Being a programmer in an art class / by Thomas McGillicuddy

Well I guess the title is a little misleading, I'm actually in a technical art class. We're using python to create tools for Maya and the such. I've found the experience really challenging, not in the technical aspect mind you, but just as a programmer being put into a more art like position.

Usually by this point in college, the game art students  have spent a fair amount of time getting to know their professors and getting to know each other. Obviously that wasn't something I got, because I've been living in a totally different set of labs with different professors. There are only about 6 students, and class is fairly laid back. But I have friends in the game art major and I know the pressure to deliver is all too real. Rumor is, the professor for this course had to stop teaching freshman because he made them cry with his (accurate and helpful) feedback.

I got into the class because I had all the prereqs waived, things like modeling 1 and intro to the basic 3d art concepts, the things that no one really needs. And I'll say that I was pretty nervous day 1. Didn't really know anyone, or how much criticism I was expected to give. Plus, I didn't want to say something that would anger the art gods.

Luckily the programming has been pretty easy. I got to put together a calculator in Maya really quickly for the first assignment, reverse polish notation and all. The midterm was fairly standard, a procedural fence builder. Got that going with not too much work, and threw in some extra flair that made the fence look all broken and twisted. 

Of course, the main challenge for me in this class is the whole "Art" part of "Technical Art." I'm not a kinda guy that makes things pretty, I make things that work. So a lot of the feedback that I get in the class is about my UI layout and the models that I generate. My fence making tool was particularly weak because I left almost every tweak-able variable available to the user. In my head, this was the ultimate fence maker, that had the potential to make the Great Wall of China, the greatest fence in the world. But alas, I was told that I as the "artist" should hard code more things that I KNOW will look good. HARD CODE MORE THINGS!? The very idea of such a practice would have me fail most advanced programming courses. 

That's part of the reason I'm going with a rigging tool for my final, because there's a little less straight art I need to do and more utility. Not to say I'm not working on that stuff of course, just a totally different change of pace from the "if it works" mentality of the game programming major.