30 November 2011
I originally found the Multimedia Studies Program at SFSU’s Center for Extended Learning while recovering from cancer. I was looking to update my skills, as I hadn’t worked full-time in film and video since receiving my Master’s degree. After my illness I was determined to return to the things I loved: film and photography. I found the Workforce Investment Act program while on unemployment and was happy to see that some of the costs of updating my skills could be covered by a grant. I was attracted to the Center for Extended Learning for a number of reasons. First, the MSP certificate would allow me to choose the programs I studied and to go deeper into them than many of the other schools approved by WIA would allow. Second, along with other software, they teach all the Adobe programs and use the most up-to- date equipment. Third, they have fantastic faculty. The people teaching the classes have worked with the programs for years and are respected in their fields. For my certificate I chose classes in Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Illustrator, Flash, Maya, HTML, and CSS. My intent was to focus on classes that would give me the skills to work in post-production houses.
One of my favorite classes was Photoshop Painting with Burt Monroy. I had never used Photoshop in the ways that Burt does and was mesmerized by the results he was achieving. He taught us many things, including how to use the pattern tool to create complex textures like skin, lace, and wood. He taught us how to use the layers to create convincing human features, like eyes and hair. But I think the best thing I got out of that class was his advice, “The best way to learn the program is to try pressing all the keys! You won’t break it!” His experimental nature and his encouraging attitude pushed me to try as many of the tools as I could find.
At the start of the class each student comes up with a concept of what they want to paint and we worked on our projects throughout the class. I was obsessed with sock monkeys at the time.
I wanted to create something resembling a magazine ad, so I thought I would use a sock monkey as a stand-in for a person in an ad for kitchen design. I wanted to create a semi-opaque cutting board with some cut vegetables on it, a stove it was standing in front of, a tiled floor, some light fixtures, and whatever else I had time for.
For these features I would need to use some patterns to create the yarn for the sock monkey, some textures for the cutting board, some FX tools including inner-glow for the cutting board because it’s a semi-opaque hard rubber material.
These were all very challenging for me as someone who had never done anything like it before and I was definitely taking on more than I could do for the class. Most of my results were not what I was hoping to see. But what was most important to me was that I was learning the program in a much deeper, richer way than I had expected to learn it. I ended up with a painting that, while it’s not the ambitious concept from the beginning of the class, is still something I would not have known was possible before the class.
Another class that surprised me was the series I took in Flash. I had always been somewhat wary of coding, but wanted to overcome that wariness. I wanted to get comfortable with coding to be able to manipulate After Effects in a more complex way. Flash Action Script ended up being the way for me to get there. As I went into Flash we started out doing extremely simple things like tweens and buttons, and then proceeded on to more complex things such as the bone tool.
Eventually, though, in the third class we started a project with Doug Winnie on a game he developed. The game was built almost completely in code. For me, this was crucial. He walked us through the logic of coding and how to break down a project into its logical components as the program would need to see it. The game he had us use was similar to Farkle, a dice game in which you try to get different rolls such as doubles or triples. These rolls have different point values. We had to break down the game into its components: how to create the roll effect through the program, how to get the Flash to show that roll on the screen, how to create a timer for the game, how to get the score to reflect what was rolled, and so on. I started to really understand coding. The key was to see each action, such as a dice roll, for the series of actions that comprise it. You can’t code without that sort of breakdown.
In the end, the MSP program did more than just teach me the latest software. I’ve learned some crucial skills for my work. Learning Flash Action Script taught me the skills to break down a project and really see what I need to create it. Getting deeper into Photoshop made me a much better risk-taker and experimenter. These are things that will make me more creative and more efficient, two things that I’m always striving to achieve.
Kelley Clements has a BS in Film and Photo Production from Ithaca College and a MFA in Film Production from the San Francisco Art Institute. She has completed the MSP certificate through San Francisco State University’s Center for Extended Learning. She lives in San Francisco and currently works as a freelancer as she continues improving her skills. She hopes to find full time employment with a post production house either editing or in special effects. Her website is www.kelleymclements.com.