Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rochester Institute of Technology

Most people think of RIT as a technical school for engineers and scientists. But it also has an impressive art and illustration program, which offers its students a skills-oriented course of study in a professional setting.

The campus consists of rectilinear red brick buildings arranged on a large campus on the outskirts of the city. We arrived at the gallery of the art building, which was hosting an exhibition investigating the design of pop-up books. Each of the basic design principles of pop-ups was illustrated with a giant-sized corrugated plastic model that you could try out.

Illustration chairman Bob Dorsey toured us through the art building. He told us that illustration students concentrate on basic skills of drawing and painting for the first two years. When they begin using digital tools later in the program, the college insists on staying on the cutting edge, completely gutting and replacing the computer equipment with the latest technology every two and a half years.

Mr. Dorsey described his program this way: "our illustration program is really geared towards full time studio careers. We have a diverse faculty of real working illustrators who all have their own areas of expertise. This includes traditional, digital, and dimensional illustration."

RIT is one of only two institutions in America that offers comprehensive degree programs in medical illustration (the other is in Cleveland). Department Chairman Glen Hintz showed us tearsheets of alumni (above), and the room where students get artistic training in the area of human anatomy and physiology.

The medical illustration program is closely integrated with the university’s biology department, and students have full access to cadavers and head-to-toe dissection.

To my knowledge, no school that I've seen yet offers a course specifically in animal anatomy for the artist—but I believe every art school should! If you know of such a school, shout it out on the comments.

RIT is also the home for the legendary School for American Crafts. For students interested in woodworking, metalworking, glassblowing, or ceramics (textiles were discontinued in the mid-90s), there is probably no better place to learn from modern masters. Illustration majors are able to sample from these resources as electives.

There are also programs in animation and sculpture or "dimensional" work. Here is a dimensional major named Matt, with his sculpture called the “Key Keeper,” an alien creature who walks on his fingers and holds his keys with his tail.

After my presentation on Dinotopia, I enjoyed talking with Bob Dorsey, Chad Grohman and Allen Douglas of the illustration faculty. These teachers obviously have great sympathy and respect for each other and a profound regard for their students. We’ve noticed that when all the teachers get along as friendly colleagues, the students benefit from the chemistry and the unity of vision, and they do their best work.

Thanks again and best wishes to everyone at RIT, and I wish I had had more time to visit with you!


Roca said...

Just a shout out to my Alma Mater...for students considering programs in scientific/medical illustration, you might also consider the Unversity of Georgia's Scientific Illustration program. Graduates often go on to the Medical College of Georgia's graduate program in Medical Illustration.

Anonymous said...

Terryl Whitlatch teaches an animal anatomy course at the Academy of Art University, and Paul Hudson teaches one at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I've never been to AAU, but I can personally attest that Hudson's phenomenal.

Bill Robinson said...

Glad to hear you stopped at RIT. I graduated from the animation program in 2006. I wish I had taken some of those medical illustration anatomy classes...

Matt said...

I was at the presentation that Mr. Gurney did and it was great. I learned a lot and really enjoyed the entire experience. I am most thrilled that he posted my pic in blog. I am Matt with the Key Keeper!

Lucianthinus said...

Great informative presentation Mr.Gurney, and also my son is now going through a period of being terrified of dinosaurs haha. I'm not sure what to make of it! :) Thanks again for the drawing and signature for him. I'm going to be buying him his first Dinotopia book to read to him soon!