onsdag 25 januari 2012

Schoolism review

My first experience of studying art online is about to wrap up on Sam Nielson's Advanced Lighting class.
For an introduction to what this class is all about, I refer you to the official website and an interview with the instructor Mr. Nielson.

Now for my own impressions of the class since I started it back in late October 2011.

Advanced Lighting is comprised of 9 lessons covering different aspects of lighting. Each lesson is also accompanied with a digital painting demonstration where Sam shows you how to apply the lecture's explored principles.
The class starts out by explaining basic but fundamental lighting theories and makes way into more and more complicated light and surface interactions.
Each student is also given an assignment with which to practice the theories covered during each lecture, these can be uploaded to the Schoolism hub for grading, and as a full-time student you will also get personalized feedback from the instructor.

The Schoolism dashboard where you get access to all lectures and where you can upload your assignments is very simple and easy to navigate, there is no mistake what links lead where, it is self-explanatory at first sight. All video content, whether lectures or feedback is streamed in HD resolution so there is never any doubt about what your instructor is showing you on screen.

The Schoolism dashboard accessed through your web browser

The lessons are brilliant. Sam goes into great depth trying to explain the way light behaves from both a very scientifically grounded and a layman's point of view. Switching between these two modes, he ends up with a very convenient way for artists to approach lighting interactions with different surfaces, without having it become too overwhelming. It is deep, it is incredibly fascinating, but this is not a rocket science course. And unlike some tutorial DVD's out there that claim to explain the same principles about light and color by compressing all that content in under 2 hours, Sam instead takes plenty of time, around 1-2 hours for each lecture, to both explain, using a wealth of knowledge about light, his own conveniently designed documents, showing photo references and demonstrate using Painter, how artists should tackle common lighting challenges.

Taking the self-taught course, Sam was still generous enough to give me a little feedback on how to further improve some of my submissions after I handed them in, so it was not a complete walk-in-the-dark after uploading the assignments. 
The way the self-taught system works, it also allows you to watch any lesson and hand-in any of the assignments at your own pace during the 100 days you have access to the class. It should be noted though that you must hand in your assignments at least two weeks before the class ends to allow the instructor some time to go over them if you want them graded. The assignments, depending on how much effort you decide to put into them, probably will take a lot of your time to complete so make sure to start early if you want to present your best work.

The ability to watch critiqued videos of classmates who had taken the class previously was just about as helpful as the lessons themselves. In them Sam paints over a submitted assignment while both explaining and more importantly, showing how he would improve it, using his accumulated experience as a professional concept artist at Disney Interactive. He explains his planning stages and performs the execution of the critique without any hassle. It's clear, precise and to the point.
Since the class is open to anyone regardless of any previous knowledge in light or digital painting, you will find that the critiques cover artists of all different kinds, ranging from beginners to the truly experienced. Sam is great at adjusting his feedback to fit anyone regardless of skill level, and since there are so many critiques to look at (around 30 for each lesson) there is a high probability that you will find a critique that covers similar problems that you encounter as a self-taught student. Of course, as a full-time student, you don't even have to worry about that since Sam gives you personalized feedback to fit just your work.

The Feedback page, where you upload your assignments and watch video critiques

My first experience with Schoolism has been a highly positive one, but there were still some issues encountered along the way.

Sometimes the audio of a few videos had inconsistent volume, making it very hard to hear anything even with the volume of the web-based video player set to full, but it was nothing that couldn't be fixed by adjusting your computer's system volume.

The biggest issue I had though was that a few of the video feedback critiques suddenly stopped playing midway through. The videos would still be playing the entirety of its duration according to the web-player, but the image was frozen and no sound was available. This happened to me on perhaps 5-6 of feedback videos (none of the lessons, they were fine) and reloading the page did not fix the problem. However ultimately it did not concern me much since there were over a hundred of other critiqued videos to watch in total.

One of the lessons, which covered the aspects of transparency and refraction, was one of the shorter and more complicated lectures and probably could've fared better with a few more examples of real-life situations where these phenomena occur. This lesson also did not have a longer painting demonstration at the very end which might be why it felt a little incomplete (it does have several shorter painting demos scattered throughout the lesson though).
On the other hand Sam does give plenty more examples of refraction in many of the video critiques but unless you make a note about it, it is oftentimes hard to go back and find the correct ones among what is usually over 30 critiques.

In retrospect, the 3 months I have spent with Advanced Lighting has helped me piece together countless of different issues of painting I've always found difficult to find answers for or even know where to begin look for. If you've ever wondered how some artists manage to get such beautiful and clean lighting on their artwork, this is where you'll learn, or at the very least, acquire the most important stepping stones required to reach that level. While it's impossible to cover the exact way light behaves with every single material or surface that exists in a 3 month class, the 9 lessons have taught me important fundamental skills to use for the analytical study of light interactions in the real world and in photographic reference. Using these principles together, it no longer feels as intimidating to pick a surface apart and study the effects lighting can have on it. I feel like I have a solid plan of attack of nearly any kind of material. So if you find it hard to treat light and color as separate entities to be picked apart for study, like I always did, then this class will greatly help you along the way of becoming self-sufficient in tackling challenging lighting problems.
Of course, like with any other class, the amount of progress you make during the course is entirely dependent on your own effort you put into it. There is never any guarantee that you will walk away from a class as a master of some subject by just taking it, there is only the results of the amount of dedication and time you put into it. Take the newly gained knowledge and experiment with it, do plenty of excercises and studies with this in mind, so you can ultimately understand how to apply it to your own work.

Mr. Nielson has helped me grow significantly as an artist and for that I can only give this class a top score.

UPDATE: Sam has linked to this review from his blog and responded that the few aforementioned issues I had will be taken care of for future students of his class. Awesome!

6 kommentarer:

  1. Thank you!
    Very good review! ;)

  2. Excellent review. I will take this class very soon so this review was very helpful. Thank you.

    1. No problem Antonio, hope you will find it as useful as I did :)

  3. thank you so much for this review!
    I'm considering taking a self-taught schoolism course and am very glad I found this.

  4. thank you so much for this review!
    I'm considering taking a self-taught schoolism course and am very glad I found this.