News Column

Video game and animation design program a success story at Oklahoma university

July 13, 2014

By Matt Patterson, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

July 13--Associate professor Jeff Price's office isn't an arcade, but it is a monument of sorts to video games.

Price is the director of the gaming and animation program at Oklahoma Christian University. He started it five years ago with 15 students. Next fall there will be six times as many students in the program.

The Princeton Review recently named the program one of the best in the country, joining the likes of MIT and the University of Southern California.

For Price, the program is something close to his heart. He grew up playing games. His office is filled with several coin operated machines, including Defender, Centipede and an original stand up version of Pong from the early 1970s.

While those games have been around longer than most of his students, the interest in gaming and animation has never been higher.

"When we started I did expect there would be some interest in our program, but the amount of growth that has happened in the last five years is amazing to me," Price said. "We started with 15 and there are 50 now and there will be another 40 coming in the fall."

When Price spoke to a group of prospective students and parents on a recent weekday morning, the classroom was practically full.

Building the program

Price started the program from scratch, visiting other schools to pick up ideas along the way. He later combined some of the school's design and animation classes into one program.

"We've been very fortunate to have such great support from the school," he said. "They took this untested thing and let me start this program. I think that is paying off. We've been lucky to be recognized by the Princeton Review. That's been a large draw to our program."

Price revamped the curriculum and accelerated the pace in which students learn.

"When I first got here, there were things that they weren't getting into until their senior year," he said. "We've moved things like modeling principles to freshman year. That gives them four years to build on their skills. By their senior year they have a portfolio that hopefully will help them land a job."

Price said many of his male students tend to gravitate toward game design, while females favor animation, though there is plenty of crossover. But learning how to make games and animate on a computer are one thing, and finding a job is another.

Only one class has gone through the program and the results have been encouraging.

"I've had one group come out and about 40 percent of them have gotten jobs in this field," he said. "We've been very happy with it so far, and we expect it to continue to grow and our graduates to find more success as the years go by."

Designing for the future

Skyler Thomas, 26, found a job immediately after graduating. He works for a live event production company in Norman focusing on 3D animation.

"I've always been curious about games and animation," Thomas said. "Then Jeff came along my sophomore year and I finally got to explore more with it. The day I graduated, from Day 1, I had a design job."

Chris Parker, 29, also is among the program's first graduates. He started his own animation company and teaches part time at OC and Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City. He sees a need for the skills he learned that go well beyond designing games.

"There is a lot of need at various companies for animation for a wide range of purposes," Parker said. "You might have one that is re-designing their offices and want to see what it looks like. If someone gave me blueprints and CAD files I could do that and make it look realistic."

Both graduates know they will continue to hone their skills.

"Things have changed a lot in a short period of time," Parker said.

"I'm a little older so I've seen a few more changes than some of the students that come out of the program, but as far as the industry goes there's a lot of room for growth. The introduction of 3D printers is something that I never thought would be a thing."

Thomas enjoys the constant state of change in his industry.

"It's funny because you get to mess with some of the best technology there is, but the bar is always being raised a little bit at a time," he said. "You really have to keep up with it, but that's a lot of fun too."


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Source: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)

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