3D Manager/Supervisor/Maya Generalist, Deluxe Digital Studios
Donna Bates has been drawing since she could first hold a pencil. As a child she could be found designing elaborate fashions for the characters in Katy Keen Comics, perhaps her inspiration for drawing hot babes in sexy outfits. In the late '60's, she did a stint in high school selling illustrations of the Beatles while playing in an all-girl band. But after a number of years, she left music and returned to her first love of art as a full-time career.
Working as a Graphics Artist and Illustrator, Bates was happy, but when she saw the ground breaking 3D cartoon “Reboot”, she was hooked. She had found her calling. She realized nothing could be cooler than taking the characters she drew and making them 3D so they could come alive, have personalities, and walk and talk.
Always hungry for knowledge, Bates' career in 3D has grown right along with Gnomon. She enrolled in some of the very first classes and has regularly returned to keep her skill-set fresh. She might be the person sitting right next to you!
- How did you become a professional in the field of art?
I was an Art Major in college and did everything from lithography to pottery, but was mainly a Fine Art major, doing mostly paintings and drawing. I eventually branched out into graphics and illustration to earn an income.
- What made you decide to continue your education at Gnomon?
In the early 90's I took classes in Photoshop and Illustrator, and my investment came back to me ten fold through the boost it gave to my career. I was always trying to make things look 3D in Photoshop. I met Alex Alvarez at Art Center when I was taking an extension class, and he told me about the school he was opening. I kept bugging him about signing up. I enrolled in the very first classes, I think around in 1996. I would work my day job and come to Gnomon every night, and work there till 1:00 in the morning. Eventually I was working there as a Lab Tech and was able to take more classes.
- What classes have you taken at Gnomon over the years?
Wow, lets see. Some of the courses I have taken more than once just because there were changes in Maya, or the class structure changed. When I first started at Gnomon, Maya wasn’t even released yet; we were using Alias’ PowerAnimator, Maya’s predecessor. I remember Alex working like crazy, staying late every night to learn Maya so he could offer an Intro to Maya class the day it was released.
My first Character Animation class was in the second term at Gnomon. In that class you were supposed to model and texture a character, rig it, skin it and animate it all in ten weeks. No one was able to finish, so after that they started breaking up the classes. I don’t think that there was smooth bind when Maya first came out either, so needless to say I have taken rigging a number of times.
Other classes I have taken are Intro to Maya, Modeling, Modeling2, Character Modeling (patch modeling), Texturing 1 and 2, Animation and Dynamics, Particles, Character Animation, Skinning, Studio Paint, Deep Paint, Compositing, Lighting, ZBrush, Mel Scripting, Unix, and Flash.
- What surprised you the most about your time at Gnomon?
Just the amazing amount there is to learn, that there are always new techniques and software or updates that one must keep up with.
- What was the most important thing you learned at Gnomon?
That would probably have to be problem solving. When I first was able to troubleshoot what went wrong, I realized that I was getting a handle on Maya. Being a Lab Tech and helping other students with their problems also increased my understanding.
- What sort of work are you doing now?
I started a small 3D department at Deluxe Digital Studios about two years ago. We do 3D for DVDs on a variety of projects including set-top games, virtual tours, menus and menu assets.
- What is it you enjoy about your career?
I like being able to art direct and supervise the project. Every project is so different that you never feel like you are in a rut. Also, the fact that we are such a small department, we have to be able to do a little bit of everything. It really keeps you on your toes.
- Where would you like to take your career next?
I am very interested in pursuing my ideas for a CG short, in my off time, of course. I am also interested in doing more character work. I still want to see my characters come alive, have personalities, and do crazy things.
- How has the school evolved since it opened?
There was only one lab when they opened, and three teachers: Alex Alvarez, Darrin Krumwiede and Marcel de Jong. All the offices were upstairs. All the computers were SGI O2’s except the teacher’s stations, and they were Octane’s, I think. In the early days, Alex would talk about the programs they would like to offer as the school progressed. It has all come to pass, and then some. I think the school has grown so much because the staff truly has a passion for the latest technology and techniques, and for bringing on great instructors who are the top in their field. Alex also wanted to make it an interesting environment by having custom furniture built for the school, with each new lab uping the aesthetic and the equipment.
- How have the instructors evolved with the changing demands of 3D?
Well, certainly there are more of them! Plus over the years I think they have been able to narrow it down to instructors that teach well. There are a lot of great professionals out there, but that doesn’t always translate to a good teacher. Also, as trends change, they are able to find professionals to pass on the latest techniques to their students.
- What advice do you have for students who are at Gnomon now?
Put the other things going on in your life on the back burner and just concentrate on learning as much as you possibly can. When possible, use one project as the homework for more than one class. If you are working on a scene, do your modeling, texturing, and your lighting homework on that same scene. That way you may end up with one project you can use on your reel instead of a bunch of little projects that aren’t really complete. Finally, be nice, make friends, and don’t get a big head. It’s very unattractive. ;-)