SuAnne Fu is the SCAD Chair of Interactive Design and Game Development and Professor of Immersive Reality
In the space of just forty years, SCAD (The Savannah College of Art & Design) has quickly risen to the top of creative arts education thanks to its innovative and collaborative approach to higher education. Utilizing state-of-the-art industry grade equipment, SCAD students learn from working professionals who are at the forefront of their fields.
The university’s Interactive Design & Game Development program bridges art and technology to foster both the growth of their students and advancements in the field. Undergraduate and graduate students alike leverage the program’s extensive industry partnerships for collaborations, portfolio review and critique, internship opportunities through the university’s SCADPro innovation studio, and enviable careers after graduation. Today, we spotlight SuAnne Fu who chairs the Interactive Design & Game Development program in addition to her Acting Chair position of SCAD’s Immersive Reality program. We hope you enjoy!
ACR: SuAnne, you joined the SCAD faculty in 2003 and became Chair of the Interactive Design & Game Development program in 2014. How has the program evolved in the years since you came on board initially as a faculty member in 2003?
SuAnne Fu: I joined SCAD just as we had split from a single Computer Art major into four distinct programs: Interactive Design and Game Development, Animation, Motion Media Design (Broadcast Design back then), and Visual Effects. The Interactive Design and Game Development program in particular went through a few revisions and had the benefit of the vision of three other Chairs prior to my taking on the role.
We started out with broad stroke classes in 3D art, game design and worked with different engines from Anark, Flash, to UDK. We went from more art-driven to almost completely game systems, then back to art, and finally we settled on the more holistic development processes allowing our students to specialize anywhere from environment artists, technical artists to level designers.
ACR: This back and forth between the arts and technology is reminiscent of your own background in which you studied the fine arts, computer science and computer graphics. Did this combination prove advantageous to your growth as a designer and developer?
SF: When I was choosing colleges, there weren't as many design focused programs as there are today like we have at SCAD. I ended up choosing both arts and sciences as a dual degree completion because the arts was my passion, however the sciences provided the traditional education that my parents were more comfortable with.
At that time, I thought I was making concessions, but it became the biggest opportunity for my career as technology and art industries were making gigantic leaps forward in 3D modeling, animation, and image manipulation. Researching and immersing myself in these intersections allowed greater perspective with the current industries in interactive design, game development, and augmented and virtual realities (AR/VR).
ACR: Your SCAD students gain similar foundations that stretch beyond their chosen field of study and comfort zones. Tell us a bit about how SCAD marries the arts and sciences within the Interactive Design & Game Development curriculum.
SF: Our program at SCAD strives to incorporate both art and science courses into the core curriculum. For example, we require our students to have a strong foundational understanding of drawing, digital color application and 3D modeling while also requiring students to take object-oriented programming and game engine visual scripting. Most of our students will specialize after the first year in the program, however the survey of skills foster better production understanding and promotes empathy to their peers in other areas of disciplines.
ACR: SCAD habitually strikes the right balance between ensuring students are capable of leveraging the tools of the trade while focusing on their growth as creative thinkers and problem solvers. What’s the secret sauce?
SF: Secret sauce? I would say that the secret sauce has a lot of spices and cannot be pinpointed to any one ingredient. Our faculty always reminds students that they are not at the university to become generalized menu combers; each of our courses also has aesthetic and design criteria for students to aspire as a competency.
Technology is always evolving and software changes every few years. We ensure that students are ahead of the curve with these emerging resources and this is one of SCAD’s major missions for all of the university's degree programs. We have regular open critiques to allow students to engage and practice identifying problems and areas of improvement as well as commend them for great achievements. The student community is both a cooperative and competitive environment; they support each other as artists but constantly compete with one another for different opportunities ranging from internal initiatives to international competitions and exhibitions- all enhancing their portfolios and experience for their future creative careers.
ACR: Every department at the university works closely with its respective industry partners and organizations. Tell us about the partnerships that your program has forged over the years, and how these relationships impact students’ education.
SF: We constantly engage with our industry partners to make sure our curriculum provides the most relevant knowledge from software competency to aesthetic awareness. From our alumni mentor program to our own industry speaker series, Game Developer’s eXchange (GDX), we invite industry partners each quarter from every major studio to visit our classes for observation, portfolio advisement, and give gap specialized topics.
In the last five years, we have brought in speakers from Activision, Microsoft Game Studios, Gearbox Software, Zenimax Online, Bungie, Ubisoft, Blizzard, and more to engage our students. During these external visits and advisement, we take the opportunity to assess our department successes and where we can grow. We have received commendations on numerous aspects of our department- from production excellence to the quality of playable games. We are always pushing for ongoing design innovation and higher achievements in the more emerging areas we at SCAD are exploring like real-time fx .
ACR: Let’s switch gears and discuss SCAD’s new Immersive Reality program which you also serve as Acting Chair of. How closely related is this field of study with Interactive Design & Game Development, and how do they contrast?
SF: If you look at only the production platforms and technical delivery, many of the pipelines do draw similarities between Interactive Design and Game Development and Immersive Reality; however the experience of the virtual space and the communication of the content is very different. Just recently, I worked with one of our master candidates and pushed him to deviate from traditional monitor screen designs and explore instead UI/HUD work that utilized the full potential of VR rather than limited 2D monitor dimensions and limitations.
The greatest difference is the immediateness of the space, the freedom from borders and frames, and how the player interacts with content from traditional 2D representation of 3D on a screen. Immersive reality allows spatial explorations that are more cognitively aligned to our natural world surroundings and has become an effective platform for simulation, visualization and design, in addition to our typical entertainment projects. The current faculty for the IR program is an amalgamation of professors from interactive design and game development, motion media design, visual effects, sound design, and film and television.
ACR: On the subject of immersive and virtual reality, what are the current limitations to wider adoption gains in the marketplace?
SF: For VR, a tetherless headset with enough processing power will likely be the tipping point for wider marketplace adoption, which can be seen in the Oculus Quest and even the Rift S for the reduction of sensors. As for AR, the biggest potential is mobile phones and the cameras being sophisticated enough to encompass better surface detection, which is actually something that will happen in the near future. We already see small steps to this with our selfie AR filters; even the iPhone measuring tape shows AR features that will eventually pave the way to better AR applications and designs. Imagine one day being able to buy furniture this way and see the immediate scale relevance of a sofa in your actual space measured to true scale… oh wait, we already have that! Next step will be more believability of AR items with CG light integration matched to real world lighting to animated CG content on real world surfaces. Just like both of these potential platforms for great experiences, we’re waiting for the “killer app”.
ACR: When it comes to teaching the next gen of VR/AR designers and developers, what considerations and conundrums do you want them to be prepared to tackle?
SF: As in all digital media platforms, we tend to push for realism which will eventually be reached, and then personal expression and stylization will follow. My advice to the next gen designers and developers would be to know that a true designer need not worry about being replaced by technology or disrupting the design industries enough to push them out of a job. Technology, for the most part, just gets rid of the mundane work so the designer has the ability and time for more creative inputs and ideas with projects.
ACR: Are there industry or technological trends that you are most looking forward to seeing evolve or manifest in the near future?
SF: I’m looking forward to seeing real-time data visualization of big data and witnessing how design industries are changing lifestyles. It feels very empowering to be a designer today with all the technology at our fingertips, however technology can be a double-edged sword where the gain in convenience and personalization is tempered with privacy and security issues.
The removal of distance and time limitations is something I’m looking forward to whether it is the wider availability of true level five autonomous vehicles, or asynchronous virtual collaborations in VR. In terms of innovation, it’s nice to know there is always a visible next step. It would be wonderful to realize a climate resilience map of my city in AR on my home table and then change the augmented visualization to highlight the locations of the best coffee shops in town with content and information that I can interact with. We had actually worked on a project like this three years ago, however it’s still a functional speculative prototype, as the processing power is not high enough to create real-time visualization results with big data sets on the consumer level.
ACR: Last but not least, your students attend the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) each year. With the novel coronavirus outbreak, this year’s GDC has been postponed to later this summer. What makes the annual GDC such a highlight for your students and SCAD’s programs of study?
SF: GDC is one of our department’s annual highlighted events for SCAD interactive design and game community including current students, alumni, and industry partners and recruiters. SCAD usually has a presence on the expo floor to allow a “home” base for our attendees to find each other. This is also where we showcase new student work so that SCAD’s top quality designs are displayed for the GDC attendees. More often than not, we get mistaken for a new game studio which demonstrates the leading work the students are creating.
Our program also works with the Career and Alumni Services department to create an alumni + industry event that typically attracts over 100 attendees every year. It becomes a reunion event for our game developer alumni working throughout the world, a networking event for current students, and an opportunity for industry partners to touch base with new hires and new conversations. SCAD ITGM also has participated in the Intel University Game Showcase (IUGS) as a pre-qualified school for the last 5 years due to previous placement in the competition and/or top college rankings.
The conference also serves as a great time to meet with new industry leaders and invite them to speak at one of our SCAD signature events throughout the year at any of the university’s global locations. My faculty and I also survey new technologies for curriculum considerations and program development. We are all disappointed that GDC was canceled for this spring, but are looking forward to the projected reschedule in Summer 2020.
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