This university in the heart of Flanders is educating the next flock of development talent

Training Spotlight: Howest University College

[This feature was published in the August 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

Howest has been voted most entrepreneurial institution of higher education in Flanders by both employers and the government five times in the last eight years. Located in Kortrijk, northern Belgium, this institute offers courses in Game Graphics Production or Development.

“The major difference between other courses and ours is the unique profile our students have when graduating,” says director of Digital Arts and Entertainment Rik Leenknegt.

“Most students still graduate with a more traditional art or programming profile. And this is where Howest differs. We compiled our degree with the input of the major players in the international games and interactive media industry. Together with these partners we created a ‘technical artist profile’ with an expertise in
either Game Graphics Production or Game Development.”

During the three-year courses, students learn all the skills, techniques, principles and insights to create complete interactive 3D environments. Howest’s programme contains both artistic 3D and technical programming courses that also embrace specialisation and foster students’ personal development.

The location itself is one that Leenknegt says is an added value. Howest’s campuses are situated in Kortrijk and Bruges, the latter being a maze of winding cobbled alleys and romantic canals “where one may imagine themselves to be in medieval times”. A unique source of inspiration, Leenknegt maintains. Belgium is also located at the crossroads of Europe, with Paris, London, Cologne and Amsterdam all roughly a two-hour train journey away.

Starting from concept art and a design document, students on the Game Graphics Production pathway are able to translate the graphical style set from an art director into triple-A quality game content. And as games developers, students are given a thorough technical insight into the production pipeline.

Students on the 3D Production and Visual Effects pathway master the workflow from storyboard to finished product. A solid artistic basis and a strong conceptualising ability, combined with a thorough insight in the technicality of the production process of both movies and animation films aims to make Howest students unique within the sector.

Howest attempts to incorporate industry feedback after internships and study visits where possible. Every three years, it commits itself to reviewing the entire curriculum in close cooperation with the industry. It asks for thorough feedback from the main partners that work with its alumni and the key players in the industry.

“It would be crazy to pretend that we know everything. We need the input and expertise from both studios and developers. That was also one of the main reasons why we created an international advisory board: to keep pushing us forward, to guide us and challenge us. We are convinced that education and industry should go hand in hand to determine the right strategy to educate the employees of the future,” says Leenknegt.

Alumni from Howest now work at 2K, Black Forest Games, Boss Alien, Codeglue, Codemasters, Crytek, Daedalic Entertainment, Eidos, DICE, Fishing Cactus, Guerrilla Games, Kylotonn, Larian, Nitro Games, Rockstar North, Spicy Horse, Splash Damage, Triumph Studios, Ubisoft, Vanguard Games and Wooga.

And besides game companies, students have also gone on to work in diverse sectors including media, architectural visualisation, animation, advertising, marketing and visual effects.

Howest is currently in the process of revising its curriculum for the coming year. It has just set up its own spin-off programme, and is currently working on an international Masters and a postgraduate course. In the meantime, Leenknegt says it aims to keep iterating its curriculum to provide the industry with the best possible graduates it can.

“Just like the industry we educate for, we are never standing still. We have just opened our new building called The Level; a unique campus entirely reserved for Digital Arts and Entertainment. In this building, we also have an incubator. The entire second floor is reserved for start-ups, research groups or already existing companies active in the field of games or working with interactive 3D technology,” he says.

“The goal is, of course, to stimulate our local industry and encourage innovation. These companies can use our facilities (mo-cap, green key, audio studio, conference room) and work together with our students. We are convinced that industry and education should go hand in hand.”­

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