JOHNSON CITY – East Tennessee State University was recently ranked # 1 in the state as the best game design and animation school.
Not only that, my alma mater ranked in the top 20 game design and animation colleges in the south, ranking 12th for its animation program and 17th for game design. These two concentrations are part of the digital media program.
“This honor comes at the right time, as our new Master of Fine Arts in Digital Media welcomes its first graduate students this fall,” said Marty Fitzgerald, professor and chair of the digital media department at ETSU. “Our students have the opportunity to equip themselves in digital media by choosing from a number of career paths including animation and game development, and this establishes what we already know: that we offer a program top-notch for digital media students.
I am not a programmer by any stretch of the imagination. Back in high school, when I took Basic, it was anything but. The assembly left me perplexed and I was lucky to have a C + in C +. However, I’ve been a gamer longer than most of you have been alive, and I’ve always been fascinated by the way programmers work their magic and bring the pixels to life on my screen.
That’s why I recently sat down with Professor Fitzgerald to talk about the digital media program, the types of students that typically enroll, and the types of professions they can do after graduation.
“Our graduates have gone on to work on notable creative properties which include ‘Borderlands’,’ Falcon and Winter Soldier ‘,’ Intergalactic Pizza Delivery Guy ‘,’ Thor Ragnarok ‘,’ Halo ‘,’ RWBY ‘,’ Crucible ‘and’ Justice League, ”Fitzgerald said. “We are very proud of this and these rankings. “
Fitzgerald, with a master’s degree in musical performance, came to teach at ETSU in 2003, after working as an animator in San Francisco. Currently, the digital media program has around 300 majors, with another 30 who are minors.
The split between men and women is about 60/40. When Fitzgerald started at ETSU, the split was probably closer to 95/5.
“It has changed a lot in the last 20 years since I’ve been here,” he said.
The department offers a Bachelor of Science in Digital Media with concentrations in four categories: digital animation, digital game design, digital visualization, and visual effects. The program also recently unveiled Tennessee’s first Masters of Fine Arts degree in digital media.
The four categories are pretty broad, Fitzgerald said, with many job titles and opportunities within each.
“Everyone acquires basic knowledge on a wide range of topics related to digital media. They’re going to shoot and edit videos, model stuff in 3D, animate at some level, and anyone can put stuff into a game engine, ”Fitzgerald said. “After that, we tend to go into specialties, and animation and game design definitely have more students than the others.”
With a digital media degree, students have a wide variety of employment options. Some students don’t even exit the program until they land one. Every year, a few students are hired before they graduate, Fitzgerald said.
And graduates can find jobs locally or pretty much anywhere else in the world. ETSU graduates went on to work at Epic Games in Raleigh, Hi-Rez Studios in Atlanta, and Discovery Network in Knoxville.
“It is a growing and very competitive sector. If we put an ad saying we’re looking for moderators, we’ll get CVs and portfolios from all over the world. This is exactly the kind of field it is. The competition is tough, ”Fitzgerald said. “This is what we try to train students to be ready for.