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Studying the art of video games

Studying the art of video games
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First Published: Tue, Aug 23 2011. 10 32 PM IST

Arty inputs: Designing 3D games needs artistic and technical know-how.
Arty inputs: Designing 3D games needs artistic and technical know-how.
Updated: Tue, Aug 23 2011. 10 32 PM IST
The next time your children are playing video games late at night, don’t tell them to switch off—they just might be doing homework for the future.
Arty inputs: Designing 3D games needs artistic and technical know-how.
Beginning September, Manipal University will be offering full-time, government-recognized degree programmes in game art—a three-year bachelor of science and a two-year master of science—at its Bangalore campus.
Manish Malik, general manager (gaming), Hungama Digital Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai, says: “Game art is a specialized creative field, and there is a need for people who have the technical expertise to become environmental artists, character artists, shaders, and so on. Each of these requires not just creativity, but also familiarity with specific software.”
But is there enough demand in India for such a programme?
Yes, says Padma Srinivasan, dean, Manipal University’s Bangalore campus. “The Indian gaming industry is expected to grow at 45% in the next five years. It is valued at Rs 10 billion (Rs 1,000 crore) and is expected to grow to Rs 38.3 billion by 2015, as per the Ficci-KPMG report for 2011. New technology, new hardware and new software for games have changed dramatically. There is a considerable amount of growth for console and mobile gaming too, along with considerable contribution coming from social media networks which have brought in exciting gaming propositions on their platforms,” she explains.
Under a faculty of instructors certified by Autodesk, a 3D design software firm, and a panel of industry experts, the students will learn not just 3D modelling or animation, but also go through the fundamentals of art and design, learn clay modelling, anatomy and photography using the latest tools, and train in both 2D and 3D animation.
To get into the three-year BSc course, students need a pass grade in the class XII board exam in any subject. They will have to sit for a creative aptitude test and give an interview. The two-year MSc course will take students who have cleared their bachelor’s in any stream. The fee for both courses is Rs 1.5 lakh a year.
Private institutes such as the Mumbai-headquartered Aptech already run courses in game design. Their two-and-a-half-month modules cost around Rs 30,000—they teach students the fundamentals of the technology behind game design.
Manish Mathur, deputy general manager (business development), Aptech, says: “Game design is not like learning other subjects. It depends mostly on the student’s aptitude. You can pick it up in a day or you can take three months to learn. After that it is important to get practical experience.”
He adds: “A three-year degree course might have more value as a basic qualification, but as an industry, we value experience and aptitude more than qualifications. A degree might hone the student’s analytical skills, but we also have an animation degree, if people want that option, which over two and a half years gives them experience in all types of animation and not just game design.” The two-and-a-half-year degree course from Aptech costs Rs 3.10 lakh.
Malik says the gaming market in India is growing rapidly. “Today, Electronic Arts Inc. or Ubisoft Entertainment SA make a game and they outsource part of the production to India. This means that there are a lot of opportunities for young talent, though the pay is often slightly below other design-based careers. But my belief is that games have reached the inflection point. We believe that in three-four years, there will be a lot of local content being developed, and the industry will also grow to match the growing audience.”
Deepak Abbot, vice-president (product), Zapak Digital Entertainment Ltd, Mumbai, says: “This is definitely a welcome change. Till date there was no formal course for gaming, and the animation-related short courses were not gaming-focused. In India, art has long been a problem—we are able to perfect the game mechanics and code, but game art has lots of room for improvement.”
Zapak, which is always looking to hire artists, says they are in short supply; most people who are trained as art designers come from a very different background. “We think there is a huge requirement for such skills, considering companies are now aggressively developing games in India,” says Abbot.
Dhiren Shah, managing director and CEO, Mile Nine Studios, Mumbai, has made games for Games2Win, Kreeda Games India Pvt. Ltd and Zapak, as well as ICICI Bank Ltd and music channel 9XM. “India is at a very nascent stage when it comes to gaming. A lot of specialized talent is needed—it can take a year and a half with 300 people all working together to create a console game. The skill set isn’t here yet,” he says.
According to Shah, a degree course in game art is a necessary first step towards evangelizing video-game design in India. He says: “The audience is growing at 31% year-on-year now, and as an employer, I want to hire people who already have the skills required and not have to train them myself. Today, when we hire people, the most important thing is if a person has formal training in understanding art. You can’t get that from a short course where the only focus is on teaching you how to use the tools.”
Not everyone is wholly convinced, though. Mahesh Khambadkone, chief operating officer and co-founder, Games2Win, says the majority of work in India is still not 3D. He says: “For the industry in general, if such courses can offer international project exposure to students, are priced efficiently so that students are not cheated and have options for other types of art beyond 3D, it will be great. We don’t look out for people from specific universities or degrees—it’s their talent and motivation that we place more importance on. Game art does not pay much initially and for those who are not highly motivated to be in this industry, it will be difficult.”
Arjun Jassal, head of BlueAnt, a collective of designers and media-tech geeks, says the industry is growing but as a career, animation and design work may not be for everyone. “The problem with the courses that I see is that they are all very conceptual and don’t really give people what is needed to work in the industry in its current state.” Indian companies are still driven by outsourced work where the low-level grunt work happens here, and then gets finished in China. “Also, there are probably good reasons for the cost of these courses, but starting salaries in the industry are often low. A good start would be between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000 a month, and the jobs are all in big cities, with big rents, not to mention the loans from the education that these people will be paying,” he adds.
gopal.s@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Aug 23 2011. 10 32 PM IST