Justin Mohlman

Game Art & Design

Game Art & Animation Instructor
The Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago

Justin Mohlman

Know the world you're working to get into. Justin Mohlman , Game Art & Animation Instructor , The Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago

Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

To be honest, I never thought I’d be in a creative field. I grew up fascinated by movies, video games, and TV shows. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Jim Henson and many others created worlds that filled my childhood with inspiration.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

Because of my professional experience, I’m a stickler for students being organized, on time, and clear in how they communicate with me and with each other. I like to remind them that they’re looking to join an industry that’s purely team-based, so they have to be comfortable working with others. Many students think all it takes to get their foot in the door is being creative. It takes a lot more—you must be able to showcase your skills and show professionalism.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

My method of teaching is to act the part of an art director, creative director, or project manager to give students a taste of how a game studio functions in the real world. One assignment that stands out was in my Hard Surface Modeling course, where students chose models each week...they had to model the asset not once but twice to get them used to trying different approaches. Practice makes perfect, and just as professional athletes repeat actions to master their skill set, so should artists in the creative field. Speeding up their own production allows more time for planning and polish—and builds their ability to model quickly and efficiently.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: teamwork is key in the professional environment. Working with each other gives students a sense of what's to come. Some like to be lone wolves and work on their own, but at some point, they’ll need to collaborate. It also gets students in the habit of giving and receiving constructive feedback.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

Take care of your physical and mental health, because the creative field is demanding. Most schools don’t cover this, and very few studios will admit it. Eating healthy, exercising and getting enough rest are critical. You’re a more creative problem solver when your mind is healthy. Work smart, and give yourself time to relax and unplug.

What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

Take time to explore industry-related studios and conventions, find out what they’re looking for, and get to know the quality of work they demand. Know the world you’re working to get into.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Just work hard and focus on the task at hand.