Get to Know... School of Visual Arts

Nov 5, 2014



We recently had the opportunity to chat with Joseph Mulvanerty, Cross Platform Systems Administrator at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. We spoke with Joseph about SVA and how the school has integrated the use of Shotgun both inside and outside of the classroom.

Tell us about the School of Visual Arts.

SVA Computer Art is the undergraduate computer art, animation and visual effects department at School of Visual Arts. SVA Computer Art started in the 90s when computers advanced as a medium for creating artwork. Our program has since evolved into a department that is focused on computer animation and visual effects. Coming from an animation studio in NYC, it felt natural to come to this department as we have the same gear and software used in the professional VFX industry. We have great technical resources and workflows that mirror what our graduates will find when they start working in the real world. We like to bring in people who work in production, so most of our instructors are adjunct professors who also currently work in the industry.

The artists are younger, but working here is the same environment as a professional VFX and animation shop. We have between 300-400 students in our department. We are an accredited school and this is a BFA Computer Arts program.
Image Credit: Jon Stulich

Why has SVA been so successful?

I think it starts with the Chairman of the department, John McIntosh. He brings plenty of industry experience along with the ability to anticipate the future of the industry. That’s part of how Shotgun became introduced at SVA. He’s at trade shows and conventions along with talking to major studios to get insight on the latest studio practices. We're adopting advanced levels of pipeline integration and workflows so our students are familiar working with these methods.

What do you do at SVA?

I am part of a systems crew that builds and supports our computer animation studio environment. Each person has specialization ranging from render management to desktop support. My title is Cross Platform Systems Administrator. Our studio runs on any OS our students will see out in the wild when they graduate, so we use Mac, Windows and some Linux. From my studio experience I also help solve production problems and manage our Shotgun pipeline.

The program focuses on pre-to-post production and everything in between. If students want to do live action, we have cameras and lighting. If they want to get deep into post, we have an audio recording studio and a grading/finishing suite — we go beyond the standard animation tools you need to know if you’re going to be a CG artist. I think some of our capabilities rival other studios.

What’s a day in the life of Joseph like?

I enjoy collaborating with our students to solve problems with their projects. This is a technical position but in many cases I am also teaching on how to handle computer animation challenges. We also have plenty of great tech here so I get to be involved with cameras, lighting, motion capture and chromakey.

I also focus heavily on Shotgun integration. So where Shotgun might typically have a studio wide standard implementation where all projects are handled the same way, here we’re building individual pipelines for each student on a per project basis. Our Shotgun project setup will be different for someone who’s doing live action with VFX as opposed to someone who's doing a job that's all 3D CG animation. The people at Shotgun have been great with helping us head down the right path. We’re both using Shotgun as a workflow tool to help our students complete their projects but also as an educational tool to help teach them how jobs get done in a professional environment.

Image Credit: Jon Stulich
How long have you been using Shotgun?

Shotgun has been in use here for a couple of years. It was originally used as a tool for teachers to review student work. This year we fully integrated Shotgun into our student project production pipeline.

A major focus for our students is their senior thesis project. They often collaborate with other students to produce these films all of which are created in Shotgun with complete pipeline integration. For this year 60 short films being produced through Shotgun. Each film can have one or more students collaborating on the production with instructors and administrators using Shotgun for review and feedback.

How is Shotgun working for the students?

We really just started implementing use of Shotgun as a production management tool for our seniors this year, and I’m working on building that out to tie Shotgun into our render management system so that all of that gets tracked in Shotgun as well. Our students are responding really well to using Shotgun, and instructors love it too as most of them are already using it in their studios. Pushing students to run projects through Shotgun also helps students keep their work managed and organized so they can focus on the creative process instead.

We also have students who play dual roles on their projects both as project manager/producer, and as an artist. The new Shotgun Desktop feature has been helpful in this regard - when you’re project managing, the site is where the action is, but when you are ready to focus on an artist task, the Desktop puts everything you need right in front of you.

Image Credit: Jon Stulich
What tools does SVA use in the program?

It really depends on what the artist is working on. It could be Maya, if they’re incorporating mocap then probably also MotionBuilder. We use a lot of sculptural tools, zBrush and Mudbox, but it could also be Hiero to ingest live action footage and Nuke if they’re doing a lot of compositing, and even Houdini if they’re working on simulations and always Photoshop if they’re working on textures. We use a wide range of tools and the nice thing is that most of them play nicely with Shotgun. For editing and finishing we have Final Cut Pro, ProTools, Resolve and Scratch.

Do you develop proprietary tools?

We don’t here at SVA, but coming from a studio that did develop our own pipeline software tools, I can attest to what a huge leap it is to work with Shotgun. Straight out of the box, Shotgun is much more functional than anything we were ever able to develop in house.

What is your favorite thing about working in NYC?

I’ve lived here my entire life so you end up having this expectation that everything is immediately accessible. Anything you want to do or see or be a part of—you can find it here, that’s what I like about New York City.

When you aren’t working, what’s the ideal way to spend a day?

Performing music. When I’m not here I am out of town playing shows. It's good to be creative and step away from tech for a while.

What led you to visual effects?

Like plenty of kids I was cartooning instead of paying attention in class. I aspired to be a traditional animator. That led to studying design and working wherever art and computers came together. I've seen effects an animation evolve form practical special effects to full CG productions. I was lucky to have spent a few years at an animation/VFX studio here in New York.

What’s the biggest benefit of standardizing student projects on Shotgun?

It’s as simple as everyone being on the same page on any given project. Having a comfort level and familiarity with running multiple projects at the same time, and understanding shot structure is really important. Also, when I’m helping students problem solve, Shotgun informs me exactly where to drop in on a project to tackle a given issue. We have so much going on here at once, and Shotgun keeps all of that organized, everything from naming conventions to the versions of software being used and ultimately helps us avoid making mistakes and reinforces great professional habits in our students as we prepare to send them off into the real world.