The right mindset

Students at The One Academy are exposed to both traditional arts training and the latest design software, making them highly valued in the industry.

EVEN as technology extends its influence on the design world, The One Academy (TOA) joint-general manager Tan Chin Wee believes there is value in having a more traditional arts training.

“We don’t want students to even touch computers for the first few months,” he says.

“You can’t do character design without first learning about figure drawing — the study of bone, basic muscles, perspective and so on.

“Of course we offer students the most current and up-to-date technology used in the industry, but the classical training in art is a prerequisite,” he says.

As such, the institution’s Art and Design Fundamental Studies aspires to provide a solid grounding in the creative process by introducing students to various artistic techniques and design principles.

At the heart of this exposure is training students to translate their ideas into art; a lesson found even in the simplest of exercises like drawing a circle.

“If you can draw a perfect circle freehand, it shows that you have good eye-mind-hand coordination,” says Tan.

“Many people have the mistaken belief that ideas are the most crucial in the creative line, but skill is equally important as you need to be able to record your ideas down in a visual format.

“Plus, drawing helps to develop the right side of your brain – the part dealing with concepts like colours, shapes, dreams and imagination – which in turn enables you to produce good ideas.”

Reminiscing about his early days as a designer, Tan adds that the “handmade” process helps to heighten one’s senses and attention to detail.

“Back then, a simple line of text meant cutting and pasting letters one by one before heading to the typesetters. The process really sharpened my judgement and attention to detail.

“Cameras, computers, tablets – they’re all just tools. If you have no sense of art, using the best camera in the world is not going to give you a great picture.

“The tools just make work easier and faster, but they will never replace skill,” he says.

Industry links

Set up 20 years ago by industry professionals, TOA was established as a response to the need for trained talent in the creative line.

Now, with over 2,000 students at both its campuses in Bandar Sunway, Selangor and Penang, Tan shares that there is a still an acute need for qualified creative personnel.

“(The shortage is) especially so for the fields of multimedia and animation, since a lot of those companies are now setting up in the Asian region.

“Malaysia and Singapore particularly have a competitive edge because of the cost of skilled labour.

“We’ve even had companies head-hunting our students, as they are able to immediately perform the job,” he says.

This appeal of the institution’s graduates may stem from the fact that it never strayed from its roots in industry, kept alive by collaborations with industry players.

An example of this is the incubation centre set up by French computer gamemaker Ubisoft Entertainment, aimed at providing TOA alumni coaching in game design.

Housed in the Bandar Sunway campus, the centre offers the six-month Game development: Innovation and Skillsets Training Programme.

“The students will work on actual Ubisoft products in development, and may have the chance to work with Ubisoft after completing the course,” adds Tan.

Tan believes that TOA’s education philosophy is exemplified through its “Masters Train Masters” series of seminars and workshops.

“This (series) is valuable to our students, as it exposes them to top designers and creatives.

“For example, Shawn Kelly, a lead animator on the Transformers movie, gave his insight on how much research the film’s animators had to do to create realistic robots.

“Besides the theory and practical training we offer, it’s crucial to have coaching from top-notch professionals from all over the world,” he says.

Attitude and passion

Tan adds that students gain more than practical knowledge from such sharing sessions – they also gain inspiration.

“When you’re young and not fully confident about your skills, it is reassuring to know if you are on the right track.

“By sharing their personal journey in the creative line, these professionals are also showing our students how the right attitude, spirit and passion can lead to great work,” he says.

Such traits are indeed important to cope with the more frustrating parts of being a creative professional, as beneath the glamourous image of the design world are the unseen rejections, arguments over ideas and stressful deadlines.

“Having a deadline for coming up with ideas is very challenging,” says Tan.

“One night you may get 10 good ideas, then the next two weeks you may get nothing — but you have to keep going.

“You have to be able to take criticism from art directors or clients, and redesign your entire project based on their comments,” he says.

But those with true passion, he says, will be able to weather such challenge.

“If you have a real interest in design, chances are that you’ll overcome obstacles because you love your work.

“This line attracts the sort of people who have a ‘thirst-mindset’, who are always looking for something to learn or a new way of doing things,” says Tan.

As a final word of advice to aspiring creatives, Tan says that students now have a wealth of opportunities at their fingertips if they are willing to work hard.

“When I was studying, people thought learning art meant drawing cinema posters,” he says.

“Or that the advertising industry was just about painting signboards.

“Now, there are so many options out there in any career and it just depends on whether you are good or not.

“If you put in the effort to develop your potential, someone’s going to listen to you one day.”

The One Academy is a contributor to the Star Education Fund.

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