[Editor: We wanted to provide some inspiration for all aspiring animators out there. So here’s a collection of thoughts on the subject from a DMA curriculum developer and instructor, who’s also a pro animator with experience working as a character rigger. Check it out!]


By Austin Broder

Animation has provided many moments of genuine awe throughout my life. I remember sitting in front of the TV as a kid, doodling in my sketchbook and watching a video of Walt Disney step through the magic process to create one of the many masterpieces that filled my childhood with joy and wonderment.

I was caught between two thoughts – that animation was all I wanted to do, and that it must be a job reserved for people in some other place with magical powers. Seeing something like the Cave of Wonders roar to life in Aladdin was mind-bending and I felt it must have been crafted in some mystical underworld.

“ROAR!!!” (Aladdin™, The Disney Company)

I’d daydream about working at an animation studio, but didn’t think it was actually a possibility. But it was something I couldn’t pull myself away from.

I’d find whatever tools were available. My first animations were in homemade “flipbooks,” filling up the corners of my school textbooks!


Then, a huge step forward. I got my own computer and I was thrilled! I found MS Paint and I’d draw and draw and draw. But I needed to make motion so I would draw a character, then save it as “Animation_001.” Then I’d erase the arm and redraw it a little different, and save it as “Animation_002.”

I drew 342 frames this way and found a program that would create an animated GIF. It was so much time but it felt effortless. I was in awe of the magic that I was able to create with what I had.

And this continued as time progressed. I was lucky enough to see more and more powerful programs make themselves available as I was progressing along with them.

From simple beginnings – like working in Paint – great things can develop!


What I’m hoping is that I’ve been able to share with you something that I think is easily overlooked: With animation so ever-present in our lives today (from movies, games, ads and pretty much everything else), we – already saturated with exposure to animation – might sometimes lose the ability to see the magic that animation can create.

So every now and then, remember that one animated movie you watched that really took you by surprise!

But that’s not all. Use that energy to create! Because this, right now, is the Golden Age! And you get to live in it. Unlike my experience with animation, you guys have access to everything! If you didn’t know, now you do.

Autodesk has made ALL of its major programs (e.g., Maya, 3DS Max, Mudbox and AutoCAD) available for free to students. The entire Adobe suite is available to students for only $20 a month. Unity and Unreal Engine is free for independent projects. And more and more is becoming available.

Heck, even Pixar has thrown its hat into the ring, making its rendering software Renderman available for free as well!

On top of this, there’s also a huge wealth of learning materials and tutorials available. Everything from free to inexpensive…from design to drawing…and from modeling to rendering. These kinds of educational opportunities are relatively new to the home user.

“Hmmmph!” says one of the great characters of modern animation. (Up!™, Pixar Studios)

So now that you’re excited (and probably already off on another tab, downloading one of these programs), go forth and create whatever it is you’ve always wanted to see made. Because that mysterious, mystical place where animations come from…has just become your own house.

Austin Broder is a DMA curriculum developer and instructor who’s also a professional animator. He is a rigging/technical animator specialist with expertise in animation, 3D modeling, and rigging, and has worked extensively with programs like Adobe After Effects, Adobe Flash and Autodesk Maya. He has served as a character rigger at General Gau Animation Studio in Boston. Click to learn more about Austin Broder animation and art.

At DMA, we can think of no higher praise for our programs than when an established educator takes a DMA course, through our exceptional Pro Series of tech learning courses for adults.

From teacher to student: Kristen Barnhill came to DMA last July to perfect her animation skills.

So that’s when we learned that Kristen Barnhill, a 2012 LSU grad (Major: Digital Arts/Minor: Art History) and Animation instructor from Faulkner State Community College in Fairhope, Alabama, had trekked all the way from Alabama to our Stanford location to take our program.

Then we discovered she had taken two of our courses…and that’s when we knew we had to talk to this impressive person and find out about her DMA experience.


What did you actually create in your DMA summer course?
I took two separate courses: the Character Creation course and the Maya Principles of Animation course. I created bouncing ball animations, character walk cycles, and we used a character that looks like a chipmunk – but is overall shaped like a ball – to create an animation of our own choice.

That all sounds good. Anything else?
I also learned some very useful shortcuts and skills that I had not previously known. We learned how to model from a base character and how to properly create a character rig, as well as how to create a simple pose for it. I learned about rendering, lights and cameras, too.

How exactly did it make you feel when you completed your final project?
I felt inspired. I teach classes involving Maya software basics, so doing a project of my own and getting to use my own creativity was very exciting.

I’ve already been using all the extra skills I learned at camp. I use them every day.
– College Instructor and DMA Animation Student Kristen Barnhill

What were the most fun things about attending a DMA summer course?
Getting to know the other students and seeing all the different ideas people came up with for animating and modeling in 3D. Also, I was very excited to learn from my teacher, Van Phan. He was very cool and has worked on some great stuff in the industry, so it’s always cool to get to know someone like that.

Kristen created “Happy Duck,” a character of her own design, with DMA tech training.

Do you think you’ll use what you learned at DMA when you’re back at your regular job?
I’ve already been using all the extra skills I learned at camp. I use them every day.

Would you like to attend a DMA course next summer?
Yes, I would definitely like to take more courses. I believe my place of work plans on providing some more training for me next summer. I would like to take some more advanced courses in Maya and possibly cinematography, as well.

Would you suggest DMA courses to your friends and colleagues?
I would absolutely recommend DMA to others.

Were you pleased with your DMA experience?
Yes, I was. I really enjoyed it and cannot wait to come back!

DMA training brought Kristen all the way from Alabama last July to our Stanford location.


Ensure you’re going to have the most tech-tastic summer ever, by attending DMA summer tech camps. Certain classes fill up early, so make sure you get into the tech camp of your choice by registering soon.

With programs so strong they pass the toughest test – pleasing educators, like Kristen – DMA is gearing up for what is sure to be our biggest and best summer camp season. Come be a part of it by choosing among DMA’s tech camp locations and the course(s) of your choice.

Special thanks to DMA’s Rachelle Harding for coordinating this interview!

Welcome to DMA Tech Watch, where we review the biggest news events and tech trends now on the radar. Here’s what we’re watching as of November 16, 2015:


There’s only a month of anxious waiting left. Can your heart stand it?

It’s either 32 or 31, depending on how you count it. That’s the number of days until the opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Expectations couldn’t be running any higher: The latest trailer received more than 13 million views, and the record advance ticket sales were so robust that both the Fandango and Movie Tickets.com sites crashed.

And here’s an impressive stat for you: Since 1977, fans have spent more than $20 billion on franchise merchandise. And just wait until next month hits…


The Perlan 2 glider weighs only 1,265 lbs. and holds a crew of two, plus emergency rebreathers.

Higher. That’s the goal for hearty inventor/aviator Einar Enevoldson, who has learned how to use certain “ricochet” winds that bounce off the earth and produce powerful upsweeps.

How powerful? Strong enough to potentially rocket his engine-free Perlan 2 glider to elevations of more than 90,000 feet – or 17 miles, straight up.

Testing continues, in a frenzy, in the airspace above Sabre Springs, near San Diego. Imagine: To infinity and beyond…with no motor.


Google’s testing of its driverless vehicles continues, mostly without incident.

Of course, it was just a matter of time until a driverless car ran afoul of the law, and that’s exactly what happened last week in Mountain View, California. A Google test car got pulled…for going too slowly, namely driving 24 in a 35 zone, to the annoyance of drivers backed up behind it.

Following the ticket, the rider who had been in the passenger seat monitoring the trip slid over and took the wheel.

(Why are we not surprised anymore by anything that happens in this fascinating tech area?)


Microsoft has enjoyed success with its tablet/laptop combo, the Surface Pro 4. But will Apple follow?

“It may be okay for those guys, but not for us…” You could almost read it between the lines in Tim Cook’s recent interview with The Irish Independent, as he discussed whether Apple would follow Microsoft’s lead and make a product that combined tablet and laptop functionalities.

“We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad,” said Cook. “Because what that would wind up doing, or what we’re worried would happen, is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants.” Cook went on to say that combining the two products would inevitably lead to “compromises.”


DMA Online, now with courses in comp sci, app development, Python programming and more.

Please allow us a moment of pride as we announce our new DMA Online courses. The original set of DMA Online courses proved to be such a hit that our curriculum designers have expanded the entire course line.

As of December 1st, there will be four new DMA Online courses…courses that you can monitor according to your schedule.

New additions include Fundamentals of Computer Science, Fundamentals of iOS App Development, Fundamentals of Python and Fundamentals of 3D Modeling with Maya.

DMA Online courses bring you concentrated learning and are designed to support and enhance Digital Media Academy’s summer-camp experiences.

Your Source for Tech-Trend Info
Each week check out DMA Tech Watch for a look at the major trends shaking and shaping the world of tech.

Your Source for Tech Education
At Digital Media Academy, we keep our finger on the pulse of modern technology. That’s how we can create stunning summer-camp learning experiences in today’s hottest tech…subjects like 3D printing, robotics, app development and much more!

Join us next summer and “create the next.”

Digital Media Academy announced today that it has opened its Financial Assistance program for the 2015 summer season. The announcement marks the 13th year that Digital Media Academy has extended financial assistance to students.

DMA provides financial assistance to students from around the world.

In past years, DMA has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid to students around the world. The assistance has allowed students the opportunity to get hands-on technology education that might not have been made available to them otherwise.

Making a Difference
Mark B. is one of the many parents thankful for the opportunity DMA’s financial assistance program gave their child. In this case, his son, Daniel.

“I don’t know where my son would be today if it weren’t for DMA,” Mr. B. told a DMA Guest Service representative.

After being injured at work, Mr. B was unable to work and couldn’t afford the tuition for Daniel to attend DMA. This father was looking for a way to inspire his son and thought putting Daniel’s video-game playing skills to good use was a smart start.

Mr. B. applied for Financial Assistance and was awarded a scholarship. After attending a DMA course, Daniel was learning how to create video games, instead of just playing them. After two summers at DMA, Daniel is now pursuing his undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz.

Digital Media Academy believes that technology education should be available to everyone, regardless of circumstances or means. DMA awards limited tuition assistance based on financial need…and knows attending the world’s best tech camp can be a life-changing opportunity.

Discover what it takes to #CreateTheNext tech revolution at DMA.

This enemy character for the game Gears of War 2 was made using ZBrush. (Image: Epic Games)

If you’re interested in becoming a 3D video game or character designer, the first thing you want to do is learn how to use the tools of the trade. One of those tools is ZBrush.

What is ZBrush?
ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that lets artist paint, texture and model 3D computer objects.

ZBrush uses a proprietary “pixol” technology that captures all the information an artist needs to create character or object including color and lighting information.

How is ZBrush different from other 3D modeling tools? With ZBrush, users actually sculpt their objects like traditional artists might use clay or stone. Introduced in 1999 at SIGGRAPH by Pixologic Inc., today ZBrush is used by everyone from Electronic Arts to Disney to produce characters and objects for video games, movies and television.

Next-Gen Production Tools and Techniques
“I rely heavily on ZBrush to render anything organic in an environment,” Kevin Johnstone is a Senior Artist for Epic Games, the company behind the video game mega-hit Gears of War. “(ZBrush) give(s) most of my mechanical hard surface models a degree of weathering and damage so I can avoid making things look too manufactured or unused.” Learn how Epic Games used ZBrush to create Gears of War.

3D artist David S. knows how to put ZBrush through it’s paces, his work is showcased on the ZBrush community Sculptcrazy. (Image: David Varady Szabo)

This advanced production tool is capable of producing anything from rocks to people and it does it with ease.

Learning how to use 3D modeling software like ZBrush starts by getting the right training – and those best practices are taught by DMA. It’s important to get the right start, why? Artist who pick up bad habits or workflow spend more time re-learning correct and industry standard methods.

Using Pixologic’s ZBrush and learning advanced digital painting and texture mapping with Photoshop® can help make you a professional digital artist. Knowing techniques for creating architecture, characters, creatures, vehicles and other objects are essential. Techniques for normal mapping, grunge-color maps and specularity maps are also important.

To create the incredible detail you see in the games, DMA teaches both fine art principles such as color theory, layout compositional design, form and structure, as well as other techniques to expand your understanding of the art of game design.

Name: Brandon T.
Age: 15
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Future Occupation: Game Designer
Course: 3D Art & Modeling for Game Design with Maya®
Campus: UCLA

“Digital Media Academy fulfilled my passion for creating video games.”

What do you want to be?
“Ever since I was seven years old, I’ve wanted to be a video game designer. When I grow up, I want to work for Blizzard Entertainment. It’s my favorite game-development company and I have wanted to work for them since I was very young.”

What did you learn at DMA?
“At DMA, I learned how to do 3D modeling using Autodesk® Maya®, and used that skill to make a model of a StarCraft II® Void Seeker. My model was very detailed and intricate, and took a lot of work to make it look good. One of the cool things I learned (and which was vital to completing my project) was that I could model only half of the spaceship and then use the mirror feature to finish the other half, which I could do because my model was symmetrical.”

What was your most memorable camp moment?
“I really enjoyed working in class and then getting to compare my work with my classmates. That allowed me to see what other designers did and share with them what I did, and maybe help them a little on part of their work or get an idea for something cool that I could use in mine.”

How did DMA inspire you?
“To become a game developer. (DMA) gave me an environment where I could get a head-start and learn the skills I needed.”

Brandon created this StarCraft spaceship. (“StarCraft II is my all-time favorite game, which is why I made Zeratul’s Void Seeker from StarCraft for my project at DMA.”)

For gamers who want to go behind the scenes and learn how to design their very own video game, Digital Media Academy’s video game design camps can turn players into creators.

DMA offers a variety of cool locations on North America’s greatest college campuses and professional instruction from instructors who have actually worked in the video game industry. The world’s best tech camp by Worth.com in 2011, DMA delivers a world-class experience.

Learn 3D Modeling

3D Modeling by Vince Matthews

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s an age-old question, and one people ask themselves, believe it or not, well into their 40’s and 50’s. Today, computer imagery plays a major role in entertainment and even business.

From online games to super hero blockbusters like Batman, computer generated characters, environments and animation are what hold our attention. Today, it’s pretty easy to start dabbling in 3D modeling. Off the shelf and developer provided tools allow games to be modded, to add your favorite shirt to a character, or even put your face on a famous hockey player or video game fighter.

Modeling Your Future
3D modeling and animation put fantastic worlds and characters at our command. Learning 3D modeling can be the first step to a career as a game designer, a creative director or a film producer. For a technical field like 3D modeling, a four year college can be expensive, especially if you’re looking at a very technical field like 3D animation and want to have access to the newest tech.

That’s where DMA comes in, sure it’s possible to learn on your own, but learning from a professional is the smartest path. So is getting hands-on experience with the the latest hardware and software, like Maya, or 3D Studio Max. Before you know it, you could be pushing polygons around to animate the next Shrek. Or creating a video game level, or wonderful random abstract whimsical thing.

Digital Media Academy gives you a chance to get the experience and get it from expert educators who been studying and practicing what they teach for years. Teachers who will answer all the questions you can throw at them without investing in 4-5 years at college. (That’s not to say a one-week summer camp takes the place of a four-year education, on the contrary, DMA can help you get ready for a four year school or provide the skills you need to help you get a job.)

Software like Autodesk Maya and 3D Studio Max brings professional quality tools to independent artist, hobbyist, and the student with an interest in animation. Maya 3D modeling software is the industry standard for creating 3D characters and objects. Maya is used in the game, film, television and tech industries and computer generated imagery is a standard in almost every form of media.

What’s Your Experience?
In my experience as a Digital Media Academy instructor and university professor, I have seen more and more students showing up to class with prior experience creating 3D models and animation. These student artists are usually self-taught, having picked up whatever lessons they could find online and in print.

I experienced this myself when I was first learning Maya. I had first worked in Softimage and 3D Studio Max, and I had practically taught myself 3D modeling through manuals and online tutorials. (To a certain extent this method works fine, but professional instruction teaches best practices and professional techniques.) To learn Maya I thought I would go through the same experience, and was on my way to doing that when the company I worked for hired a Maya professional to come in for a few days and get our team of 3D animators up to speed on how to model, rig, and animate a character. (Yes, it’s true, even professional 3D modelling artists can benefit from Maya workshops.) I learned more in those two days than I had learned on my own in the past two years.

Not only was it personalized instruction, but I had never had someone tie it all together into such a well-organized workflow. Things made sense and were directly relevant to the 3D modeling task at hand. Now all the bits and pieces of the online tutorials and book chapters came together like puzzle pieces falling into place.

And not only was that time productive, my future self-directed learning in Maya was made more valuable because I was able to put it into the solid framework established during that 3D modeling training session.

Modeling a Career Path
Do you want to become a professional 3D animation artist? If so, you’re beginning a long and rewarding journey. My best advice? I highly recommend you take the time to get started on the right foot with some quality instruction. Digital Media Academy offers great courses to learn how to create and animate using Maya.

DMA’s Maya Certification program centers on its series of 3d modeling and animation courses. These courses are broad and deep and tackle some of the most complex problems and powerful tools in Maya, Autodesk’s industry standard software for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and visual effects. From a beginning of how to create basic shapes in Maya I, to a finalized piece with finished facial animations, body rigging, and narrative based story  – the Digital Media Academy series of courses provides an intense submersion into the Maya toolkit and workflow.

Paul Randall and Karen Laszkiewicz – who attended DMA at Stanford University as part of a partnership with NOVA this past summer – in collaboration with other students at animation summer camp created the sample project displayed below.  Both Paul and Karen were among the Digital Media Academy attendees who tackled all four courses back to back.  The amount of technical information was huge.  The requirements to process and apply the information were quick.  And the necessity to work as a team came as an extra spice to the mix.  Paul and Karen were integral parts of a diverse team that included participants of varying ages, abilities, gender, and nationality.  They both kept learning, kept producing and working with the team through the deadline to create the final piece seen here.

This project is based on a story from a children’s book and due to time constraints does not have voice over or final render.  That said, in this format you can see the scripted words (for voice over) and the skeleton (rigged, model) and other directional tools.  The important thing to remember is that Paul and Karen started with no experience in 3d or Maya and after 20 days of class were able to produce this.  Digital Media Academy will get you started on your new career path!  The skills they departed with will enable them to pursue the field of 3d art, modeling and animation as a viable career path.  What are you interested in learning with Maya?  Is it time to learn new skills to be competitive in today’s employment marketplace?  Why not learn new skills and have fun too at Digital Media Academy’s Maya summer camp?  Please join the conversation, and leave a comment below! 

Looking for more information on Maya Certification?  Please click here:  Maya Certification   Which Digital Media Academy location will work best for you?  Take a look!  Please click here:  Digital Media Academy Adult Training Locations.


When you’re creating an animated character there are many things you need to consider. 3D modeling and the animation process, by default, requires constant evaluation and decision-making. That’s why it’s helpful to group the thousands of visual choices you need to make into available into basic, fundamental principles. One of the most important elements is asymmetry.

Modeling Perfection
The dictionary defines asymmetry as an inequality between two parts, and in the world of mathematics, this is usually not ideal. But in the context of design (and in 3D modeling and animation in particular) asymmetry is vitally important in establishing interest and believability. Asymmetry helps to establish believability because we live in a world where things are naturally assymetrical. 

Asymmetry helps to establish variation from one thing to another, in this case left to right, and makes the subject look more interesting.

symmetry_faceFor a basic example of asymmetry look no further than the human face. Take a look at the image above, which face looks more natural? The image on the left is natural, while the one on the right is mirrored, or symmetrical.

Achieving Asymmetry
Now how does this translate into the context of 3D modeling and animation?  How do we achieve asymmetry while creating a character in a program like Maya? Don’t fret, there are some simple ways to do this:

1. Create, Mirror, then Modify

A common approach to modeling characters is to work on one half and then mirror the geometry to the other side. This is a smart way to work, as it resembles the rough symmetry of most characters and simultaneously cuts the work in half.

Still this leaves us with a completely symmetrical model when we want something more believable. It looks, for lack of a better word, “computer-ish.” You can avoid this by simply altering certain elements of one side of the model through scaling or sculpting or using lattice deformers.

symmetry_modelModifying small elements will help bring life and believability to your model.

2. Animate with Style

How do we incorporate asymmetry into animation? While posing a model consider a more dynamic, more readable pose. During animation, motion curves representing opposite sides of the body can be offset to provide a sort of temporal asymmetry.  This creates a pleasant overlap and flexibility to a characters action, an important step in creating a believable sense of weight.


Asymmetry, is a vital step in making your characters believable. The presence of asymmetry not only brings your characters to life, but indicates to the viewer, you thought about the design, both as a modeler and animator. You can learn more about 3D modeling by going to a 3D art and computer graphics camp, with the latest animation and modeling tools at your disposal, you’ll be creating 3D art in no time.