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This is a guest blog from Patty who is currently studying MSc Computer Animation & Visual Effects. She also studied BA (Hons) Computer Animation Art & Design at Bournemouth University too. In this blog she explains how postgraduate study is different to undergraduate study.

Master’s vs batchelor’s degree – What to expect?

A master’s is very different to studying for a batchelor’s degree. There are loads more contact hours and much more to do. As an undergraduate student I had quite a lot of spare time especially at the beginning. A master’s degree is full on from the very start. There are plenty of new things to learn. One thing that was especially hard for me was that I hadn’t done much programming previously so some units were just scary. I also had to figure out how to balance my social life, my part time job and being a president of the Ballroom and Latin Dance Society at the same time. I had to make sure I had people to replace me running some of the dance classes and also I couldn’t take on as much as I used to at work.

The master’s degree is also just a year long, but it is a full year, almost from September to September and there isn’t that many breaks so just be ready for that. Now I think I could have maybe taken a little bit of a break after my undergrad but oh unfortunately I didn’t so I will definitely try find some time to relax after my masters is over.

A little bit about my course – favourites and scary bits, how to be an art student among all the programmers and engineers

The MSc Computer Animation & Visual Effects course focuses on the programming and software side of animation games and VFX industry. We do a little bit of art at the beginning but it is more for us to understand what the artists use and expect than for us to become the artists. We get taught a little bit of Maya and Houdini which are the two main pieces of software used in animation and VFX.

Our projects are a Houdini Digital Asset city generator in Houdini, bouncing ball on Penrose staircases in Maya with a tiny bit of a tool development/coding required. Animation Software Engineering requires you to code something in C++. I was trying to generate feathers for it but it is up to you what you do as we choose our own topics. Then there is the maths and physics aspect of the course. For this we have to write a report about the algorithms and math formulas we used for the C++ project.

In the next semester we do the group project with all other animation master courses so a short animation, VFX film or a game. Then we have to do a Rendering project which is directly in Renderman. It can be quite tedious at times but I still enjoyed it a lot. I made a jar of paint for that one. There is also the simulation assignment so we have to do some sort of simulation basing it on a published paper, for example Siggraph, which is an international organisation for professionals with an interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques. I did snowflake growth simulation. And there is Pipeline which is again some programming but you are a bit less restricted when it comes to the language or software you use, you can do Rnd, a tool for artists or figure out a workflow using an alternative software solution. I used rigging tools in Maya and Python for this one and I was really surprised how well they turned out and was quite happy with the outcome.

My favourite was either the Maya project, Pipeline or Rendering. I still need to choose my master’s project topic and unfortunately submit a small retake as C++ is not my friend so I have to redo a bit of this project. My least favourite was definitely simulation, even though I love maths and I got a really good grade for it. For some reason I found this project a bit uncomfortable, I didn’t know what topic to choose and what to do for a long time. And the hardest unit for me was definitely ASE and the C++ project.

I am quite enjoying my course but I must say I really wish I did more programming beforehand or had a little break or a gap year to figure things out. It really is very hard and very intense. I have learned a lot of things this year though and looking back at some of the projects from earlier this year, I have to say I am surprised I achieved all that and proud that I got that far.

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