It was during my misguided days as an engineering student at San José State University that I had phenomenal luck of rooming with an industrial design major. He was a transfer student from an area junior college who had already amassed an impressive body of work in the form of latex creature masks sculpted and cast completely on his own. Tom was always either sketching for his design classes, or sanding Bondo® in the stairwell of Hoover Hall, or working in the model shop well into the early morning hours. I envied the fact that he had found a major that allowed him to do what he loved and what he was good at.
Years later, after my disqualification from the mechanical engineering program and Tom's leaving for Art Center in Pasadena, California, I ran into him at a Massive Black Inc. workshop in Seattle, Washington. We had corresponded off and on through email, but it was great meeting up with him again and seeing how far his work had progressed while working in games. I remember seeing him surrounded by attendees at his table with his portfolio of sketches strewn about for anyone to browse through. He was that kind of person: generous with his knowledge and unpretentious.
This semester's props, weapons and vehicles course with Brandon Luyen at AAU is my first time experiencing first hand an approach to design drawing that reminds me of what I enjoyed about seeing Tom's marker and ballpoint pen sketches on vellum. Even as an undergrad at CCAC, I was always intrigued by the dynamic and expressive form studies the lower-division industrial design students posted on the crit walls near the beginning of the semester. As with so many other practical drawing and painting principles I've learned at the Academy, part of me dreads not having gotten a stronger foundation as an undergrad when I was much younger. And yet, after two weeks of a highly focused sketching regimen, I am seeing some improvement in an area of sketching, namely sketching mechanical objects and basic geoforms freehand with a pen. It's easy to overlook the importance of drawing mechanical objects freehand in a way that reflects a deeper understanding of the structure of things. We spend a significant amount of time looking at and drawing existing objects using a method that forces us to see through and around objects.
Aside from having a couple of amazing classmates, we look a lot of inspiring examples of prop and weapon designs for games done by industry professionals. The continual emphasis on design in my illustration, animation and game design courses reminds me of how much more I need to study through sketching.
An added bonus has been time with a Cintiq. We used them in Visual Development for Games with Michael Buffington, but the class was so poorly taught that had to force myself to do the assignments, let alone take full advantage of the facilities. Nonetheless, with or without a Cintiq, it's great to once again wake up with a strong desire to draw first thing in the morning.
Here's a look at Tom's amazing and diverse body of professional work: Tom Johnson Studios