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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.

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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.

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Games like Legend of Princess really show off what you can accomplish with Multimedia Fusion 2.

Multimedia Fusion 2, is just one of the pieces of software Digital Media Academy uses to teach kids how to create a video game in DMA’s video game design camps. If you’re starting to explore game designing, there’s no better place to start than Multimedia Fusion.

Connecting with Computers
Computer programming languages are used by programmers to communicate with computers. Learning how to program is very similar to learning a new language—you also have to learn how computers “think” so you can effectively give the computer instructions.

Teaching a programming language to 8-12 years olds is difficult (and boring), but you can still teach kids the concepts of programming in a fun and exciting way. In fact, that’s what Multimedia Fusion 2 (MMF2) allows DMA to do! Students learn the main concepts of game design without having to learn to code. That way, when, and if they pursue computer programming at a later age, they’ll already understand many of the basic concepts of programming and be well on their way.

Making Media with MMF2
Because of the versatility that Multimedia Fusion 2 provides, it’s easy to create a wide range of games and multimedia. And once you’ve got down the basics, you can create games for iOS, Windows, Android and XNA. But there are several reasons why you should develop your first game on MMF2:

1. A Complete Toolbox. MMF2 provides everything you need to create and the interface is easy to use and understand.

2. A Creative Sandbox. No matter what kind of game you want to create, a puzzle game, a side-scolling actioneer or 2D platformer you can create it all in MMF2. Even businesses use MMF2 to create applications for customers and employees.

3. No Experience Required. You don’t need to know how to write a single line of code, and most people can grasp the basics of MMF2 within an hour.

4. Community Support. MMF2 has a large community of users that support new and veteran users alike.

Game On!
Every game has graphics and objects that move around the screen. Normally, a programmer would write the code to get those objects to move, but when you’re using MMF2, you can focus on the concepts of designing great games instead of writing code. MMF2 gives you lots of creative options.

MMF2: Frame EditorMMF2 allows users to lay out the graphical elements of their game quickly and easily. In this Breakout-type game, a user chooses how objects will move (in this case how the ball will bounce).

MMF2’s Event Editor is another way to interact with your program. Here, you program the “brains” of your game. The Event Editor lets you program without writing a single line of code. Technically speaking, you are creating “conditionals” in this window. Whenever this happens, do that. For example, line number 9 says “If the number of lives reaches 0, then restart the application.” By creating lists of these conditionals, we can create complex and interesting games that our students can be proud of! Multimedia Fusion 2 games will run on any Windows computer.

MMF2: The Event EditorThe Event Editor in MMF2.

I’m Ben Jaffe, one of the instructors for Digital Media Academy’s Adventures Program. I teach Game Design and Web Design.

On the surface, the Game Design class may look somewhat straightforward. But it’s much more than simply creating fun games with our students. In our classes, we also teach important programming concepts, which can be the foundation for a future programming career.

Game Building can be frustrating for somebody who has never done it before. As games become more and more complex, the instructors are there to help them understand how to build their games well. Programmers call it “extensibility.” Here’s an example of how students encounter this in DMA’s Adventures Game Design class:

A few days into the week, we usually start working on an RPG game. The player controls a character who interacts with bystanders in the game to get information or collect items. The students quickly discover how frustrating it is to program actions for every single bystander in the game individually. The same goes for other objects in the game, such as allies, enemies, keys, coins, and projectiles. It’s much easier to group them together, and make a rule saying, “Whenever the character talks to any bystander, run this action.”

3d Game Design Making Video Games at DMA

Extensibility is not the only programming concept that we teach to the kids. They learn the importance of game planning, bug testing, and proper pacing to effectively meet deadlines. They also develop an understanding of variables, and an introductory understanding of object-oriented programming. Instead of lecturing to the students, we let them discover and understand the concepts by themselves, with guidance.

Most importantly, we teach the kids programming concepts without them even realizing it! If they pursue a career in computer science or game design, they will already understand the importance of extensibility, testing, planning, and pacing. Though it may seem like just another fun summer course, every student gets much more out of it – skills they can use for the rest of their lives.

See you in the Summer!

In our Summer Digital Media Adventures Program for kids (9-13), we offer two Video Game Creation Programs. We cover several media and game-creation tools, and spend a lot of time in Multimedia Fusion 2. In this video, I’ll create a Pong Clone to show you the basics of MMF2’s interface. Unlike computer programming, MMF2 is more graphical and straightforward, and you can see direct results as you shape the game. Computer programming is much more abstract, but the basic concepts of programming are present in MMF2. In our Video Game Creation class, we teach students about game balancing and collaboration, and how to reach a deadline with a glitch-free game. In the advanced course, we go into how to manage games that quickly get very large, and how to build them well from the start. We look forward to seeing you this summer!

My name is Matthew Levie, and I’ll be teaching Documentary Filmmaking again this summer. I’m a professional editor, and feel free to browse my web site to see what I do.

Last year’s Documentary Filmmaking class was a fantastic experience for me as a teacher. The students included:

• a businesswoman from Boston,
• a sociologist from Japan,
• a teenager from France,
• a flight attendant from Miami,
• a scientist from Texas,
• and a teacher from South Carolina

Imagine what you could learn from a group like that!

Here’s a small snippet from the course. Since I’m an editor I can’t resist an example of phenomenal documentary editing. Have a look at the following clip, from the documentary Carrier, about the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

So first, one of the pilots introduces the idea that everybody on the carrier needs to do their job correctly, at the right time, for the carrier to function properly. And that sets off this montage of flight deck operations, set to—wait, can it be?—the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Notice how similar motions are grouped together—there’s a beautiful series of circular motions, for instance. And at the end, somebody declares “it’s like a ballet.” Which makes perfect sense, since the filmmakers have already make that perfectly clear from a visual standpoint! But then they extend the metaphor to other areas of the ship, particularly the people feeding the ship and cleaning it up.

This is actually an important priority of the filmmakers: making the viewers understand that an aircraft carrier isn’t all about the planes and the flight deck, but that there are people greasing the cables and cleaning the toilets as well. And they’ve done a great job of conveying that visually at every opportunity.

Want more? Well, you’ll have to come to Stanford. Not a lot of people regret spending a week in Northern California, and I’m sure you’ll learn a tremendous amount and enjoy yourself as well!

Browse the Documentary Film class syllabus here.

See what teens made at Digital Media Academy film camp this summer in Chicago!

This video was made by shooting hundreds of individual JPEG photos and piecing/editing them together in Final Cut Pro. This was made during DMA Film Camp in Chicago this past summer in the Teen Film Editing and  Filmmaking Course. Learn how to make a movie like this at a DMA course this summer!

Andy Hoffman is currently a junior at Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston, Texas, set to graduate in the Spring of 2010. Andy has known since he was 10 years old that he wanted to find a college that would allow him to get a degree in Video Game Design and allow him to go into the gaming industry.

The following is an interview with Andy. Read how Digital Media Academy inspired Andy and helped him acquire great skills that have allowed him to pursue his passion.

DMA: How old are you?

Andy: 17

DMA: How many summers have you been attending DMA?

Andy: This will be my fourth summer.

Andy has taken the following game creation courses at DMA:

In summer of ’09 he is taking Web Design and Flash Scripting for Game Design.

DMA: Which DMA location did you attend?

Andy: Stanford University. I enjoy the campus environment, it’s very easy to get around and a relaxing environment.

DMA: Prior to attending DMA, did you know what career path you wanted to take?

Andy: Somewhat. The main issue that prevented me from deciding to go into game design prior to attending DMA was the practicality of it.

DMA: Describe your experience at DMA.

Andy: In the past three summers I’ve learned a lot and had fun doing it.

DMA: How has DMA helped you in deciding what you would like to do when you “grow up”?

Andy: Meeting other kids with similar interests, and the instructors and speakers who came and spoke to us about the game design industry really inspired me.

DMA: Do you know which University you would like to attend?

Andy: Through the help of DMA and my high school counselor, I found several incredible options that are considered prestigious in the game industry. I’ve now narrowed my search down to Savannah College of Art and Design, Ringling College of Art and Design, Southern Methodist University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and University of Southern California. SMU offers a 5 year program that includes a masters degree as well.

DMA: What stands out the most for you from your time spent at DMA camps.

Andy: Being in high school, but living on a college campus for a few weeks out of the summer doing what I will hopefully be doing a year or two from now when I’m actually in college.

DMA: Describe the quality of the facilities, computers, instructors, etc.

Andy: Beyond expectations.

We also got a chance to talk to Andy’s mom, Joni Hoffman.

DMA: As a parent, please describe your experience with DMA.

Joni: My son Andy has been interested in Video Game Design since he was 10 years old. He attended several local video game creation computer camps offered in Houston. We found that Andy knew more than the instructors, even at a young age. He would ask questions they simply could not answer. We soon learned that Andy needed a more serious and rigorous program than what we had locally. I was thrilled to find DMA. It has been an incredible experience for Andy.  This summer will be his 4th summer and unfortunately his last. He will be a senior. However because of DMA he is pursuing a degree in Video Game Design. The portfolio he has created from what he learned at DMA has helped him become a serious candidate for scholarship money at several universities that offer Video Game Design as a degree.

DMA: Do you feel that DMA is your typical camp? Explain.

Joni: NO. Living on the Stanford campus was an incredible opportunity.

DMA: Do you feel that DMA has opened your son’s eyes to know which career path he wants to pursue?

DMA attracts kids literally from all over the world who have a similar passion and interest. Andy has had roommates from the UK, Canada and France.  These same kids may even reconnect someday once they are in the real world pursuing their dreams of being in the gaming industry.

DMA: Would you recommend DMA to others?

Joni: Absolutely

DMA: Anything else you would like to comment on about DMA?

With the state of the economy, many “stable” degrees no longer offer a guarantee of landing a good job after graduation. It’s more important than ever to pick from degrees that are going to have jobs available. The video game industry is booming and probably only going to get stronger. I think Andy is fortunate that his passion for this industry has great potential for a very successful career as an adult.

I truly believe that DMA helped shape Andy’s future and his DMA experience has definitively given him a competitive advantage in the college admissions process. Not to mention he had a blast. Kudos to the staff and counselors at DMA!

DMA offers fun and creative learning for the whole family!

Have you ever wished that you could attend a summer camp just like your children? Well, now you can. This summer, Digital Media Academy’s adult, teen, and kids summer programs will allow both you and your children to learn the latest in creative technology. And while you’re busy producing digital movies, creating web sites, or designing games, you’ll also get to share in your child’s learning experience-first hand. Imagine what dinner conversations will be like instead of the typical, “So, what did you do today?”

Digital Media Academy: Creative Technology Immersion

Digital Media Academy provides adult learners, including teens and kids, college students, K-20 educators, and industry professionals with a weeklong learning experience in a summer retreat or camp environment. In addition, participants can earn 4 quarter units of Stanford Continuing Studies credit. Courses include 3D Animation, Web Design, Strategies of Game Design, and Digital Video. Digital Media Academy attracts award-winning instructors such as Ben Waggoner (“world’s greatest compressionist”), New York School of Visual Arts’ Steve Adler, and veteran ABC producer and best-selling Final Cut Pro author, Tom Wolsky among others.

Learning for the whole family! DMA Summer Camps and Learning Courses

Summer Courses for Adults

Computer Camp for Teens

Computer Camp for Kids

Summer 2014 is in full swing at Digital Media Academy! Now here’s a look back at some earlier days at DMA…

Palo Alto, CA  March 1, 2008 — Digital Media Academy is recognized as the premier summer camp for youngsters, teens and adults. The whole family can enjoy learning the latest digital art and media techniques from top instructors in an encouraging project-based environment using state-of-the-art equipment. The 5-day courses for kids and teenagers can be taken individually or combined for multi-week certifications at prestigious college and university campuses that includes University of Chicago, Stanford University (San Francisco area), Harvard (Boston), George Washington U. (Washington, D.C.), University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and more. At DMA, your child will be taught how to design and create video games, movies and websites, while developing lifelong passion and skills that translate directly to careers in design, engineering, computer science, and more.

DMA has something for each member of the family with its diverse offering of courses. Digital Media Adventures summer computer camps cater to ages 6-12, with day and residential camps in robotics, game design, web design, filmmaking and cartoon and comic creation, taught by professionals and teachers with a passion and talent for inspiring young minds.

Learning at DMA Summer Computer Camps and Tech Courses

Teen summer tech courses for ages 12-17 are offered at beginning to advanced levels with an optional residential pre-college experience. DMA is partnered with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus (www.lennonbus.org) to offer a music and video production course that is sure to attract students from around the world. Adults can take professional level courses in film, web design, photography, animation and more.

What better summer experience than channeling your family’s creativity and passion for video games and technology into an exciting educational experience? Contact DMA online for more details or call DMA Guest Services at (866) 656-3342 to register for classes now!

Every year since 2002, DMA has presented hands-on sessions at the annual Computer Using Educators Conference in Palm Springs. The thing I appreciate most about this conference is the reception we get. Every year, hundreds of teachers from across California visit our 60-minute hands-on sessions, getting a taste of our 5-day immersion courses. While there is only so much you can learn in 60 minutes, I am always amazed at how much content our instructors cover, and how much people take away. This year, we will be doing sessions Thursday through Saturday in topics including Final Cut Pro, Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop and iLife. And, for the first time, we will be joined by our new partner, the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus.

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The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a non-profit 501(c)(3) mobile audio and HD video recording and production facility. Since 1998, the Bus has provided free hands-on programs to hundreds of high schools, colleges, Boys and Girls Clubs, music festivals, concerts, conventions and community organizations. Working together with some of the biggest names in music, the Lennon Bus encourages students to play music, write songs, engineer recording sessions and produce video projects using the latest audio, video, and live sound equipment. As a partner and sponsor of the Bus, DMA trains and supports the Lennon Bus staff, ensuring they are up-to-date on the latest digital media applications. In the summer, we co-teach (in collaboration with Lennon Bus staff) a summer computer camp course for teens called Music & Video Production at seven prestigious universities across the country. We also exhibit alongside the Lennon Bus at various national conferences like MacWorld and NAB.

At CUE, (in addition to the 60 minute hands-on session) DMA will offer short software demos, followed by Q & A, in an area adjacent to the Lennon Bus in the Exhibit Hall. It is a great opportunity for teachers to interact with our distinguished DMA teaching staff in a more intimate setting. We will be utilizing content created on the Bus in the demos.

If you are attending CUE this year, there will be lots of surprises, including an “special” invitation to attend DMA this summer at a discount. Hope to see you there!