Department Dossier: John McIntosh

April 4, 2013

The latest in a series of one-on-one conversations with SVA department chairs.

John McIntosh, who has served as chair of the BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects Department since 1998, is a widely exhibited photographer and experienced educator. His photographs have been shown in venues including the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), the George Eastman House (Rochester, New York), and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. In addition, his writing has appeared in publications such as Washington Photography: Images of the Eighties; The New Photography; The Future Image Report; Computer Artist; MacWEEK, and RES.

He has also been a member of numerous advisory boards and committees, and in 2002, served as Chair of the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival and as a jury member for SIGGRAPH ASIA 2012. McIntosh spoke to SVA Up Close recently to share his thoughts on what it takes to succeed in the competitive world of computer art and how the department prepares students for life after graduation.

How does your training as a photographer influence your approach to computer art, animation and visual effects?
I was always comfortable with photographic tools and techniques and was never hesitant to embrace new technologies, although for many years I only used two cameras—an 8×10” and 11×14” view camera. With the advent of digital

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imaging in the 1980s, I was certain that it would be a significant shift in how we would use photography and in how students would learn photography. I was an early adopter of digital imaging, and I fell in love with my bride Katrin Eismann when I heard her explain Unsharp Masking in a Photoshop class. Subsequently, my interests and my career progressed from traditional photography to digital photography, which led to a fascination with image manipulation and visual effects creation in feature films, and finally to 3D computer generated images and synthetic realities.

How do you teach students to find a balance between analogue artistic sensibility and technological mastery of the digital tools that they use?
We require that students submit drawing portfolios to SVA Computer Art, so our best students arrive at SVA with extremely facile drawing skills; they are often exceptional illustrators. It is very easy to get lost in the complexities of 3D computer graphics, so our students tend to seek drawing and other traditional media as ways to relax and refresh. In production, our students rely on drawing and illustration skills to present concept art, character studies, and the environments they will recreate in three dimensions. I also require all of our students to take a studio elective in our department, just in case they forget how important getting their hands off a keyboard and mouse can be.

What are the characteristics of students in your department with great potential for success in the field?
“Work Hard, Render Fast” is our motto. SVA Computer Art majors are the hardest working, most dedicated students I have ever had the pleasure to direct. They understand the value of collaboration. They are supportive of each other, and they are focused on their work and careers. Their success after graduation reflects their ability to work under the pressure of deadlines and solve complex visual problems as individuals and with a group. They are notorious for their ability to work harder, faster, and longer than anyone else. All of that plus the smiles on their faces make SVA Computer Art majors a remarkably attractive group.

What kind of work do they typically do after graduating?
Our alumni represent an exceptional group of artists and a growing number of entrepreneurs. Our graduates are artists, animators, and designers at Blue Sky Studio, PIXAR, Disney, Dreamworks, Sony Imageworks, ILM, and more. In New York, our students are the first choice of studios like Framestore, Psyop, Curious Pictures, R/GA and Panda Panther, among others. This is just the beginning for SVA Computer Art—this department is only 15 years old. Our earliest alumni are just now reaching the mid-point of their careers. As those alumni begin to take more leadership positions, the influence of their education at SVA will be fully felt. I am excited to see what unfolds in the next five years.

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