The Collaboratory at Ringling College of Art and Design bridges classroom learning and real-world applications. For students, it is that sometimes elusive yet invaluable link between theory and practice—that magical moment when they watch their creative work come to life in the real world.
So, when award-winning Flight School Studio, whose chief creative officer is alumnus and Ringling College Trustee Brandon Oldenburg (’95), approached the College about creating a virtual reality (VR) game, it is no surprise that the Collaboratory jumped at the opportunity. Students and faculty across disciplines embarked on a long-term partnership with the Flight School team, culminating in the launch of a multi-level VR game at the 2019 South by Southwest Gaming Expo (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. Before long, 15 faculty members, 45 students from five majors, and four Flight School studio professionals rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
After reviewing dozens of applications from Game Art students eager to work with an industry giant, Flight School selected its team. They provided a simple game mechanic—a squirt gun putting out fires—and challenged the students to conceptualize ideas for a VR experience using that mechanic. After developing rough visuals, playable demos, and pitch decks, students pitched their creative visions to the Flight School team. It was the zany concept of Wet Dog Corp.—a futuristic, arcade-style dog-washing game—that emerged as Flight School’s winner.
The next stop was Dallas, home to Flight School Studio, for a week-long design immersive. For many students, this experience was their first client collaboration in a professional setting. By week’s end, the team had refined the design and created a playable prototype.
“It was this amazing interactive experience, figuring out what the game looks like, how it plays, how you keep score, and how you win or lose. Then the Flight School team and students jumped onto some computers to work on the interactions in the game,” said Jamie DeRuyter, inaugural faculty member for Entertainment Design.
Teamwork was a big takeaway from the studio visit, as students experienced how idea ownership comes in second to collective progress when working toward a common goal. “When you’re a student, you’re often only responsible for your own creative vision; but, opportunities like this teach students to find their voices and creative solutions within an existing client framework. And that’s what it takes to be a great creative,” said Morgan Woolverton, interim department head for Virtual Reality Development and Game Art.
Once back at school, the work continued via weekly Skype calls. Students were able to post progress, receive feedback, and problem-solve alongside their client. When the game was ready for publication, Game Art students handed off their product to Graphic Design, Illustration, and Motion Design majors, who worked on branding and marketing, and then to Business of Art and Design students, who coordinated the SXSW activation. Market research guided a branding strategy, and the look and feel of the Wet Dog identity began to take shape. The students then designed promotional materials and branded items such as t-shirts, aprons, waterbottle labels, vehicle stickers, and convention swag.
“The creative pipeline was exceedingly successful. Regardless of where or when the students took part in the project, they were able to apply their skill sets and understand their roles in the process,” explained Angela Leed, interim faculty project director for the Collaboratory.
The brand debut at SXSW was a smashing success, with nearly 1,000 people attending the one-day activation. From the moment they followed the painted paw prints to the booth, participants were treated to an entertaining and memorable experience. Although the main attraction was the VR game, every detail of the immersive marketing campaign brought the Wet Dog brand to life. There was even a Pug Hug station featuring adorable furry friends, courtesy of Austin Pug Rescue. “We worked for nine weeks, getting virtually no sleep, to create the perfect experience for our guests. There was something so magical about seeing that everything we worked toward was real. We saw the smiles, laughter, and amazement in people’s eyes and that meant more to me than anything else,” said Business of Art and Design student Ellie Winslow, who took on the role of lead project manager.
Wet Dog Corp. will be launched on Steampowered.com and will be available for download in
By Kate Schwartz