We continue the tradition and today we will talks with Tatiana Toropova, head of the RENDER.RU Center of Distance Learning
— Tatiana, could you tell us about the Render.ru training center? For example, about its history and when it was established?
— Most of Runet computer graphics enthusiasts have long known about our site Render.ru. It was founded by Stanislav Svarichevsky in the early 2000s. In fact, it was one of the first sites to cover this topic, and is still popular today. Ten-fifteen years ago, everyone interested in computer graphics, got their information from English-speaking sites. There were no lessons in Russian, almost, everyone was self-educated, and people shared information in the forum on our website. Most didn’t have any systematized knowledge, and so we decided to start some training courses.
The courses began in 2006. First, we contacted Autodesk to receive permission to conduct some courses in 3D graphics, and in 2007, we became an authorized training center for the company.
Gradually, we introduced courses in 2D graphics, because we felt there was a need for training on this topic, as well. In fact, until 2012 we only offered a few full-time courses, because they were long enough, and there weren’t many professional instructors. In general, these were basic courses for beginners and professional who wished to improve their knowledge. At that time, we developed “the methodology of simulating the production process”. During the course, students not only studied the capabilities of a program, but worked on a small project and learned the whole process of its implementation.
Our training center is located in St. Petersburg, and most of our students are from the area. Of course, there are students from other cities, but these are limited by economic circumstances. Given the large size of our country, such a trip is not cheap. Over time, though, with the development of the Internet and other technologies, those outside Moscow and St. Petersburg have been given the opportunity to obtain knowledge from professionals. We understood that distance learning was more critical. More people had the opportunity to learn remotely, so in 2012 we switched to completely distance learning and have been continuing this training for the last three years.
— What courses do you provide? What do you consider to be your specialty?
— Our specialization is still computer graphics – 2D and 3D graphics, both basic and advanced level training. We offer more than 20 courses. These focus primarily on Autodesk products, such as 3dsMax and Maya, but there are courses on less popular programs. There are also classes for 2D artists working with Photoshop and the creation of interactive applications and compositing. In general, we try to cover the programs and trends that are currently most popular.
— How do you differ from schools that offer full-time education? Specifically, how different is distance learning and your school from full-time education?
— Of course, distance learning has its advantages and disadvantages. Before anyone starts training with us, we explain “pitfalls” they may face. Everyone, though, has to decide if it will work for them.
Our country is very large, and working as a graphic designer allows people living in remote areas to become freelancers and work via the Internet. These courses allow someone living somewhere far away, for example, in Sakhalin, to gain knowledge from professionals, instead of just picking up scattered knowledge from individual lessons.
Our instructors are very skilled professionals who have been working in the industry for over 10 years. By creating remote training courses, we continue to use our very effective “method of simulating a production process.” The feedback from those who have already have received our training speaks for itself.
There is also one more thing to note: online communication during the training (editors’ note: Webinar), is a very big advantage. However, not all people living in remote areas have the opportunity to do so. The Internet is not fast everywhere and there are large time differences, so the current system is not perfect, but, nevertheless, it has suited most of our students, so far. Our lessons are not live, but are recorded video lessons. Currently, each student can download these lessons and watch them anytime as many times as they wish. Thus, they are not only able to quickly view a lesson and do something, but if the student forgets how it has been done, he or she can review the material for clarification and ask the instructor to learn the correct answer. Instructors reply quickly to everyone.
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— If we talk about the basic stages of the lesson — you first load a video and then there is communication with the instructor, followed by homework — correct?
— Yes, the student completes homework using video tutorials and uploads it, then the instructor comments on each assignment and gives some advice. In particular, we have 2D-graphics courses, such as Adobe Photoshop for Artists: Computer Art School. How does one learn to draw pictures remotely? We can debate this topic of course, but, nevertheless, the number of our students has continued to grow, rather than decrease — and we can teach this remotely.
— I understand that payments can be made easily? How do you accept payments?
— We have a store on the site that provides everyone with convenient payment options.
— When did you realize that you need some kind of platform, I mean for education, to deliver video and provide communication? And when did you understand that you could try Cerebro?
— We learned about Cerebro when we decided to switch to remote education. It already had been used in the industry for some time and there was nothing else like it, so it worked well for our Computer Graphics Program.
— I see.
— We decided to test it a bit, and have been using it for the past three years.
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— Great! It looks like you realized pretty quickly that Cerebro was going to work out. Did you have test groups?
— The fact is that the launch of remote training was…well, let’s say, not so fast. We started with one or two courses and a small group of people. Once we realized that everything was working well, we started increasing the number of courses. Now, I repeat myself, we have more than 20. Everything is working really well. Today, we simultaneously teach more than 50 people a month.
— So within a month you realized that this technology was going to work for you or did it take some time?
— Actually it didn’t take much time. Our course lasts one month. Once the first group completed their training, we realized that, in principle, we can recruit other groups and also communicate with them without any problems. We surveyed the students and asked if it was difficult for them to adapt to the program. Most of students said that everything was simple and logical, and they immediately began to use the program without additional training. We give students two days to adapt to the program, but usually that much time is not required.
Of course, we recorded a short video for the students to help them quickly understand, what to do, where to go, how and where to upload completed assignments, and how to communicate with the instructor.
— So, as I understand, you first email them study materials and then give them a lesson on using the Cerebro platform, so that it is easy for them to adapt to the teaching system. Correct?
— I have a question: Exactly which Cerebro functions are used? You see, Cerebro is used by companies that create computer graphics for a wider range of tasks, and …
— Absolutely. Of course, we probably only use about 10 percent of the program’s functionality.
— That’s not bad. In other words, globally, that’s your task. I mean, what kind of functionality? Do you use audiovisual commenting?
— Of course, we use the basic features of the program – the ability to create a large number of different projects (courses), administer them, and use the forum to communicate with instructors and students, which includes audio-visual commenting. We don’t use most of the functions, though. They are not needed in the learning process, but we cannot disable them. They distract the students who look at them and ask “What is this?” and “what is that for?”. Unfortunately, we cannot disable these features, so we have to explain that we use only what is needed for teaching…
— Tatiana, you know what? I have some good news! We are planning for the future. Yours and ours. So, I will continue asking about your plans, but I would like to let you know that we will be using the API make it possible to disable, literally, all keys in the next release.
— Yes, and we can preconfigure files to allow you to disable unneeded keys. So they can have reduced functionality for students, will still be fully functional for teachers.
— Yes, that would be nice, because we have different audiences. Many are technically savvy, but there are also those who are not very experienced. I want to mention your technical support. They always respond very promptly and are quick to provide support. We really don’t have any problems here.
— To conclude our interview, can you please tell me about your future plans?
— We plan to increase the number of courses we offer and provide a wider selection to accommodate the requests of our students. Right now, there is a new interesting topic – virtual reality. I cannot even imagine what sort of course this might be, but we have an instructor, who has already been working in this field professionally. So, we hope to make the course available this year. We also will be establishing new courses in gaming and animated films.
— Yes, that’s wonderful, because gaming is actively developing and the number of specialists only grows from year to year. I mean the needs of the industry is such, that it should continue to grow, as will, perhaps, to a lesser extent, the animation industry. Unfortunately, the demand for visual effects specialists, is somehow decreasing in our country.
— Still, though, there is TV, which very actively recruits specialists. You can see a list of openings on our website. Infographic specialists are in demand, as are visual effects specialists for television. They are needed for advertising and news. There is always a high demand for these high paying jobs. Young people, of course, are often more interested in working with animated films, but there are not a large number of jobs, especially because of the crisis. Let’s hope that everything will work out okay.
— No, Tatiana, I disagree. Thankfully, I don’t think that things are so bad with the animation industry in our country. Unfortunately, our visual effects in advertising and movies are perfect and the demand is decreasing, but thankfully, progress has been made in animation and that is improving. Well, that is my two cents worth.
Thank you very much. That’s all!