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Student Gets Animated Through Epic Internship

Oct. 15, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Alexis Andrei

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IN A CHALLENGING JOB MARKET, an internship can be a true difference maker in terms of current and future employment.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 1.6 million people are set to graduate this year. With unemployment at 7.8 percent, diversity and work-related experience are becoming the qualifying factors that separate one graduate from another.

Sam Houston State University animation major Luis Gaitan has already recognized this and taken steps to arrive at his future.

As a requirement for graduation, Gaitan’s high school, Carl Wunsche Senior High in Spring, required an internship. Always knowing he wanted to be a video game designer, Epic Software Group seemed to be the perfect fit.

Epic Software Group is a multimedia production company based out of The Woodlands that creates websites, 3-D animations, multimedia presentations, video productions and commercial photography all at affordable prices.

 

Ambitious Beginnings


The application process at Epic was not an easy one, but Gaitan approached it fearlessly and with inventive thinking. The process contains a three-step application, that includes several rounds of interviews and the administration of an “acid” test, a small, yet difficult, project assigned to the student to work on from home. If you pass this test, the internship and the prospects that come with it are awarded to you.

Not easily intimidated, Gaitan was excited by the challenge and took it to new heights.

“My acid test was to take a metallic cabinet and put some kind of machinery, engine, or rotor inside of it…like if it was some kind of commercial generator," he said. "Instead, I went online and found some blue prints for a nuclear reactor and created a 3-D nuclear reactor and put it inside of the cabinet.”

His Epic Software supervisors considered the project innovative, and he was immediately offered the internship.

Gaitan began ambitiously, learning through every outlet available, teaching himself design software, participating in many art classes, consistently staying updated with trends in the animation field by reading the development journals of popular video games, and observing “human, organic movement” to make his designs more realistic. But upon entering the internship, Gaitan only had a beginner’s set of skills, including 3-D design.

 

An Epic Challenge


There was a period in Gaitan's internship where he had nothing to do, so his bosses would him home. But his Epic bosses knew of his video game interest and gave him a challenge: two weeks to learn the complex software, Unity 3-D, and prove himself for their new project, a rig design.

The rig design is a 3-D simulation of a real life drilling rig. Drilling rigs are structures housing equipment used to drill water wells, oil wells, or natural gas extraction wells. The rig design allows outsiders to experience the reality of it without ever actually stepping inside.

“I learned Unity 3-D on my own,” said Gaitan. “I think that to demonstrate such security and to jump into the challenge with no fear, knowing that I had no experience whatsoever, and to actually accomplish what I promised is the factor that allowed me to prove myself to the company.”

He succeeded and became an ongoing team member, turning his unpaid summer internship, into a weekly, paid one.

Gaitan was excited about being an integral part of the creation of the rig design. He approached it like creating a video game because video games are interactive presentations where users can control their movements, direction, and settings within the online portal.

 

Gaitan's "rig test" put him on Epic's map. As part of his summer project with Epic software, he worked with multiple Epic teams to create the project above. You can click on the picture to visit the website and check out the project so far.

 

Acting as the middleman between the creative and scientific team, his mission was to “design a game that was simple enough for everyone to play and understand.”

At first Gaitan started with a lot of research and testing to find the right combination of keys or inputs that anyone could use easily, basically making the game more friendly to users, he said.

“I created the rules of the game, adjusting to the client preferences, making sure the players would not fall off the edge of the game or create any restrictions in the commands they could use,” he said.

He then integrated the actual rig into the project, consulting with industry professionals weekly to ensure that the rig was following authentic standards and real-life positioning.

After he developed a day and night simulation so users could experience the differences in real time, he had to learn the basics of coding. Epic’s staff consistently aided him in the trials and tribulations he faced learning this new technique.

“I put the scene together and made it visually interesting and interactive,” he said.

The last addition was to make the game work across all browsers. Enlisting the help of the web developers and programmers from Epic, the project was finally up for review.

“I became kind of like the video game designer," Gaitan said. "I made sure the game worked properly and was tested properly so that it can be released to the masses."

Gaitan’s first major game project passed and was released to the public, adding one key success to his resume and his confidence.

“Epic software asks you what you like, and if they have it, they try to give you something in whatever you like,” Gaitan said, adding that learning and diversifying your skills are the benefits of an internship, especially one concentrating on such a competitive field.

 

Life as a Bearkat


Now at SHSU, Gaitan is entering each semester with a purpose, hoping to challenge his classmates with the information he has already acquired through this past experience and sharing his love for graphic media with his peers.

Having entered college with more than 50 credits, Gaitan is spending his sophomore year trying to successfully make it through the two-part Workshop in Art Studio History program in the art department to be one step closer to his goal of pursuing the animation track at SHSU.

“It’s been very interesting. I won’t hold myself to do the minimum. I’ll set the bar higher, and I have field experience, so I know what clients are looking for,” said Gaitan.

The experience of working with a team to achieve a common goal and the mentors that he acquired during the internship will be of paramount importance for his career prospects in the future.

“It was very well worth it,” Gaitan said. “It was tough to not have such a life as going home and looking at Facebook, but at the end, it pays off.”

Gaitan’s internship continues to bring in a paycheck even after the full-time portion is over because Epic contracted him for the next year to continue his work on the rig design, and, as the only intern, he is receiving support from the Houston Business Marketing Association.

In addition to fiscal support, Gaitan receives the opportunity to attend monthly meetings and to learn more about the business side of graphic design to further his success in future endeavors.

One of his mentors, Epic President Vic Cherubini, continues to give him advice and guide him in graphic media and also advised him to come to SHSU for the renowned art program, according to Gaitan.

“It has helped in the way that you meet people, people in big positions, people in studios, people that own businesses.” Gaitan said “Definitely, having someone out there already, gives you a huge advantage when there are a few spots left.”

 

What’s Yet to Come


Despite the questionable job market, Gaitan isn’t worried about his job prospects in the future. He has a leg up because of his internship, something that SHSU Career Services director Pam Laughlin said is of the utmost importance in a competitive job field.

“All new hires are hiring risks, but when you’ve had someone with an internship, it is less of a risk because employers know their hires’ work habits and the ability to get along with others," she said. "The more experience you have, the more marketable you’ll be.

"Over 60 percent of students who had at least one internship found at least one job after graduation," she said. "Internships allow students to learn more about their chosen field and get their feet wet."

Gaitan's internship not only left him with valuable contacts, but also a steadfast confidence that will help him persevere in his future endeavors.

“It’s been very beneficial. After one year in the internship, it’s a whole different level of skills,” he said. “I hope to stay with Epic Software Group because of the variety of things they do. There is always something new to learn.”

The future Gaitan is working to set in place would not be possible without hard work, the skills he is developing in SHSU’s art program, and, most importantly, the experience he acquired through his Epic internship, he said.

Gaitan said while he hopes to get a job offer from Epic Software after graduation, his ultimate goal is to own his own studio that works with any type of graphical media, “from photography all the way to CGI or real time 3-D rendering.”

Living by the motto “push the limits,” he is well on his way to success.

 

 

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