Getting any job right out of college is tough, especially in highly competitive creative career fields like animation and game design. So it’s quite the accomplishment to land a role in these creative industries the same month as graduation.
That’s exactly what Cogswell alum Bugi Kaigwa did: he was hired on as a technical artist at Visual Concepts right after graduating from our digital art and animation program. This program prepared him for one of the many coveted creative jobs in the game industry: a character rigger on “NBA 2K17” that was just released this fall.
Not everyone will be rigging character models to look like NBA stars on a daily basis, but Kaigwa gained valuable insight during his path from Cogswell student to Visual Concepts character rigger that he feels can apply to all aspiring technical artists. Kaigwa shared his career tips and advice for how students can get the most out of their education in order to prepare for the creative jobs they seek.
Career Tip #1: Study for Your Career, Not Your Diploma
With creative industries like game design as fiercely competitive as they are, one of the career tips that Kaigwa shares is that students should be learning for the industry, and not just for academic purposes. He says it’s an attitude he learned from his Cogswell instructors, noting, “My classes were taught by some of the best in the industry, and it felt like instructors knew exactly how to guide us for our careers.” He points out that once students move on to their creative jobs, they will be expected to use the skills they learned in school on a daily basis.
Kaigwa spoke about his own experience at Visual Concepts: “I’m doing exactly what I learned at Cogswell in the industry, and use pretty much the same tools. I mostly used Maya as my main 3D application at Cogswell, and I use Maya as my main application at work, so that’s pretty much a one-to-one comparison.”
Career Tip #2: Be Open to Other Creative Jobs
Another career tip Kaigwa noted is that students should be open to following the creative industries as they evolve, even if the job does not perfectly match what they envisioned for themselves. When he came to Cogswell, Kaigwa wanted to get into the highest level of animation. While he was more interested in 3D character animation at first, he always had a passion for the technical side. With the career tips and advice from a few Cogswell teachers, he changed his creative major from animation to digital engineering.
“After a few conversations with some of the teachers — who are all industry veterans — I learned that if I had any technical skills, I should go more for the engineering side of animation,” Kaigwa said. He points out that he got to apply a lot of technical concepts to animation, and calls his role the “perfect marriage between art and science.”
Career Tip #3: Put in What You Want to Get Out of It
Kaigwa says the main reason he came to Cogswell was for its studio environment and because “students are treated like they’re already in the industry.” While learning for the creative industries is crucial, Kaigwa adds that carrying yourself like you’re already an industry professional is equally as important. “It’s ultimately up to the students — you have to put in a lot of work on your own to get hired,” Kaigwa said, adding another career tip for students seeking creative jobs. “I don’t think students realize how much work you have to put in.”
Kaigwa notes that making it in to the Project X studio class helped him learn a lot about the creative jobs he was interested in. “That experience made me realize it’s not just about skill, but also about how to communicate with a team,” Kaigwa said. “That experience is just as important as knowing how to execute a job. It made me the artist I am today.”
Career Tip #4: Find a Key Mentor
One career tip that Kaigwa stressed is the importance for students to find a key mentor to not only guide them through academic work, but to also offer them advice on their blooming creative careers. He found one in academic dean Jerome Solomon. “He gave me a lot of advice and guidance when it came to my career,” Kaigwa remembered. “He was the first person I talked to about switching from animation to a more technical role.”
One of the keys of finding a mentor is the insight they can give you on creative industries. Kaigwa shared Dean Solomon’s advice on switching to a technical role: “There’s lots of competition when it comes to animation, so Jerome told me there’s a larger need for technical artists in the industry.” Kaigwa says he even consulted with Solomon about which creative job to take upon graduation.
Ultimately, Kaigwa attributes his success to both the career tips and advice he got in his education and the effort he was willing to put in to land one of the most sought-after creative jobs in the game design industry.