Sherman and Denison High schools are beginning to expand computer animation course offerings. The different campuses offer somewhat comparable programs that are teaching students the skills to enter the high stakes world of video game production, design and even esports.

According to ZipRecruiter, careers in the computer animation field have a median salary of about $60,000 per year and can peak closer to $85,000 per year.

SHS Graphic Design and Animation Instructor Jeff Clements said the tools students are working with in his class are state-of-the-art and would be similar to the ones used in these high-paying fields.

“Whatever their (the students) focus is, their passion if it's creating models they can do that,” Clements said. “If it is animating and making objects and characters move, they can do that. I teach them to do whatever their imagination comes up with. We have three years of classes. During those three year we start off knowing nothing about a 3D environment. Once we have created animation they bring the characters to life and develop their own stories. What we do in the classroom in many ways reflects what students would see in a real world animation studio.”

Clements said the students start with nothing but a concept and do the entire pipeline from design to story boards to production — the same as a commercial animation studio would.

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One aspect Clements was particularly proud of was his students who competed in a Skills USA Competition last year. Winning second place in district, the students attended the state competition in Corpus Christi where they competed against 22 teams and brought home the 8th place award.

“What they had to do in one day was come up with a story and go through that entire pipeline,” he said. “It was just the two students. In just one day, they had to complete a whole project. I was really proud of them. I am looking forward to the future. This year, we have two teams that are going to be competing. They are strong teams. I am hopeful for how they will be able to do.”

The 3D animation course at SHS is a natural progression of the previous 2D animation course the district offered. Clements is now looking to try programs like Unity or Unreal Engine to develop video games while also learning to work with virtual reality.

“We're trying to grow with the technology that is out there,” he said. “We can stay current with the industry standard. In my research, I have not seen many opportunities in Texoma to pursue 3D animation. As for classroom, it is fairly limited. It is how fortunate our community is that Sherman ISD has this program. Because of the future, we're going to be morphing this into video game design. Animation goes into storytelling but also the gaming world. Video game design is next. Those are side by side in the real world. That is where I see us working.”

Along the same lines, Christi Coplin is teaching a new art and career, technology and engineering course over in Denison. The class prepares students for computer animation and programming.

“A lot of our students are super artistic,” she said. “The skills they will be learning here are on the software end. They will be learning to move art around in a computer. I have to find software that will fit on the computers we have. They are going to learn Blender which is a 3D software. That is a really intensive software to learn to move shapes and expand their skills.”

Coplin's goal is to get her students proficient at storytelling and animating on a 2D level before easing them into a 3D environment. However, she said they are already dabbling in 3D space by using the software to design board game pieces to send to the 3D printer for production. That is one of the skills she said the students will be able to apply in the real world as new jobs are created every day that rely on 3D animation.

These careers fields include those involving art direction, film and video editing, flash animating, graphic design and more.

“Since this is such an in demand field there are new job titles formed almost daily,” Coplin said. They will be able to do almost anything. They need to find what their passion is. If they are more into the artistic side they need to focus on drawing. They could get into advertising. I have kids that want to be animators. I tell them when you are putting your character into the computer you have to learn the technology in order to move the joints.”

Pixar, Dreamworks and Nickelodeon all do the same process.

“It is all about creativity and allowing the student to do what they are passionate about,” Coplin said. “A lot of these kids are passionate about creating stuff. It is my job to direct them.”

Game design and game programming is the next logical step, she said.

Right now the students are learning the Java programming language to animate computer characters. In order to turn that into an interactive game, they will need to think critically by applying “if, then” statements to the program to account for reactions.

Students in the middle and high school levels are learning these programs.

“We teach this same class at Scott Middle School,” Coplin said. “They do the same curriculum. It is interesting the two years of difference. The creativity is more movie focused. Eventually, we will get to 3D. Right now, we are on the flat world. They have to learn to think like a computer. They will come into all kinds of different programs.”

Coplin is also excited about another frontier: esports. She said many students who take her course have a strong passion for video games, and she would like to see that translate into an esports program at Denison in the future.

DHS Student Gavin Foster, a student who is into game design, is taking the class to hone his creativity.

He said he was surprised to learn the class was offered, but once he got into it he really enjoyed it.

“I like you have your own creativity,” he said. “You get to do what you want with your own talents. What we're doing now is creating an alien. You can decide what you want to do with it. I want to go into game design. This is teaching you how to have that creativity. I like role playing games and older style games and survival games because it takes a whole world. This class is preparing me to discover my creativity and where I want to go. The school has a good education system, this class lets you have a lot of freedom.”

Richard A. Todd is a reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached by sending email to rtodd@heralddemocrat.com. He can also be reached on Facebook and Twitter @RichardAToddHD.