When Will McDonald painted a room in his parent’s Kings Park West home blue during middle school, his parents knew he was serious about a career in visual effects.
“He painted the downstairs junk room blue to learn how to do blue screen effects,” said Jim McDonald, Will’s father. “My room is still blue.”
When Will McDonald enrolled in a computer graphics class at Robinson Secondary School, he knew he was on the right track, but at the time it didn’t seem like anyone at the school was encouraging his passion as a career path.
The course sparked his interest in a field he had already been teaching himself about, but the faculty at Robinson didn’t view it as anything more than a hobby, said Will McDonald. Teachers were more concerned with students’ performance in more serious academic classes; classes Will McDonald said he wasn’t too interested in at the time.
“[Computer graphics] didn’t hold that same weight in their eyes as math, science and English classes,” said Will McDonald.
Will McDonald and his teachers had no idea that he would end up not only succeeding in a visual graphics field, but that field would also utilize much of the very subjects he didn’t excel in as a high school student. Jim McDonald said the Fairfax County school system has tremendous resources and does a great job with helping children excel, but they just lacked the ability to help his son excel in the field he happened to be the most interested in.
“It clearly is a good school system,” said Jim McDonald. “They just emphasize a particular curriculum that did not jive with my son.”
Caroline McDonald, Will’s mother, does give some credit to the school system for helping her son learn about the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She said if it weren’t for Kathy Michelman and the Career Center at Robinson, he might not have known SCAD even existed.
“[The center is] a wonderful resource for them,” said Caroline McDonald. “Especially the ones who don’t have a solid career path.”
Will McDonald recently landed a job working for LucasArts, a video game developing company in San Francisco founded by filmmaker George Lucas.
“It’s a lot of fun right now … making things explode and setting things on fire.” said Will McDonald.
THE JOB INVOLVES more math skills than Will McDonald expected though, but he’s actually enjoying it now. He said many of his co-workers hold P.h.D.s in math and science-related fields, which makes it an intellectual work environment even though they’re designing games.
“He just needed to know how that [the math and science in high school] applied to what he was doing,” said Jim McDonald.
Although Will McDonald didn’t graduate from Robinson with the best of grades, he knew he was going to do something great, and more importantly, something he enjoyed.
After getting some core courses out of the way at Northern Virginia Community College, McDonald enrolled at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, where he said he was able to develop a nice portfolio to present to admissions officers at SCAD, one of only a handful of colleges that offer a major in visual effects. He made the dean’s list at SCAD seven out of the nine quarters he attended there, and went on to graduate magna cum laude. After an early acceptance into the Carnegie Mellon graduate program in entertainment technology, he decided to put off graduate school so he could jump on the job opportunity at LucasArts. The experience there, he said, might help determine where he will go in the field. Whether he stays with LucasArts on the video game side of things, or moves into film, he said the work experience LucasArts is giving him is invaluable right now.
“What’s great about the field is you can kind of jump around,” said Will McDonald.
There are certain limitations to designing effects for video games, said Jim McDonald, because there is a theme and a specific story line to follow. That is why he said his son might try to move into a realm of the field that would allow more artistic freedom someday, such as film, to better showcase his artistic imagination and ability.
“I’m as proud as I could possibly be,” said Jim McDonald. “He would tell me he was going to make it big … I’ve waited and now I’ve seen.”