Ready: Future Labs, Just Press Start

Posted more than a year ago.

Gaming and Animation, circa 2003

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a computer animator. (If you’re laughing right now, that’s okay.) Mesmerized by beautiful films like Toy Story and intricately designed game series like Final Fantasy, I came to OC salivating at the idea of sharpening myself into an artist. I was going to be a digital storyteller, and I was ready to change the world by way of its newest canvas.*

But I had one big problem: OC had no Gaming and Animation program. 

Did we have phenomenal artists on faculty? Check. High-powered computers in our design lab? Check. Filmmakers with vision and an eye for visual storytelling? Check. Programming professors who could code circles around the Silicon Valley? Check. An innovative, technology-savvy culture? Check and double check. (We were even in Time magazine for it, don’t you know.)

But what we didn’t have yet was a vision for how we could pull all those pieces together.

And, if I’m honest, I’m not sure we’d given ourselves permission, as a small private university, to strut our stuff on the cutting edge. In the early 2000s, Digital Animation was a fast-growing interest among college applicants, but it seemed like an exclusive field, reserved only for elite design schools. (You know, the colleges whose names cannot properly be pronounced without a beret and an accent.)

Then came Dr. Tony Alley, who, while battling cancer, boldly but kindly paved the way for digital art at OC—who dreamed we could be big dogs on the gaming and animation scene. Then, after Dr. Alley’s passing, came professor Jeff Price, now Chair of Art & Design and an almost unrivaled video game enthusiast. (And Trans Am enthusiast, too, but that’s a topic for another time.) Jeff not only dreamed we could be at the top of the design charts…

He put us there.

Gaming and Animation, circa 2016

Thirteen years after I wandered our halls, confusedly looking to Frankenstein together a digital animation expertise, we have 92 majoring students and 45 incoming freshmen in the field. In fact, it’s one of our fastest growing programs. And it’s solid, too. From a single lab space not much bigger than a good-sized living room, Jeff, his faculty, and their talented students have built a nation-leading program:

  • 4 Years running as one of The Princeton Review and PC Gamer Magazine’s top institutes for game design in North America. (Seventh in the western region and the highest rated in Oklahoma.)
  • Named among the “Top 10 Game Design Schools and Colleges in the Southwest” by
  • Named among the “27 Best Video Game Colleges” by
  • And the list goes on.

Texas A&M, Purdue, Penn State, DePaul, Cornell—they’re all on the list, too. After Oklahoma Christian. It’s okay to let out an audible, “whoa.” Our students and faculty are doing epic stuff here.

Gaming and Animation, circa Tomorrow

What do you do when you have a program topping the charts and bursting at its seams? A program not only enticing to young game-players, but relevant to industry everywhere, from film to healthcare to drilling derricks?  Well, when you’re intent on Thriving, you go about taking that program to the next level.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

As of now, the first floor of Vose Hall, the northeast building on OC’s original quad, is the new home for Gaming and Animation. When Thrive is complete, Vose will feature two brand new labs, each one significantly larger than the program’s current space.

Vose 100, The Advanced Active Learning Studio

Already built, this studio is Google, it's Pixar, it's a "rocket ship of a classroom" as professor Price puts it. It's so cool, we even put color-changing LEDs on its walls. The studio features 20 workstations in pods of four. Each individual station features a high-powered PC with a 27” display and a dedicated 22” Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet. Each four-person pod surrounds a 65” HD display for group collaboration. The lab also boasts a Glowforge 3D laser printer, Playstation development kits, Xbox development kits, and all the latest virtual reality and augmented reality gear. HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens… the gang’s all here.

Gaming 1 - Vive
Summer Honors Students Play with the HTC Vive

Gaming 4 - Oculus
OC President, John deSteiguer Tries on the Oculus Rift

But the coolest of the cool is at the center of the studio, where there currently sits an empty metal rig. A rig we built knowing you, in your generosity, would fill. When Thrive's done (or probably sooner), it will house an OptiTrack 3D motion capture system. If you’ve ever seen Mark Ruffalo, covered in little dots and Hulking out for the next Avengers flick, then you know what motion capture can do. Or maybe you’ve seen a doctor doing live computer modeling of joint and muscle movement? Or an engineer gathering robotic movement data in real-time? Yep. That stuff that seems more science fiction than science fact--that's what this system is about.

Gaming 2 - MoCap
Motion Capture Rig In Action

Gaming 3 - MoCap Software
Motion Capture Software In Action

Vose 101, The Instructional Lab

This one doesn’t have the flash of its big brother, but it’s an important evolution on our current lab. Used by Gaming and Animation, Mass Communication, Programming, Engineering, and more, this lab will be the workhorse of the reimagined Vose. And it’s going to boast some tantalizing gear, too. Twenty-five Apple iMac systems with 27” 5K displays will pepper the room, each paired with a Huion digital drawing tablet. New, hi-res printers and an HD teaching display will also join the fray.

Gaming 5 - Vose 101
Mock Design for the New Instructional Lab

Reimagining the Current Lab

Anytime you move a classroom or lab, part of what you’re hoping to accomplish is to better utilize space—to make every square foot work to its maximum potential for the students. Moving Gaming and Animation means leaving a good space empty. And we’re not going to let it sit. So along with the two new animation labs, the existing space in Garvey will be remodeled as a new home for OC’s Interior Design program, complete with all the edgy accoutrements you’d expect from a room full of interior designers. (Watch for more on this soon.)

What it Takes to Fulfill My 18-Year-Old Dreams

All three of these remodels and their high-tech gear are built into the $429,943 you now see on the Thrive menu. We raise that and the future is here. And there’s some good news I have for you on that front, the kind that fills 18-year-old me with glee…

We’re already over halfway there.


*Every 18-year-old Eagle expects to change the world. It's in our admissions requirements.