Alex Alvarez, interview, 3dtotal

3DTotal: You will probably be best known for being the founder of Gnomon, which has since become globally recognized as a principal source of training. Your library of products covers a very wide array of the CG industry but what is it about the company you are most proud of?
Ah... well, a lot of people around the world focus on The Gnomon Workshop DVDs, as that is what is readily available to them, but Gnomon at its core is about the Gnomon School.... and a few other things. This may be a long answer. Heh.

The Gnomon School was founded in 1997 as a professional vfx training facility in Hollywood, offering courses on an 'extension' basis, meaning that people could sign up for just one class. Since that time, our student population has been a mixture of both professionals looking to develop their skills as well as adults looking to enter the industry. In 1997 I was working as an Applications Engineer for Alias|Wavefront supporting studios around LA with PowerAnimator training and technical solutions. I was also working with Maya at that time which was in pre-release Alpha. The demand for my time was very high, and although I was rather young, it was clear that there was a strong need for something like Gnomon in Hollywood. Also be aware that at that time everything was run on Silicon Graphics (sgi) computers, so the cost of hardware/software was around $150k per workstation! Because of this, very few people had access, while at the same time the industry was growing fast and there was a great need for more talent. I approached several artists and studios asking if they would support a school, and was very fortunate to receive a very positive reaction.

Today we have roughly 300 students, combining full-time and extension and about 70 instructors who are all working artists from studios around Los Angeles including Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues, Zoic Studios, Blizzard Entertainment and many more. In 1998 we launched our full-
    time two-year program to develop 3D generalists for the vfx industry, which now has evolved to integrate gaming. We are extremely proud of the quality of our students, instructors and curriculum, knowing that through Gnomon thousands of artists have learned the skills that they needed. Via our full-time program we have the highest placement rate of any school that I am aware of, being over 90% within six months of graduation. Thanks to all the hard work of our staff and faculty, it makes me very proud to know that Gnomon has helped scores of people accomplish their goals.

The Gnomon Workshop was founded in 2000 as a sister company to the Gnomon School. While clearly the school was catering primarily to artists in Los Angeles, I have always been very interested and involved with various online communities. Gnomon was one of the first advertisers and supporters for such sites as CGchannel, CGtalk, CGsociety, Highend, 3Dtotal, etc. I was always very aware that these communities were immensely valuable and would transform the industry, as they have. Through this involvement I really wanted to be able to share what was going on at the Gnomon School with the global community of artists. Furthermore, there are many top artists in the industry who are, due to their busy schedules, too swamped to be able to commit to teaching a class at the school.

    The DVDs offered a solution to share information with a wider audience, while allowing us to still work with some of these amazing artists.

Aside from being able to help artists evolve and grow via our educational services, one of the things I am definitely most proud of is to have been able to work one-on-one with such top artists as Syd Mead, Ryan Church, Iain McCaig, Carlos Huante, etc on the development of their DVDs. It has truly been an honor to get to work with such industry giants.

So aside from the school and the workshop, Gnomon is also involved in a variety of other things of which I am very excited about. Last year we launched the Gnomon Gallery, which focuses on the arts of the entertainment industry. Every month we have a new show and big opening party to celebrate the amazing talent that I have come to know over the years. One would think that there would already have been such a gallery, but due to the nature of the gallery scene in LA, this has never really taken off. The shows in the gallery have been a big success and we are very proud to be able to host them...

including artists such as Taron, Meats Meier, Jordu Schell, Christian Lorenz Scheurer, Aaron Sims, group shows with artists from Blur and Blizzard, and our most current show being the 'Art of 9', the new film by Shane Acker.

Something that not a lot of people are aware of is that in 2008 Gnomon acquired CGchannel. It was brought to my attention that the site was having some difficulties and needed to be acquired or shut down. We decided that Gnomon would be able to manage the site and given the fact that we have so many professionals coming to Gnomon every week, that we would be able to begin focusing the site more on editorial video content, such as interviews, production spotlights, trade show coverage, etc. There is still a lot to do with CGchannel as the site really needs a complete overhaul, but we look forward to developing it over the coming years with the main focus being editorial. There are many great communities out there such as 3Dtotal, and we definitely have no aspirations to reinventing the wheel when it comes to this. But being in LA, we feel that the main thing we can offer the community is more exposure to what is going on in the LA industry via video based content.

Then there is Sketch Theatre, a site launched at the end of 2007. The purpose of Sketch Theatre, as an entirely free video based site, is to expose as many people as possible to the fact that there ARE many career opportunities for people who like to draw. Every week we have artists come to Gnomon to simply create a cool drawing on camera. We then ask the artist what kind of music they are into, contact bands, and then timelapse the video of the drawing to the length of a song. Sketch Theatre is a fun site to visit and get a quick dose of inspiration. The education system in the United States, and in most parts of the world, is a big mess right now. Budgets are being cut like crazy. In California alone over $16billion was cut in 2008 from education, $400million just in Los Angeles. What this means is that the first thing to go is the arts and music. It is really horrible and sad to think that thousands of kids are losing their exposure to the arts. But at the same time, today is probably the best time in history to be an artist. There are so many opportunities for talented people, and I felt that we needed to do something to help share the fact that if you like to draw, it is ok... there are many many people who have been able to develop their love of art into a career, regardless of what their parents or school systems may have said. We have received tremendous support and feedback from artists from a variety of fields including film, games, animation, fine-arts, tattooing, etc. Sketch Theatre also expresses the relationship between art and music as mutually inspirational fields, and we also have had great support from the music industry.

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