Otis College of Art and Design is one of the nation’s oldest art universities, boasting a wide array of tailored programs since 1918. Its distinctive Los Angeles campus, marked by the mid-century modern masterpiece Ahmanson Hall, brings together some 1,200 undergraduates and additional graduate students from across the country and world. The college’s enviable alumni roster and close relationships with many production studios and organizations strengthen its offerings.
Harry Mott is the Chair of Otis’ Digital Media Department. Following coursework in fundamental areas of study, students choose from a variety of classes in modeling, animation, motion graphics, video games and visual effects for their Bachelor degree. For the latest installment of ACR’s university Q&A series, Harry spoke with us about the importance of a well-rounded education for aspiring digital artists and the ideal Otis candidate.
For additional information on the university including tuition and fees, scheduling a visit and the application process, please visit its website. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity).
ACR: Thank you for taking time to speak with us about Otis College of Art and Design today. For those readers who aren’t familiar with Otis, the college is uniquely situated in the epicenter of digital media- Los Angeles. Does your location better prepare students for life after their degree?
HM: When you have studio co-owners and co-founders, or the heads of animation, the art directors, the chief modelers, and so on as the teachers it can only lead to a greater experience for the students. These are the people who worked their way up to the jobs and careers our students are aiming for. It is a grand experience and our teachers are enthusiastic while also practical both in experience and expectations. As they expect the best, they get the best both in students and the work they create, and they love working with the students.
Many of our students are hired while they are still in school since the teachers can easily see their quality and their creativity. It is a hard balance between working and still going to school, but they make it work and that makes them all the better when graduation comes around.
ACR: Speaking of teachers, Otis’ faculty is highly regarded not only as educators but as working artists, as you mentioned. Do practitioners make for better teachers?
HM: It is so wonderful that we have so many great working artists and designers who love to teach. Practical experience adds to what might be despairingly called “book learning”. Those who do this for a living help contextualize the lessons and thereby make it all the more real and accessible for the students. And all of our department teachers have practical production experience in one or more of our industries.
ACR: First year students at Otis embark on core classes in the so-called Foundation program. Which classes are included in this first year program and why are they important to aspiring digital artists?
HM: Our first year is modeled after the traditional Bauhaus type of Foundation year. The core classes address concepts and principles needed even in today’s computer driven world: courses in Form and Space; Color and Design; Design Principles; Art History; Composition and Critical Thought and so on. Our students acquire and develop fundamental skills that enable students to become adept, well-informed makers. It also prepares them to further their inventiveness, thinking and investigative skills and their professionalism for any pursuit they choose.
ACR: With that in mind, do the first year courses help students determine which areas of Digital Media they are most interested in whether it be animation, video game design, visual effects and so on?
HM: Many students come with an idea already as to what area or areas they’ll concentrate in, and some do move forward in those areas. However, sometimes they are definite about an area only because it is the only area they’ve had experience with. As they take their core classes and are introduced to other and multiple areas of concentration most often it is a joyful discovery that there are other exciting things they can do for a living. This leads to many changes in what they thought they’d pursue to what they actually pursue.
ACR: Beyond Foundation courses, Otis takes a unique integrative approach to all areas of study. What attributes do your students acquire because of this unified approach to the curriculum?
HM: While the students develop thinking skills, they are refining their ability to distinguish between rational, intuitive, and critical thinking processes. This also leads into a culture that promotes and values inventiveness by using problem-defining processes to complement problem-solving skills. To all this, we teach how to apply a spirit of investigation, utilizing visual and idea-oriented research, the spirit of play, and delay of closure.
ACR: What are some key elements that Otis Digital Media students extract from their education to help them excel in a very competitive industry?
HM: Primary is to be creative problem solvers. Software and hardware always changes, so we do not help them become expert in any packages. Rather, we encourage and teach them how to solve problems and deal with unusual as well as usual situations and people. It is not just about art or design. We always tell the students they better be able to treat people well since this it is a small world relatively speaking.
There is also a large contingent who wind up as leaders and managers once they start working. This is something we prepare them for through both classes and our department culture. We are very supportive of each other and we like to lead and be at the forefront, while never ever falling into any sort of arrogance, nor aloofness.
ACR: You mentioned changing technology in the digital arts. As the Department Chair, how do you stay on top of these fast-evolving industries and technologies?
HM: As the industries we deal with are constantly changing, so is our curriculum. The flexibility we have lets us lead rather than follow. When we need to, I can create a new class and start running it the next day.
Our equipment and software is constantly upgraded, but I do not try to invest too heavily in equipment for equipment’s sake. We get what we need to teach the tried and true concepts and principles, while also being able to address new technologies that are obviously going to change and be part of the industries. With the exception of proprietary software, we use what the industries use. Our department labs have both a PC and a Mac at every student’s station in our Senior and Junior labs. The sophomores share PC and Mac labs with the rest of the school.
ACR: Lastly, we ask schools to describe their ideal candidate. What type of student would make the perfect fit for the Digital Media program at Otis?
HM: Someone who is willing to learn, to participate, who even if shy still wants to be the best and is open to all sorts of new ideas and experiences. We don’t need computer experts. We don’t even need artists nor designers with exceptional skills. Who we do need are students with exceptional attitudes and a desire to succeed. We can help them build their skills and experiences.
ACR: It’s been a pleasure hearing about Otis College of Art and Design’s Digital Media Department. Thank you!
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.