Boundless design

By Brian Ayers

Cutting-edge careers start with Digital Interactivity and Media Arts program at a Nebraska college

The “struggling artist” label is far less applicable to creatives who are displaying their work in digital formats.

From the architects of the Metaverse to designers growing the most widely recognizable consumer brands, the digital arts now claim a greater role in the creative experience. From using augmented reality to visualize your living room with the couch you are considering purchasing to using your cellphone to experience three-dimensional art in a virtual gallery, layers of technical processes make those animations execute correctly in their digital environment.

Artistry is also at work to bring those experiences to life with attention to style. The Metropolitan Community College Digital Interactivity and Media Arts (DIMA) program not only teaches students how to build these skills, but also to develop strong project portfolios that are key to landing jobs after graduating. Design is the college’s largest DIMA concentration, while 3D animation and games is rapidly increasing its enrollment. The strength of the job market for both concentrations is driven by global consumers’ expectations to interact with products and services in a range of digital formats, said Ian Snyder, an MCC DIMA instructor and experienced game developer.

“Even before the pandemic, but especially since, the game industry has been booming. More companies are seeing that there’s a lot of benefit to having a strong digital presence,” said Snyder, a co-founder of two indie game studios. “Even with a relatively simple app, you’re going to reach a lot more people having one, and augmented reality is going to continue to keep growing.”

Snyder said a major benefit of the DIMA program is that once students develop the foundational skills, there are a vast variety of ways to apply these skills. For example, Snyder teaches a course on the Unity game engine, a platform used to develop 2D and 3D computer games and simulations. It could be used to build a video game for children or to create architectural modeling objects.

“We help our students figure out what they want to focus their creativity on, and as soon as possible, we work on helping students build their portfolios,” Snyder said. “As instructors, we provide direct mentorship because of how quickly things change in the industry, and I think that’s what is appealing about these careers—they are on the cutting edge.”

A solid start

Arlind Emerllahu was drawn to 3D animation because he liked the idea of blending computer technology with art.

Around the time of his graduation last spring, Snyder came across a remote internship opportunity with a Wisconsin-based company called Paradigm, which provides software solutions for the building industry. Snyder said he thought Emerllahu had strong skills for the role, and they concentrated on building up his portfolio.

As a result, Emerllahu landed a three-month internship. Six weeks later, he was hired for a full-time position. Initially, Emerllahu set up lighting, staging and solved technical issues related to the company’s 3D architectural renderings, but his role has expanded to include development for process, as well as researching and creating new procedures and tools. He’ll soon venture into virtual reality for the company’s mobile app.

“I appreciate the variety in challenges. Typically, the same issues don’t pop up consistently, and it’s incredibly fun to develop new processes and upgrade the visuals in our pipeline,” Emerllahu said.

Read more student and alum stories in MCC’s magazine, Community.

Brian Ayers

is the features editor and copywriter at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska.