower and having one of the premier innovation labs where high-profile brand partners come to us requesting future solutions. If we can’t pave the way for the future, no one can.”

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