With her classical and digital animation backgrounds, Nanette Kaulig has set her focus on teaching Life Drawing and 3D Animation at the Cologne Game Lab. In addition, she offers basic introductions to classical animation and layout drawing, acting for animation, digital 2D animation, and painting as well as giving a more general, practical insight into industry application requirements in the field of game arts.
Education and Professional Experience
Nanette began her career at Free Radical Design in Nottingham/England, working on Time Splitters 2 and Second Sight. She then moved to the south of England to join Lionhead Studios. Her credits there include Black & White 2, Black & White – Battle of the Gods (lead animator) as well as Fable 2 and 3, where she supervised Simulation and Interactive Cutscenes. In 2010 she joined Yager Development GmbH in Berlin, Germany, where she worked as a Senior Cinematic & Character Animator on the Cutscenes of Spec Ops: The Line and where she later got promoted to Animation Director. While in Berlin, Nanette also began teaching Animation at the HTW – University of Applied Science.
Since 2015 she has been a full-time professor for ‘3D Animation and CG Art for Games’ at the Cologne Game Lab, University of Applied Science Cologne, while occasionally giving workshops at other institutions, e.g. the International Film School, Cologne or Le Cnam-Enjmin in Angoulême, France.
A graduate of Ballyfermot College in Dublin/Ireland (HND Art and Design), Nanette has a classical animation production background and enjoyed drawing and experimenting from an early age. She was ten years old when she created her first ‘cut out’ short film.
GAME ARTS AT COLOGNE GAME LAB
The Cologne Game Lab has set itself the goal of being a uniquely international institution. All lessons are taught in English exclusively. Our students come not only from all corners of Germany – about a third of them hail from countries around the world. Accordingly, they have grown up in the most varied and diverse cultural environments, have passed through a wide variety of educational systems, and have therefore gained completely different impressions on life and developed different points of view.
I believe that it is precisely this circumstance that creates a wonderful ambiance of creative diversity and, at the same time, represents a particularly good preparation for working life in the international games industry. The constant use of the English language promotes and exercises knowledge of the technical language commonly used in the industry. After all, even in a German studio you must be prepared to speak English with your often international colleagues.
The Structure of the “BA Digital Games” Degree Programme
The BA Digital Games program distinguishes between two basic phases: general studies followed by a specialization in the fields of game design, programming, or art.
General Studies and the Arts
The first phase begins with a one-year general course, in which all students with their different interests and abilities are taught together. The diverse background of students interested in art, design, and programming creates a great challenge for course design, but at the same time, it is also a fantastic opportunity to give them an early idea of the work of the other professions, and how difficult and how time-consuming workflow processes can be outside of their individual specializations.
Introductions into various artistic fields not only foster mutual understanding between the disciplines but also facilitate collaboration both on the collaborative game projects during their studies and later on in a professional studio. Simple introductions may not always be a challenge for students with previous artistic knowledge, but it is very advantageous for the students if they are brought to the same relative level. Such a basis promotes working in teams both on a practical and communicative level, but above all else could aid in a student’s decision on which specialization to finally pursue.
Spezialisation Game Art
From the third semester on, according to personal interests, students finally choose their specialization in the direction of Game Design, Programming, or Game Art. The focus transitions to special art classes and the corresponding artistic challenges, always keeping the requirements of the industry in mind.
Several guest lectures covering all disciplines including art ensure the students’ mindsets are tuned toward the oncoming challenges in the broader industry or in academia. In the past, experts from the industry have given lectures on their projects and the challenges they pose, or given practical workshops outside of my particular expertise, instructing students on the finer points behind Environment Art, Concept Art, Character Modelling, or Rigging.
Internship, Semester Abroad, Self-initiated Project
In the 5th semester, students choose a compulsory elective module: an internship, a semester abroad, or a self-initiated project. I am happy to encourage students to go abroad for a semester and to take part in an exchange program with other partner universities to fine-tune their artistic approaches and experience cultural differences. These experiences expand their horizons in a multitude of ways.
In 2015 alone, at the outset of the Bachelor track, eleven students (out of around 40 in the fifth-semester class) visited foreign partner universities in Australia, Great Britain, Switzerland, Turkey, and South Korea. As an organizer of the fifth-semester exchange abroad initiative, I wholeheartedly support our students’ ongoing global integration.
In addition, I also like to continue to include students of other specializations in the pursuit of artistic handcraft and offer, for example, an evening life drawing class in a relaxed atmosphere, which all students can join, regardless of specialization and semester affiliation. Life Drawing sessions are accomplished in collaboration with the international film school köln, which is also located in our office block.
“Art as Experience” using the Example of two Subjects
During the course of his/her studies, a student specializing in Game Art will encounter a wide variety of subjects, such as the Creative Process, which deals with the development of conceptual and practical design, life drawing, modeling, or animation.
I would like to focus especially on my two main subjects:
I am very happy about the opportunity to give my students life drawing lessons. This ability is useful and important for every artist, no matter which artistic specialization will be pursued individually later.
Since I worked primarily as an animator in the industry, I also teach animation, starting with classical animation, and 2D-digital animation to the main focus of 3D animation.
The Basic Concept
By the very nature of the subject, the art lessons are very practice-oriented and the same applies to the homework that the students receive.
The basic concepts for the two subjects in focus here are the following:
In these classes, the students who specialize in game art first draw a male or female nude model in a classical way.
The 3rd semester begins with the anatomy of the human body, essentially focused on the individual body parts. In addition, the students learn, among other things, how to approach a drawing, how to take proportions into account, and how to shade.
In the 4th semester, I encourage the students to give their work a further impulse to develop their abilities beyond the basic. It is no longer so much a matter of creating an image that is as accurate as possible, but rather of creating liveliness and atmosphere and of being able to tell a story with an image.
The 6th semester is then mainly characterized by the deepening of what has been learned and promotes experimentation with new materials and working methods.
During all this time, students are encouraged to keep a sketchbook with which they can continue to practice what they have learned in class, e.g. by drawing people from their daily surroundings, be it in a Café or at a bus stop.
This subject is held in our computer room in order to provide every student with the same requirements of a powerful PC and up-to-date software. In the 3rd semester, students learn how to keyframe animate a human character, i.e. by hand (as opposed to motion capture of an actor’s movement), from simple in-game animations like idle, jump or walk cycle to more complex animations involving interaction with objects or other characters.
The focus of the 4th semester lies on the cinematographic side of animation. At first, the students will deal more closely with the animation of the face, facial expressions, and the movement behavior of the eyelids, and the eyeball. Then they animate body and face movements to audio recordings (the so-called lip-sync). Finally, in another project, they added camera work to create a small cinematic.
In the 6th semester, the students can finally practice animating a quadruped using the example of a dog. Although it is not possible in our program to focus exclusively on animation as is the case at animation schools, our students receive extensive and profound knowledge, which enables them to help themselves whenever they need animation or to develop further in this direction, if they should wish to do so.
The Variety of Methods
In order to keep the lessons interesting and inspiring beyond this basic structure of my subjects, I try to use as many methods as possible.
Tasks and Milestones based on each other
The tasks used in my lectures and the related homework become more and more complex and challenging over the course of a semester.
The 3D animation introduction in the studium generale, for example, begins with the students having to animate a simple bouncing ball. This is the first opportunity to get to know the structure of 3D software, in this case, Autodesk Maya, as well as a simple, inimitable character. The next step is to add a simple environment of walls from which the ball can bounce and jump in different directions in different ways. The next step is to introduce a ball with a kind of foxtail, which in turn opens up the possibility of adding simple acting to the animation. For example, this “foxtail” can act as an arm and express human gestures, emotions, and poses. Only after the acquisition of this simple basic knowledge in the 2nd semester do I let the students animate a human character in the 3rd semester.
All in all, I try to introduce a new ability with each task and to expand the horizon of the students step by step with each new ability.
The View from a Different Angle
In addition, I like to give various impulses and inspirations of a theoretical, practical, and spatial nature. Here are a few examples:
As far as life drawing is concerned, for example, I like to introduce different artists in each lesson whose work is thematically relevant in some way. This means that if the lesson is about drawing a head, I like to introduce a portrait artist like Anders Zorn. When it comes to drawing animals, we look at the work of an artist who has dealt with the representation of animals like Rembrandt Bugatti. We also visit art museums such as the Wallraf-Richartz Museum.
Which brings me to another subject: Excursions. In order not only to incorporate different theoretical perspectives but also practical ones, I like to leave the building with the students and go with them to the zoo, for example, to draw animals or to a botanical garden, to practice nature or perspective drawing. In regard to animation, both life drawing and physical theatre can serve as an inspiration and help to create lively, interesting, and expressive poses.
That’s why I’ve offered special acting workshops in the past to encourage students to become more aware of the balance, weight, and legibility of a pose.
Back to the Roots
I am convinced that a look at traditional methods and tools also makes sense. This helps to better understand work processes and various technical expressions. In order to introduce the students to the basics of animation, I worked with traditional light tables in the first semester, for example, which were used in classical animated film production in the past. The students then use these light tables to create a bouncing ball with a pencil on paper. Nowadays these old tools and names for them are still used, only embedded in software. Or let’s look at 3D modeling using computer software, which has evolved a lot. The analog-oriented introduction to 3D work via modeling with clay is important in order to actually experience the three-dimensional space and to have the opportunity to truly look at the modeled object from all sides.
That’s why I also offer life drawing classes in which we model a life model using clay.
Theoretical Analysis, Reflection, and Presentation
When I visit an art museum like the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum with the students, they are asked to reflect more deeply on a small selection of paintings or sculptures.
For this purpose, I give an analysis homework task ahead of a visit, in which the students select one from a list of art objects and then prepare a presentation on the artwork, its historical background, and, of course, on the artist him/ herself for the day at the museum.
In order to create direct references to the work in a studio, I always incorporate appropriate elements into the lessons.
One such element, for example, is that students present their work to each other in a group. I want to promote their ability to talk about their work constructively and respectfully and to learn from mistakes but above all from successes. As an animator, you might have to take part in so-called “dailies” in a studio later on. These are meetings in which an animator shows his colleagues the progress of his current work.
Creating art is a very personal process and being confronted with criticism can be very depressing and hurtful. Therefore, simulations of such situations are important so that students learn to deal with such public criticism in a professional way.
Collaboration with other Subject Areas
In the past, Cecile Le Prado, Professor of Sound Design, and I made arrangements so that students could create their own voice recordings, music, and sounds for their own cinematic animations.
It is also possible to use ready-made audio files from sound collections or dialogues from films, but in this way, the students get to know another part of the pipeline and at the same time create something very individual and personal.
Invitation of Industry Experts
In order to be able to give even more insight into other ways of working and the professional world in general, it is particularly important for me to invite specialists from the industry.
In lectures, they talk about their project experiences and the challenges associated with them. It is even more instructive if they give a detailed insight into their working methods and professional reality in workshops.
This way, the students are close to the real working world, can make contacts, and stay up to date in terms of software used in industry, workflows, and pipelines.
In the past, we have welcomed guest lecturers for lectures and workshops from companies such as Blue Byte/Ubisoft, YAGER, Media Molecule, Another Place as well as Pixomondo or Cartoon Saloon.
Even though the collaborative project work during a semester was the general approach of the Cologne Game Lab from the beginning, I would like to point out explicitly that this approach finds my absolute support. This was especially as a responsible lecturer for the Ludic Game Project of the 1st semester, the first contact of the students with collaborative working methods.
The diverse groups, which come together to develop a game, should include students of all specializations and, with a share of about 30% of foreign students, are usually also internationally positioned.
Teamwork is an essential part of working life in a studio. During my first years at Lionhead Studios in Guildford, England, I experienced how inspiring a diverse team can be. A team with people from all over the world and from both game- and non-game professions.
Since my teaching has a very practical focus, I consider conventional written examinations to be of little use.
Looking at the subject of 3D animation, it is imperative that students train their skills continuously. This is the only way to develop and improve.
So that I can assess the amount of work, the development of a work, and the talent of an individual student, I usually give out between three and five homework assignments in the course of a semester, which always relate to the teaching content, and then have the students upload videos of these animations to the CGL Intranet Spaces. The results are then viewed, evaluated, and graded at the end of the lecture period or semester.
On the one hand, the students do not get their grades immediately after submission, on the other hand, this workflow enables me to see the development process of a person and compare it to the work of others.
In addition, not only the final grades but also the partial grades for each task are published, so that the students themselves can understand their development. This does not mean that the students cannot receive any feedback during the semester.
Apart from the constant opportunity for personal discussion, the CGL Intranet Spaces, set up in the winter semester 2016/17, not only allows me to see if and when a paper has been submitted, but I can also communicate directly with the students or make specific comments on an uploaded homework.
In my life drawing class I let the students select ten of their art pieces created in class as well as three privately created items and submit them as an online portfolio on the CGL Intranet Spaces at the end of the lecture period. The selected pieces of art should reflect the development and diversity of their abilities.
PHILOSOPHY AND OUTLOOK
On the one hand, I think very practically in terms of my teaching and simply want to prepare my students for the challenges of the industry. During my 14 years of professional life in the field of game development, I have been able to gain a comprehensive impression of what is expected in the industry and I would like to share this information in a targeted manner.
On the other hand, I want to make sure that the students learn to think and act openly, to be creative, to promote self-study, to develop new ideas, to experiment, and to take what they have learned to a new level. In this sense, the development of this still fairly new course is a fantastic opportunity to form a future-oriented, creative program, to ensure its quality, and, above all, to make the lessons as varied and exciting as possible. It encourages me to promote new ideas and to try out new tools, methods, and materials. This can be a new software, a new device of virtual reality, but also analogously the experimenting with new materials like e.g. acrylic colors in the life drawing class.
All in all, I hope that I myself will remain in a creative, open, perpetually searching, experimental mode to continuously improve both my teaching and the program as a whole and thus inspire my future students with precisely this openness and diversity.
Current Research Projects
2016 – ‘Antura and the Letters’, Character Animator (Alpha), Dog
- Kunst Erleben. “3D Animation and CG Art for Games” vielfältig inspiriert. In: Björn Bartholdy / Linda Breitlauch / André Czauderna / Gundolf S. Freyermuth: Games studieren – was, wie, wo? Staatliche Studienangebote im Bereich digitaler Spiele, Bielefeld: transcript 2019, S. 251-267.