Welcome to our 2017 By Day/By Night series. Here we profile a range of design teachers from our tertiary institutions to find out what projects they’re involved in outside of work hours, and how their personal creative endeavours feed back into their teaching roles. Third up we speak with Pat Dunal, Lecturer, Bachelor of Creative Technologies (Game Art) at Media Design School.
Media Design School is New Zealand’s most awarded tertiary institute for digital and creative technology qualifications. The school is currently ranked amongst the top ten schools in the world to provide VFX/Animation qualifications by The Rookies (2017). Better yet, in 2017, MDS was recognised as the world’s top tertiary provider for both Graphic Design and Photography by The Rookies’ panel of internationally renowned judges , making it one of the best digital design tertiary providers globally.
Hi Pat, can you tell us a little bit about your background, your career path, and how you got into teaching.
I always loved creating worlds; in my head, sketching on paper and making physical dioramas. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Studies, I decided to explore the creation of digital 3D worlds. My first full time “creative” job was working for an architectural visualisation firm in my hometown of Toronto, Canada. I modelled, textured and rendered buildings in 3D. I learnt a lot during this time, but I wanted to do work that was more creative. I saw it as an opportunity to make a jump into a field that had interested me since I was a kid, and landed a job as an environment artist at Gameloft Montréal, a video game company. I instantly knew that this was my calling. Six years later, I found myself in New Zealand working as an art lead, managing teams of digital artists working on high profile mobile video games. As my role became more leadership-centric, I began thinking about teaching, and how it might present new and interesting creative challenges. Having worked with many graduates from Media Design School’s game art stream, when I saw a lecturer position advertised, I took the plunge. No regrets.
Outside of work hours, what creative projects and/or research are you involved with?
My current research focus involves the re-creation of actual places in the digital space. I’m currently in the early stages of a project called Birdsong Aotearoa that involves recreating various locations in New Zealand as they would have appeared 10,000 years ago. The experience will allow viewers to navigate the locations in real time wearing a virtual reality headset, seeking out native birds in their natural habitats. I’m also working on a multiplayer pixel-art video game called Random Hero featuring 500 playable characters. It’s quite a fun process to involve friends and co-workers in, allowing them to design their own characters and have them appear in the game within the hour.
What are you inspired by, and how do you keep the momentum for your personal work alive?
I’m inspired mainly by works of science fiction and fantasy, although I always try to reverse-engineer these fictional works to discover what real-world places, events and things inspired them. The real world, be it people, nature or architecture is an endless source of inspiration to me. Travelling the world has provided an exceptional bank of experiences to draw on as reference for my work. At the moment, the main momentum for my personal work comes from my students.
How does your personal practice feed into your role as an educator?
My personal work is very closely tied with my role as an educator. My students are constantly asking technical questions and for creative advice which I don’t always have the immediate answers to. So I try to solve their problems and give them detailed feedback, which I frame in the context of a fictional interactive world. I am a huge fan of project-based learning: it’s really cool to show students a completed personal project and then walk them through the process as they create their own.
How do you balance these two very different roles? Are there any particular benefits and/or challenges?
It can be difficult to balance the two roles. The most difficult challenge is resisting the urge to inject too many of my personal ideas into student work. It can also be tough to teach a particular concept in many different ways to address the different types of learners we have in each class, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. The students are an endless source of creativity; their ideas are inspiring and the creative challenges they present have led to a huge boost in my personal experimentation.
What are the best bits about working at a place like MDS?
The students are easily the best part of working at MDS. They are eager and incredibly talented. My colleagues are amazing and definitely inspire me to improve my craft. Currently, nearly everyone in the office is working on their own personal video game, helping each other with technical problems and providing creative feedback. The technology at MDS is impressive – we have two state-of-the-art virtual reality labs, high end industry standard software and a massive collection of video games and consoles.
“Create beautiful environments and characters and use these assets to develop immersive experiences to share with people in an industry that is bigger than the music and box office put together.
From 2D platformers to 3D brawlers, you’ll be devising and creating your own interactive stories, digital illustrations, concept art and games that will be viewed by an international audience of game enthusiasts. Within the first sixteen weeks of your first year, you’ll have created your very own 2D game and, by the time you’ve finished your degree, you’ll have collaborated with other game artists and programmers alike to develop an industry-level game.”
To find out more about the Bachelor of Creative Technologies, visit mediadesignschool.com/game-art