Academic Spotlight: Carlo Harvey

With a huge variety of wonderful staff members and academics teaching our courses and shaping the futures of our students, we wanted to unpack their stories and discover how they got to where they are now.

Carlo Harvey, Director of Future Games and Graphics, shares an insight into his career and work.

What do you do at BCU and how long have you been part of the University?

I am Associate Professor, Director of Future Games and Graphics and research group leader for Graphics and Vision as part of the DMTLab. I currently provide course leadership for the BSc and MSci Computer Games Technology degrees.

There are quite a few responsibilities bundled in that mix of titles and roles but predominantly this can be reduced to a trifecta. My day-to-day involves firstly providing excellent teaching in a broad spectrum of games development; secondly, enterprise engagement - seeing how we can realise reciprocal knowledge transfer to and from industrial partners; and finally, research activities where the team and I look to discover new insights or generate and deliver upon new technologies.

I joined the University in September of 2016. I initially joined as a senior lecturer with none of the above responsibilities so have been empowered to grow and develop by BCU over a relatively short period of time.

Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your teaching?

My path to BCU is a little strange: a mix of industry and academia. I have worked for the Advanced Imaging Lab at the Kennedy Space Centre implementing high dynamic range (HDR) imagery into their digital imaging pipeline for space launches; for Jaguar Land Rover designing digital testing methodologies for virtual vehicles; for Sound Space Design designing audible spaces for theatres yet to be built; for Johnson Tiles creating visualisations of ceramics in situ for bathrooms and kitchens and for the NHS implementing virtual reality solutions for cognitive behaviour therapy.

I completed a PhD at the University of Warwick in Perceptually Aware Multi-Sensory Stimuli for Virtual Environments. Following this was a four-year research fellowship at the University of Warwick with Jaguar Land Rover, interspersed with consultancy on the projects listed above. I then left for Bournemouth University teaching and directing their games programming offering. A year later I decided to join BCU!

Since then, I have been using this hybrid industrial-academic experience to bring to the forebear in the course and in teaching an applied nature to all we do. Whether it be running modules as simulated workspaces or deriving coursework briefs from local and national game studios to ensure graduates are meeting expectations and producing portfolios commensurate to attainment of roles in industry, our focus is of one on employability.

What are some of the greatest achievements you have accomplished at BCU?

I have achieved several things since arriving nearly five years ago. The course related highlights are accreditation by The Independent Game Developers Association (TIGA). TIGA is a trade association representing the games industry and their focus in on ensuring that graduates are achieving employment in the games industry and that graduates are meeting the expectations of the games industry. Receiving accreditation for the next five years, shows faith in our offering based upon metrics from our graduates. Additionally, we have orchestrated relationships with the two main providers of Game Engines, in the Unity Academic Alliance and Unreal Academic Partnership.

The course I oversee has been nominated by TIGA for Best Educational Institution three years running. I co-founded the Curzon Software House initiative offering summer placements to students wanting to further develop their work portfolio. This was also nominated by TIGA as the Best Educational Initiative and Talent Development. I have been nominated for I AM BCU awards, for Inspirational Teacher of the Year for five successive years. 

However, I live vicariously through my student community, two of which won Graduate of the Year awards from TIGA last year in Games Programming and in Games Technology. This was a fantastic achievement as it is a national prize, considered amongst students from game-related degrees across the country.

Additionally, I am very proud of the staff-student community on the BSc and MSci Computer Games Technology degrees. We are a tight knit bunch who learn, develop, and game together.

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What makes the courses you teach on distinct and what is the learning environment like?

The course is structured around wider applications and transferable skills of game development. Many and diverse career choices are illuminated by undertaking a path into Computer Games Technology. If you want to know more about this and learn about how games are changing the world, please check out my sample lecture.

The course has organised the Birmingham silo of Global Game Jam for the last ten years, I’ve helped every year since joining, and lead or contribute to the organisation committee each year. If you’d like to see the games that were developed during this year's event, please head over to our Jam site.

It’s always important to be able to let your hair down and celebrate all forms of what we on the course love: games. I participate in our weekly Game Night activities in our bespoke learning environment on Wednesday afternoons into the evening. A personal favourite on the calendar for this series is the Staff vs. Student night. Staff are yet to win. Treat this as a call to arms – if you’re a staff member at BCU reading this and an avid gamer, let me know!

Why do you think Birmingham is a good place to study?

BCU is great to study at due to its nice, centralised location, great access to trains, shops, and facilities. The CEBE campus is in the heart of Birmingham, so easy access to a swathing metropolis of exploration, from Digbeth Dining Club and street food to the Hippodrome there is always something going on within reach.

My students have often told me that they see Birmingham as 'Diet London' – “all of the excitement, services, and general vibe of the capital with none - or at least to a far lesser degree - of the crazy crowds and ridiculous prices”. In terms of BCU specifically, staff and senior students alike are always available to offer help and guidance whenever needed – the community is excellent.

What can students do to help prepare them for the course you teach?

My best preparation advice to any prospective students is to simply show up with an open mind. If you come across any difficulties don’t beat yourself up as making games is hard and is an art that is refined over repeated attempts and purposeful practice.

Learn up on what makes you enthusiastic about games, read about the topics. Whether this is design, programming, production, art, or visual effects - having knowledge of the wider context prepares you for implementing what you learn from the course in a way that you enjoy.

Be enthusiastic: you may not like the sound of some modules or subject areas on paper, but if you approach it with an open and eager mind, you'll see just how interesting the concepts and practices are. Chances are, if you're going into such a specific area of study, you're already passionate about it, so just carry that interest and enthusiasm into the classes and you'll be most of the way there.

Having said all this, you might also want to consider getting started with a commercial game engine such as Unity, which is free for personal use. For example, consider undertaking the Essentials Pathway before joining us. This is not necessary however, as everything is taught from first principals, but its never a bad idea to get a head start.

What’s your favourite thing about working at the University?

You are trusted with autonomy and given the power to innovate. This was the way to get the best out of me and I am glad my manager saw that immediately. Autonomy and empowerment suit me very well. There is never a dull day. The work is incredibly diverse and keeps me on my toes. Personally, I find tedium and monotony a recipe for dissatisfaction, so this status quo massively appeals to me.

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