by Mike Sulesky, design visualization specialist
I‘ve always had a passion for teaching. While I took my career down a different path, graduating from Drexel in 2019 with a major in Game Design & Production and a minor in Animation & VFX, I found a passion for teaching animation topics as a student when I was the vice president of the school’s Special Interest for Computer Graphics (SIGGRAPH). I joined Pennoni shortly after graduation as a design visualization specialist for Pennoni’s FX (PFX) team. However, the passion for teaching was still there.
As VP of SIGGRAPH, I would often lead group meetings with underclassmen, teaching them about specialized 3D software that were not a part of Drexel’s curriculum. Since graduating, I have continued to stay engaged in Drexel Digital Media Department with my connections to Drexel’s SIGGRAPH club and participated in their Co-Op hiring process to bring on the most recent addition to our PFX team Sam Hall, design visualization specialist.
With a love for my job and a passion for teaching, I reached out to the head of the Animation Department at Drexel in early 2021, to see if they needed adjunct professors to teach 3D modeling classes, and thankfully they were looking to fill some positions.
This past winter, Drexel asked me to build the curriculum for a new Digital Character Creation class, as I have the most experience with 3D character art of all current Drexel faculty. This class ended up becoming required for all animation students to take to graduate. I created everything from scratch, from lectures to grading policies to assignment criteria. In total, I have taught a total of five classes since becoming an adjunct at Drexel and have two more classes planned to teach for the upcoming fall term.
The biggest reason I started teaching at Drexel was to teach students modern 3D modeling techniques that traditionally fall outside of current class curriculum. 3D animation is still a very young and fast-paced industry. Often methods for creating 3D are already obsolete by the time students graduate, and many professors are still teaching these outdated methods, something detrimental to student education in the real world when their workflow is no longer utilized in the field. My main motivator is to inform my students of how the industry operates currently so they have a solid understanding and are ready to start working at any studio when they graduate. Unlike what many may assume, 3D animation is an incredibly complex process, so I always enjoy seeing it click in a student’s head and it makes me feel like I am succeeding as their professor.
My job as an instructor has bled into my work at Pennoni, I have been teaching other members of the PFX group about modern virtual reality and real time rendering pipelines through programs like Unreal Engine 4. My main duties as a design visualization specialist are to work with the PFX team to create high end animations and still renderings of project sites using a mix of hand crafted and real world scanned 3D models. I also assist the team in its research and development initiative as we look to pursue additional advanced 3D rendering technologies so that the team is always capable of producing the highest quality product possible. The team hopes to add virtual reality as a potential deliverable to clients so that they can get a better feel for what their vision will look like in a grounded space. Whether it be students or fellow coworkers, I have always enjoyed helping others expand their 3D toolbelt and grow as artists and I may be instructing the next generation of Pennoni employees!