Strong debut for DMU degree during global pandemic

Contributions from the creatives behind The Mandalorian, 2000 AD and Watchmen have led to a strong debut for De Montfort University Leicester’s (DMU) Concept and Comic Arts BA (Hons).

Artwork by student Alex Salter

The degree’s first ever cohort of students are benefitting from online talks, workshops and live briefs with some of the biggest names on the comic book and concept art scene, despite national coronavirus restrictions leading to limited campus access and a virtual learning approach.

A recent presentation followed by a Q&A with Goran Backman, the VFX Supervisor at Pixomondo Toronto, gave students valuable insight into the studio’s production techniques and pipelines used on The Mandalorian, the smash hit Star Wars TV series streamed on Disney+.

Students were introduced to ‘the godfather of British comics’ Pat Mills in their first term, who shared insights into his career spanning nearly six decades, including creating 2000 AD, playing a major part in developing Judge Dredd, and seeing his crime series Accident Man turned into a film.

Leading the way in championing the rights of creators, Mills set up his own publishing company, recently releasing sci-fi comic Spacewarp. Returning for term two of DMU’s degree, Mills has set students a live brief to illustrate an exclusive Spacewarp script, with the most print-ready artwork likely to be featured on his website.

Artwork by student Petya Dimitrova

Students also flexed their digital art skills during an interactive online workshop with comics artist and writer Dave Gibbons, whose miniseries Watchmen was turned into an HBO show in 2019.

These opportunities have been possible thanks to programme leader Phillip Vaughan, whose 25 years of industry experience includes animating for games, film and TV, as well as working on concept art with comic creators.

He said: “I’ve known Mills and Gibbons for years - not only are they great teachers but the way in which they’ve changed the face of the industry over the years is really inspiring.

“Students can learn a lot from their experiences of taking their comics into other mediums such as TV, films and games. It’s important for them to see that and not to pigeonhole themselves. My own career spanned graphics, 3D modelling, video games, comics, TV and production work, so it’s about keeping an open mind.”

By Alex Salter

For Petya Dimitrova, leaving her home and loved ones in Bulgaria to study at DMU during Covid-19 was a difficult decision, but one she feels is paying off.

“Directly interacting with these amazing artists has been a dynamic start to our first year - it’s like seeing your dreams starting to come true little by little,” said the 20-year-old.

“Getting feedback and encouragement on my work from Pat Mills is really motivating. The fact that he may publish our work if he likes it is so exciting - it could be the starting point of a future career.”

It was Covid-19 that persuaded Alex Salter to enrol at DMU, after giving up on a game art degree elsewhere and struggling to find work.

The 21-year-old from Suffolk said: “I didn’t enjoy the 3D modelling aspect in game art, but still really wanted to develop my digital painting and concept art skills, and DMU’s degree was everything I was looking for in a course.

“Seeing the level of detail in Pat Mills’ script and working on a live brief with him is really good. I’m treating it like a real-life commission because you never know when something like this can lead to an actual job, and the whole point of university is to get a job in the field that you want.

Vaughan added: “Ours has always been an evolving and exciting industry to be involved in, and lockdown has seen an explosion of this kind of content, with people turning to film, animation, games and comics more so than ever. I’ve never seen such a demand on the creative side of jobs.

“I hope all these great guests and talks inspire our students to aim high and think big, as you never know where this course will lead to.”

Posted on Tuesday 9th March 2021

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