Billy Vanderburg

Billy Vanderburg HS

Be Awesome! Billy Vanderburg , Faculty, Game Art & Design , The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston

Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

Actually, while I was in college an inspirational individual said that you need to do what you want in life. I examined what I really had a passion in and decided that I wanted to make video games. So I did some research and found The Illinois Institute of Art—Schaumburg, where I was one of the first to graduate with the new degree in Game Art & Design. Afterward, joining THQ and EA was a game changer for me in my skills, leadership development, and involvement with AAA game production.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

Other than giving my anecdotal horror/glory stories, I also integrate industry standards, expectations, and terminology into the curriculum. The game industry is a very exciting and sometimes intense business with fluctuating schedules, deadlines, and task management that is often reliant upon the individuals to creatively find solutions and accomplish goals within a team environment. So for my classes at The Art Institute of San Antonio, I have the students not only work in teams, but also estimate tasks and develop expectations of content that are reported on and presented in “stand up” progress meetings and milestone goal reviews. This holds the individuals accountable for his or her work within the team environment while allowing for creative flexibility like that in the industry.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

I consider my “lecture” classes to be more like small training sessions similar to “art lunches” that I experienced in the industry. Critiques in my classes are approached as interactive milestone meetings that include not only feedback from the art director, but also peer review. Specifically, in the industry, tasks are never “incomplete” and iteration is a necessary process in development. So in the classroom, homework (art tests) is similarly never “incomplete” and requires iteration so that competencies are met and surpassed.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

Collaboration is crucial during the team classes in Game Art & Design. They are made up of literally 9 months for a “vertical slice” development cycle that include various disciplines such as character art, environment art, design, leading roles, and even sound, interface, and vfx. The students set up their group goals for the game by establishing a game overview document and set up individualized schedules that feed into a greater overarching goal, which has quality standards set by myself.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

Students should not expect to jump into the gaming program just to play games. Well, playing is important, but students need to understand the competitive nature of the industry and that hard work, dedication, and organization leads to success. I specifically don’t give “homework,” rather, actual “art tests.” Art tests are established by developers to determine whether an individual is capable of joining a team (before getting the interview). So the art tests I give to my students are much structured in a similar way. And the feedback that I give is not a “grade” exactly, but a degree of meeting expectations—like many industries, employees are not given As and Bs during their annual reviews, but told whether they met expectations, exceeded them, or have room for improvement with specific details and feedback to improve. And that is how I run my classroom.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I am very pleased to be a part of an industry that allows me to share my expertise with future game developers and create games. I feel honored that I am shaping the next generation of games that I, as a lover of games, will consume!