Academy of Media Arts: An Introduction


In the age of technology, art is no longer limited to what we can make with ink on paper. That sketch in your journal can be brought to life using the computer; however, we tend to define digital art as limited. Few people want to be trapped behind the screen of a monitor, learning complicated tools.

The Academy of Media Arts exists to challenge that stereotype, encouraging us to try a new form of creation, making the most of powers given to us by progress.

Watching the online workshop videos, I realized it was not a limiting process. No, they encourage you to go outside. It surprised me because, like many others, the words digital art made me think of hours glued to a laptop, combing through coding and cursing the wi-fi.

The Academy of Media Arts encourages you to take your imagination outside, letting it run through the woods. Later you capture what you find in a bold piece of 3D art.

You aren’t bound to your computer the whole time.

I asked educational and project coordinator Syd Wachs to describe their mission in a paragraph–and she replied with three words. It made me realize that the idea is simple and precise, but also full of magic we can all learn to use.

Q: In a paragraph, describe your mission.

A: To sum it up in 3 words: ARTISTS LEADING TECHNOLOGY.

To sum it up in a paragraph: We are a production-based media training school that harnesses visual design and emerging digital technologies. Think of us as a trade school for learning and developing skills and talents used in practically every industry today. This said, we take our craft seriously, regarding it not just as typical classroom learning, but integrating it with internationally renowned studios and clients for real-world projects. Creative exploration is what we LOVE to see!

Expanding on both: Going back to the ‘Artists leading technology’ motto, we are fully people-centered. We believe you are a working professional in the creative industry, whether you are right now or not. (Ponder this.) Our desire is to INSPIRE and EQUIP you personally to make international connections and grow your business and skill sets – as well as incorporate these skills and expanded knowledge into your classroom, whether you’re a student or teacher.

We empower creative entrepreneurs – that’s what creativity is: paving new paths! So many creatives settle for working under people their whole lives and put their own creativity on the back burner. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not all bad! We need people to work under people, and that’s where many people thrive. But we also encourage people to not conform themselves into the ‘employee’ image. ‘Inspiring creative entrepreneurs.’ We are propelling forward a creative hub that everyone will recognize.

Q: The videos were filmed at beautiful locations in New Zealand. Do you think nature the ideal place to create something “modern” like 3D art? Why?

A: Absolutely! A common misconception is that digital arts are supposed to stay digital. We have online Pinterest boards of inspiration when we all have the ability to walk outside and get inspired. We watch films and read books to take us places as close to physically as possible without moving. Then we get frustrated when we can’t get inspired and recreate the beauty that we see on screens and ads and described in books, etc. Technology is a great thing – but when it rules over the artists, it’s not being used as it was designed to be used. (Hence the ‘Artists leading Technology’ statement to which I keep returning.) 

I’m sitting here in Hong Kong right now, with both cityscapes and vast mountains in front of me. I just came from living outdoors in New Zealand for 5 months while conducting our workshops. I’m from a small town that has historic buildings, and a forest as my backyard. I’ve been both places, absorbed in the Pinterest world and playing touch-me-not with technology, physically immersing myself in real environments. There has to be a happy medium between the two for optimal creation.


A situation I use to illustrate this is: a 3D modeler is digitally sculpting a sword that will be used in a film. The sword is gorgeous and badass and ferocious and all the things people love to see. Yet when it’s incorporated with the character into the film, it looks great, but we viewers feel a tiny bit unsettled about it. Something isn’t quite right. We don’t know anything about swords, but we can tell something is off.

What should have been done: after the digital sculpting, the modeler then brings in a blacksmith who knows the feel of hammering the metal, the weight and balance of swords, the ergonomic shape of the handle. The swordmaker can take one look at the digital sculpt and advise the modeler how to adjust his design so the sword makes total sense in the film.

The swordmaker can’t digitally sculpt, and the modeler can’t physically make a sword. They have to collaborate so the best job possible can be done!

It’s the same way with nature and the digital world. Think about it, visual effects are effective when it recreates reality so it’s believable. Telling a visual story. We’re not impressed with fake stuff – we want to believe something. It’s all based on reality. So how can one recreate reality without understanding it? The way shadows bounce off leaves, or the shape of a nose, or the way an old person hobbles around, it’s all a recreation of what we see all around us, but rarely notice. And that’s something that we are very, very passionate about explaining to people. Our workshops aren’t always inside in studios. We often go outdoors to shoot. To understand nature and lights and shapes and motion in the purest sense.

We recently filmed the second video series, where I’m modeling on the forest floor. The project will be to wrap roots around me like they’re sucking me into the ground. Obviously that wasn’t actually happening, but in order to make the roots believable, we have to match the shadows at that time of day, and the texture of the real and fake roots, and the colours, and see how the roots wrap around other objects in the forest to see how they will wrap around my arms and legs as they drag me down the hill.


Q: Explain what a newcomer would find upon leaving their comfort zone and picking up this new medium. Beyond the videos and computer editing, how will it change the world we see?

A: Based on feedback from our workshops in New Zealand and in Asia, a lot of creators (most of them visual DIY people: painters, dancers, architects, seamstresses, etc) were in creative ruts before our workshops, and came out of that during and afterwards. There was one girl at our 4-week workshop in Gisborne, New Zealand. She’s a musician and sews little pillow creatures and paints and does arts and crafts…that general type thing. This was the first time she ever touched 3D software, and she was terrified in an adrenaline-filled way at first, but at the end realized she was ‘touching’ reality differently. 3D sculpting made her really draw on the knowledge of how things really felt – or how easily one little thing missing, or the slightly-too-narrow curve of the back of her character’s head, made the whole person feel awkward. Instead of confining herself to physically making things, she expanded her creativity to the tangibility of both.

As a painter and writer and someone who grew up without any advanced technology, getting involved with this world of 3D and emerging technologies has expanded myself as well. Because my brain early on wasn’t trained to think in this way, teaching old dogs new tricks has been quite the experience! So my perspective on getting out of my fine-arts comfort zone is similar to the girl I just mentioned – not only does it really make me pay attention to the dimension of objects around me, but makes me watch films, or read books, or look at ads, or even imagine things differently. I see things in a clearer way, a more thorough way. I really understand them as they fully are, and I thought I did before. But 3D work forces me (in the best way) to absorb and pay 100% attention to everything. As a result, I’ve grown to appreciate things and people around me in a difference sense.


I know a girl who is a champion 3D sculptor, having worked for 3D printing companies here in Hong Kong and even at Hasbro. She’s also a fine artist originally, and she did this 3D sculpt series of her (late) dog that were so real (in her trademark stylized way) I could almost touch them. The texture of the hair, the crumpling of the dog’s lips smooshed against the pillow – it was all captured so beautifully. And whereas looking at the sculpt from all angles, I could tell she had done them because of their slightly cartoony style – but even still, the reality of the sculpts made me believe I was actually looking at the real dog. If something digital has that kind of power to make one believe that what they’re looking at is real…that’s incredible.

As I said before, the goal with 3D work is to tell a story visually. The whole foundation of it all is to tell a story. Everything should have a back-story, just like writing a book. Every film has a story; everything in the film is there because of a story. And 3D artists can’t work alone – they need people who are fine artists, or craftsmen (like the sword example), or writers – because the whole purpose is storytelling. And the key to creative expansion is collaboration.


Visit the Academy of Media Arts by checking out their website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

One thought on “Academy of Media Arts: An Introduction

  1. Reblogged this on w o o l g a t h e r and commented:
    Fun feature by author/my long time writing mentor and friend Mariella Hunt from Boise, Idaho. Check it out to get a better picture of what I do as Educational and Project Coordinator for AMA :)

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