How Six Students Got to Learn From the Artists Behind the God of War Series

The school was started by professionals and is focused on teaching helpful skills to its students that they would use in day-to-day life, working for an actual company. Jeal explains the concept in greater detail. “Brainstorm is…for Concept Designers who want to learn from talented industry veteran currently working in film and game industries…all of your instructors are currently working in the industry AND they have the desire to train and influence the next generation of Designers/Artists.”

Students can choose to take classes based on their experience level and interests, ranging from an introduction on game design to an advanced concept art course. Instead of a traditional grading and lecture structure, students are encouraged to better themselves and their own skills in an area they choose to focus on. SMS lead character concept artist, Dela Longfish, adds, “It’s not about the grade; it’s about the work. They’re really into what the courses are, so the motivation is really high with these students.” 

The Santa Monica Studio Connection

On a random day, Brainstorm instructor, Jeal, had a new idea for a class — to get students to learn practical lessons about the early stages of game development by having them create the initial design and documents for a new game. His idea stemmed from a problem he saw with actual new hires. Jeal comments, "I was fed up the having to re-train graduates from schools that were supposed to be the best at teaching Entertainment Design. I wanted to teach a class where students were taught how to be better prepared and be a more effective member of a Concept Design team at ANY game studio, working on ANY genre, from day one of their hire…train them to think like Industrial Designers for the genre of games that they are working in; and then…showcase the deliverables."

With this class in mind, Jeal thought of Shannon Studstill, SMS Head of Studio, as the perfect fit to partner with him in this endeavor. He explains, "I’ve always had great admiration and respect for (Shannon), so it was a natural thing for me to reach out to (her) and pitch the class. Plus, I knew going in that she has always been on the forefront of advocating for education and talent development."

Interestingly enough, Jeal and Shannon were connected previous to this ask. Luke explained, "The two worked together at Santa Monica Studio on Kinetica…he was an artist." After Jeal eventually parted ways with the company, he and Shannon stayed good friends. Jeal went on to work for other game studios including 2K and currently is working as the Senior Creative Art Director at Daybreak Game Company along with teaching duties at Brainstorm. 

After agreeing to the partnership, Shannon asked Luke and Dela to be the studio ambassadors that would visit the class and help give critical feedback for the students. Both have had previous teaching experience and were excited to take part in a fascinating partnership. Luke said, "I love to teach and I’ve done so for a long time. And Dela also taught in the past as well as outreach for the studio..." Soon, Jeal, Luke, and Dela huddled together to prepare to give the students a unique experience they never expected.

The Big Assignment

The first day of class came, and six students were given their assignment: to create concept art and initial design documents for a fictional action game game set in Mayan mythology. Dela talked about how the premise came about and how it compared to actual work at the studio level: "One thing we wanted to do…was to give an assignment that went along with what the studio was known for…The intent was to give something that was based in mythology and really forced the students to think outside of the box and design things on the character and environment side that were like abstract or didn’t exist…We wanted to give them similar things that we do on a daily basis."

Luke added that he and Dela conducted initial research into creating a rich, new mythological theme for the students that differentiated from prior efforts of the studio: "Since the studio had explored Greek mythology so much…we didn’t want to give them that assignment to make another God of War game in that mythology because we wanted them, as students, to be challenged to have to come up with their fresh ideas so we asked them to design their own action adventure game set in Mayan mythology. And we didn’t even include Kratos as one of their characters so they had to start fresh with everything."

"I was fed up the having to re-train graduates from schools that were supposed to be the best at teaching Entertainment Design. I wanted to teach a class where students were taught how to be better prepared and be a more effective member of a Concept Design team at ANY game studio, working on ANY genre, from day one of their hire…” 

 

- Jeal Choi, Brainstorm Instructor

The class was structured with Jeal teaching the majority of the class sessions. Luke and Dela came in periodically throughout the quarter to introduce the work and inspirations as well as to critique the students’ concepts. Luke explained, "The first day we went in, we showed them artwork from God of War Ascension and God of War III and talked about our studio’s process of how we look at references, read mythology, deal with other departments, and how we approach developing…the artwork for a game in an early stage. Then we left them and came in at their midterm…did a big critique…looked at all their artwork and heard about where they had come up with for the project."  

Under the watchful eyes of the SMS ambassadors and Jeal, the small group of students worked together for ten weeks and came to understand how an actual studio functioned as well as owning certain levels as well as a characters, all under the Mayan mythological theme. Dela talked about the importance of teaching the students how their work compared to a real studio: "We showed them the foundation…Here’s how we iterate on something; here’s how we go through how many times it takes…10, 20, 30 passes until we actually nail it down. And the intent behind the design and bringing the storytelling into the design as well as working with other departments and its importance."

Admittedly, the students were surprised, at first, by this specific assignment but grew more and more excited by the challenge. Normal classes would simply touch upon a number of different concepts and themes without consistently working on a single goal as a team. Jeal commented, "(The students) simply were not used to thinking the way I was proposing…By the second class session, however, all the students were focused and were well on their way to learning how to leverage their individual strengths…" 

Another reason the students were excited to create a strong project was that the concepts were to be critiqued by the entire Santa Monica Studio! Jeal stated, "The students worked so hard because they knew…they were going to present their work…at the studio, in front of Shannon Studstill A-N-D the team. Where can a student get that kind of direct exposure to a AAA studio as well as face-time with the team working on the God of War franchise?" 

Meet the Students and Their Work

Here are the six adventurous and fascinating student team members that made the early concepts for a Mayan-themed action-adventure game and their impressions of the experience:

Rahul Philip

I’ve always been a fan of the God of War series and that was my primary source of inspiration for this project — mainly the gameplay, visual design, effects and the impactful use of scale. It was definitely challenging to visualize a Mayan world in the way Santa Monica Studio creates the world of God of War, but different in its own ways. It was a great experience working on diverse game assets, trying to figure out the look and feel of individual characters, environments and props and making sure they fit well with the work done by other artists in the team. 

Meeting with Luke and Dela…was an amazing experience and something that I haven’t had before; their feedback always being right on point while keeping our design intent in mind. (It) helped rewire my brain to…enhance the intended ‘feeling’ when the player encounters a character or explores an environment, by finalizing the overall design and palette, and then finding ways to add layers of detail and depth without losing your initial rationale. 

Jeal’s guidance and motivation throughout the project helped me get a glimpse into the workings of a high-quality studio environment, the challenges and expectations that come with it, which will help me immensely help in my career ahead as a concept artist.

Brandon Roberts

I think what I learned from this class the most was that the idea/design you are trying to convey is the most important rather than just a pretty illustration. And although pretty pictures are great selling points and needed, a large amount of the work one will be doing is call outs, tile-able textures, and other design related task that will help out the team as a whole. What inspired me the most was seeing the blending of all the different styles into a melting pot — like when I had an idea and (saw) my friend/teammates’ interpretation of it…

Norris Lin

The most important thing I have learned in the class is the design and problem solving ability. Every image you create has to be functional and has a certain purpose, whether it is a production drawing for (a) 3D artist on the production side, or a pretty illustration for selling the product on the marketing side. Even though a lot of inspirations are from the previous God of War series by Santa Monica Studio, what inspire(s) me the most are my other teammate’s works and ideas. With everyone’s hard work and Jeal’s supervision, we created a whole new world that we are proud of, and I hope it can also inspire more people. 

This class is the most professional class I have ever had. It offers me the opportunity to experience in a real studio environment. With Jeal’s supervision, my ability has been pushed to the extreme. Luke and Dela…were inspirational and provided critical feedback to improve my work. After the class, both my design skill and brain have been upgraded to a much higher level, and this will definitely make me more successful in my future career.

Kershan Lam

The class…really prepared me for industry. It taught me a lot about the responsibility of a concept artist (and) helped me understand the daily challenges that concept artists go through as a team. It challenged us to come up with a concept or design not just to look cool, but also very functional with purpose for the gameplay. During the project, my teammates and I worked very closely. Every time when anyone had any ideas or questions, we all jumped in and helped. We constantly gave feedback to help each other’s works, helping each other to grow as an artist. We created a special bond with each other and created something that is hard to do alone. It is amazing that how much you can do with a right team with the right people. 

I was highly inspired by everyone that is on the team in many different ways. It helped me to become a better designer. I am also very grateful to have this opportunity...To have professionals like Jeal, Luke and Dela to give us feedback and information (was) extremely helpful with their precious time…It was an amazing experience. 

Simon Dubuc

Creating an action-adventure game in the Mayan mythology certainly was a challenge as the mythos was unknown to most of us. It is, however, rich, detailed and full of inspiring imagery, and I enjoyed exploring it from a character design standpoint. (The class) gave us clear guidelines, and with Luke and Dela’s help, we worked as a studio team to bring our concept designs to life in the short span of the ten week class. Overall, the exercise was as close to professional work as it gets with frequent peer-review, team assignments and a clear focus on quality. Great experience! 

Lisa Nguyen

I was inspired by rich ceremonies of the Mesoamerican culture and their ability to create intricate and monumental stone structures. I wanted to capture the essence of that on a larger scale in my environments and incorporate the culture the best I could. 

Learning to work in a team requires a high amount of coordination and communication to keep things visually consistent. I am use to working in other classes independently, and in this program, it taught me how to communicate with my peers. The fact that we are working on the same subject allows for more intricate designs since everyone has done a great amount of research. We were also fortunate enough to have Luke and Dela provide a brief overview of their past work at Santa Monica Studio, and they provided great information and guidelines for our first meeting. They also attended the midterm and finals to provide valuable feedback, which really shaped up our project since they were seeing it with fresh eyes and many years of experience.

"It was a great experience working on diverse game assets, trying to figure out the look and feel of individual characters, environments and props and making sure they fit well with the work done by other artists in the team."

-Rahul Philip, Brainstorm Student

Conclusion

Reflecting back, each of the teaching staff for the Brainstorm class were affected in different ways. For Dela, it reminded him why he enjoyed teaching others. He commented, “This experience showed that our studio wants to keep up and be aware of what’s going on in the art community. From a personal side…I remember when I was in my final class in school and had a professor that came in and changed my view and opened up with what the world could be for concept art and how I could approach everything. I remember the impact it had on me, and I hope we can do the same.”

For Luke, he felt the experience helped remind him of why he enjoys working as a game artist. He reminisced, "It’s fun…to be around people just starting out in their careers. And getting to work at a place like Santa Monica Studio is a privilege; teaching and interacting with people just starting out in their careers reminds you of that everyday. And it’s really inspiring to see how passionate the students are and helps remind you of when you first started working out.”

For Jeal, he believes that the experience was a great step to help fulfill his ultimate mission that started the idea— to get future game artists better prepared for the industry. He stated, "…the students deserve to be better prepared for their future AND the studios deserve better qualified candidates to fill their ranks.”

So, where are the students now? Jeal gave a quick update: "I’m waiting for a couple of them to graduate from Art Centers so I can hire them. One of them is on his way to being funded and developing his own game. A few work with James Paick at his studio; another few are putting together their portfolios to apply at a certain MOBA company (laughing), and one of them works with me at Daybreak Games."

For more information on Brainstorm, go to http://www.brainstormschool.com

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