Games Design. Animation. Visualisation. Inspirational platforms to fire the imaginations of the next generation of Hull School of Art and Design (HSAD) creatives …and the research interests of lecturer Gareth Sleightholme.
A prestigious early career in historical illustration for museums and set design for theme parks all over the world set the creative bar pretty high for Gareth. And, as one of the key driving forces behind several HSAD research projects, Gareth believes it is vital to continue to raise the bar, without losing sight of basic creative skills.
Gareth’s industry and academic background began as an historical illustrator for East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s archaeology unit. He then trained in Art and Design, and completed his BA Hons with Animation specialism at Norwich University of the Arts which allowed his creative interests to flourish.
Drawing on his historical illustration skills, Gareth has spent over 15 years in the theme park and visitor attraction industry, designing sets and themed environments and producing artwork for attractions all over the world. An impressive portfolio includes designs for London Dungeons; Sea Life Aquariums; Santapark in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland; at the same time developing a post as visiting lecturer at his former university, where he helped to develop an MA in Animation & Sound Design.
A move to Essex and a role as Creative Director of a company called HPL saw Gareth explore 3D visualisation and production design for the likes of Virgin, Orange and Blackberry, and take his work to new parts of the world including Florida.
Becoming somewhat “disillusioned” with work in the corporate world, in 2008 he returned to Hull to teach at HSAD and resumed his freelance practice with theme park design; historical work for the museums services in Norfolk, the Midlands and Manchester; and most recently theatrical posters in Hull and Manchester and freelance production design works for an aquarium in Eastern Europe; and designs for themed attractions at a well known castle in Northern England.
“I continue to work as a freelance creative for clients that stem from a variety of markets that keep my knowledge of the various disciplines in which I teach current and vital. Some of these are projects which take me outside the typical workplace developing resources that can inform projects and discussion with students, for example working with Lego in Denmark, and recently producing concept art for a heritage project in the Caribbean.
It helps when working with consultants and spokespeople involved in developing links between students and SSC’s as well as other clients and industrial links – For example being asked to act as support on a five day project at the World Skills Conference 2011 in London, or helping Yr 2 Games Design students engage a unique client through which they exhibited their work in front of a unique audience.”
On the Games Design BA – a focal point of Gareth’s teaching at HSAD – his production design input reflects the type of work he developed in his career in physical theme park scenarios. In other words, students build 3D environments, just here they do it digitally. Working on a project called The Streets, students are asked to research a local thoroughfare, then as a group develop a believable, “evolved” environment. As the project grows year on year, so does a digital “city” and alumni are invited to donate buildings to help create a sense of connection to creatives beyond the course itself. Of course there is always the reward of playing a “game scenario” in this extending environment at the end of the module as well.
Students can collaborate with Gareth and colleague Paul Starkey to help develop an actual game in progress. Rabbit Heart is a learning resource that will ultimately spawn a book, The Tale of Rabbit Heart, providing tutorials for anyone conducting independent research in this area.
Work by Gareth and Paul and their students is regularly showcased at the annual Platform Expo convention in Hull (this year in November, 2013.
He has shown his own sequential illustration comic book art, The Indian Fighter, (image) at last year’s ThoughtBubble Animation and Sequential Art Convention in Leeds; expanding upon his work in illustration, drawing, infographics and concept visualisation.
Gareth also expects to complete an MA in Design in August 2013, Visualising Educational Concepts For Art School Students. A subject he tentatively intends to push on into research towards a PhD.
“It’s almost a Lego kit for board games,” he says. “I give them the basics and let them make up the rules as they go along. It’s all part of my research in process, primarily about the ways in which students learn or interface with learning, particularly those who have chosen a visual subject area”.
Another board game encourages students to become confident with the basics of drawing, and developing their draughtsmanship. I like students to look at the whole journey of developing a skill such as drawing, making mistakes included, which is difficult because they tend to focus heavily on each individual drawing they do. This encourages them to draw from real life and not worry too much about what they’re drawing.
“The idea is to start students off in their comfort zone until they become confident enough to naturalise their drawing process. In other words, they ‘get over themselves’. It’s a great teaching tool that emphasises self-motivated learning in the student while generating work. It works for animators, games designer and graphic designers.”
The basic craft of drawing forms another one of Gareth’s major research interests. Liaising with Jackie Goodman & Sarah Humphreys on research into the importance of Drawing, including helping develop the course structure for Medical Students SSC to explore drawing as part of their learning process.
Hull Urban Sketchers is a collaborative project with Illustration and Animation lecturer, Domanic Li. At its heart it celebrates the process, and the joy, of drawing. Its premise is to lead by example, and encourage students to build confidence in their drawing skills, in particular, drawing from observation in the urban environment through which they move everyday.
Gareth’s urban sketches and other work have been shown at; Studio Eleven art gallery, in Humber Street, Hull; ArtLink gallery in Princes Avenue, Hull, and Hull School of Art and Design.
Regarding his continuing work in education,
“I love the idea that I’m now doing an MA when I’m from a housing estate in Withernsea,” says Gareth. “There’s something fundamentally liberating about education. You should be able, if you have the will, to get out.”
Keep up-to-date with Gareth’s blog and his latest creative outpourings: http://apopheniainc.wordpress.com
Email Gareth at: firstname.lastname@example.org