Old-school art, next-gen tech converge at Five Towns

Class act: Five Towns College's new Interactive Computer Graphics Laboratory is part tech hub, part artists' studio, and all business when it comes to the digital workforce of tomorrow.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Once the pipedream of an overactive imagination, a new Interactive Computer Graphics degree program is now resetting educational and professional trends at Five Towns College.

With the start of the Fall 2018 semester, the Dix Hills-based college has officially introduced its new course, the masterwork of digital innovator Paul Lipsky, who spearheaded the effort – including creation of the program curriculum – in an effort to right some wrongs he perceives in the “creative industries.”

Lipsky, CEO of Plainview-based MindYolk Animation Studio and a former Hofstra University adjunct instructor, doesn’t take the new degree program too seriously: It’s merely “the culmination of all of my life’s endeavors,” not to mention “the best opportunity I’ve ever had to take something that’s bothered me for a long time – seeing the creative industries go down in value – and reverse that trend.”

The crusading artist, who boasts more than 30 years of professional experience in advertising and broadcast graphics, really got serious about this in 2016, when he created a Venn diagram (those interlocking circles highlighting logical relations between different sets) showing a “creative convergence” between digital artistry and a multitude of professional fields – media, entertainment, “anything for the screen,” Lipsky noted.

While he only diagrammed it out two years ago, his theories actually extend back much further. What were the “best practices” of the advertising, gaming and broadcast television fields back in the 1980s have now reached a “maturity level,” according to Lipsky, and that’s what’s really creating the convergence with in-demand fields such as manufacturing, industrial design and Internet of Things programming.

It all led to an inescapable conclusion: A new workforce wave is rising, with digital artists “increasingly in demand,” Lipsky told Innovate LI.

“I could feel it in my bones,” he added. “And these are high-paying jobs. We’re not talking about outsourcing to Singapore and paying a hundred bucks for a logo.”

With the blessings of Five Towns College President David Cohen, Lipsky began writing curricula for two- and four-year Interactive Computer Graphics degree programs. The college submitted the syllabuses and other curriculum details to the New York State Department of Education last spring; the department approved the programs in September 2017, and as of this month, the first class of Five Towns students has embarked on its four-year odyssey.

The two-year-degree option is available, but all of the initial enrollees took the four-year route – and there are more of them than anticipated, added Lipsky, now chairman of Five Towns College’s Department of Interactive Computer Graphics.

Paul Lipsky: Picture this.

“Enrollment was higher than we expected,” he said. “We’re already outgrowing the lab that I spent the summer sweating over, so we’ve had to split the classes into two sessions.”

One of the programs’ main draws (pun intended) is its focus on pure art – not just digital creation, but the most-basic elements of visualization.

“We took what was currently out there (in computer graphics) and added from-the-ground-up elements such as drawing and illustration,” Lipsky noted. “Rather than teaching graphics the way they’ve always been taught, we said, ‘How can we do it differently and still capture the main goal of shaping a creative person who’s integrated with industry-level skills?’”

To that end, the ICG lab is every bit an artists’ studio, stocked of course with top-level tech – Lipsky trumpets a Ryzen Threadripper central processor and 1950X chipset driver, expertly modulated by American Micro Devices – but also including room for still-life models and other trappings of a traditional art classroom.

To reinforce the art-first approach, Lipsky recruited Karen Pellecchia, a professional art instructor who’s taught at both Nassau Community College and Briarcliff College.

“Rather than taking somebody with no experience teaching the ability to draw on paper, which is a vital skill, I took someone with vast experience teaching people how to really conceptualize and use historical components from different genres,” Lipsky noted. “Like, ‘During certain movements, this is how we learned to draw like this, or this.’”

The idea, he added, is to mold well-rounded creators who not only understand the technical and commercial demands placed on 21st century digital artists, but the basics of visual conception itself.

“Critical analysis is hugely important,” the department head said.

Of course, knowing how to draw is only half of this battle. The state-of-the-art computer lab is something “you won’t find in most major production companies,” according to Lipsky.

“It’s better than industry-grade,” he added. “These new processors are made specifically for the content-creation market, and this chipset has 16 cores and 32 threads, with a 64 PCI lane.”

In English: a “brand-new way of designing a motherboard,” according to Lipsky, and a worthy technological leap for an ambitious program that aims to create “valuable, sustainable creative professionals.”

“Within the last few decades, we’ve seen the trend going down – the core skills (taught in computer-graphics courses) are just not preparing students for the future,” the innovator noted. “My pet peeve is education has not been serving creative young people, and I wanted to give them a sustainable future as creative professionals.

“I’m very excited about where we are and where we’re headed,” Lipsky added. “When they’re finished, our students are going to be true digital fabricators, able to program embedded systems and design for IoT, which is really the next Industrial Revolution.

“These are the areas where high-paying jobs are going to open up – but only for creative people who have the right skills.”


1 Comment on "Old-school art, next-gen tech converge at Five Towns"

  1. What an excellent article. Expertly-written. Really ground-breaking stuff! Please continue to follow this program in future articles and updates. I sense this is just the beginning of something very special!

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