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“Fortnite” animator Kaye Vassey visits with Austin Peay State University Art Students

Austin Peay State University (APSU)

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – “Fortnite” lead technical animator Kaye Vassey’s art origin story involves her grandfather’s tractor doodles and, of course, Bob Ross. “My grandfather was a World War II Marine Corps vet – full on Marine Corps tattoo on the arm, the South Pacific war horror stories, the whole thing,” Vassey recalled to an animation class at Austin Peay State University.

“But what he really wanted – his family were plumbers, so he became a plumber – was to be an artist.

Kaye Vassey, lead technical animator of Epic Games’ “Fortnite,” speaks to an Austin Peay animation class on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018.
Kaye Vassey, lead technical animator of Epic Games’ “Fortnite,” speaks to an Austin Peay animation class on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018.

“When I was probably between 4 and 6, I’d always get him to doodle, and I would love it, and I would copy it,” she continued. “I’d always get him to doodle this little tractor, with this little guy in there, and it was every day. ‘Draw it. Draw the thing. Draw the thing.’”

Later, the two watched Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” together.

“My grandfather and I tried to copy his paintings, to my great frustration,” Vassey said. “Fighting through that frustration, I just kept going and going and kept coming back for more and more punishment.”

Vassey spoke about how she became interested in art and animation and how she broke into the animation business, including cold-calling Walt Disney Studios and teaching herself animation software at the beginning of her career.
Vassey spoke about how she became interested in art and animation and how she broke into the animation business, including cold-calling Walt Disney Studios and teaching herself animation software at the beginning of her career.

Vassey – who worked on such movies as “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and “How to Train Your Dragon” before joining Epic Games and the “Fortnite” team – visited APSU on October 23rd to give a public lecture about her work and artistic practice. She also gave two workshops in animation classes before the lecture.

She was the second artist to visit during the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts and the APSU Department of Art + Design’s Visiting Artist Speaker Series.

Big-Time Animation’s Connection to APSU

Vassey visited Austin Peay associate professor of animation Scott Raymond’s class the morning of the public lecture. The classroom and equipment in the new Art + Design Building impressed her.

“You guys have an insane classroom,” Vassey said. “This is amazing. I’m super jealous. I’m blown away by this insanity. I was an art student in a basement.”

Vassey and Raymond met while working on secondary animation, such as crowds, at DreamWorks Animation. They worked on “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” for example.

“If you want to work in the industry, I would say the best thing that I could tell you is to be nimble, you have to be able to pivot,” Vassey said. “Get in, get your foot in the door, and work from there to get to where you want to be. Stay humble, it’s truly a team effort.

“But enjoy every minute you have in this classroom,” she added before pointing at Raymond. “And you have an amazing resource who is awesome.”

What About That Little Game “Fortnite”?

Before joining the “Fortnite” team, Vassey worked on such DreamWorks Animation movies as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Shrek 2.”
Before joining the “Fortnite” team, Vassey worked on such DreamWorks Animation movies as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Shrek 2.”

“Fortnite: Battle Royale” passed $1 billion in sales in less than a year from its September 2017 release. Most people know somebody who plays the game.

“When you step into the creative endeavor, you never know what’s going to be a huge success,” Vassey said. “You hope you have successes. We’re super lucky to have ‘Fortnite’ to be such a huge success.

“It feels good to work on something that other people enjoy so much.”

Even though working on movies and on video games is similar – “Underneath it all, it’s 3D computer graphics” – working on video games offers a more constant pressure, Vassey said.

“The video game model now is very much a living, breathing thing,” she said. “You have to keep it fresh, keep it relevant.

“In movies you have a relationship with the audience for an hour and a half or two hours,” Vassey said. “Whereas video games, you have a long-term commitment to the player base, and you want to be sure they’re happy and having a good time.”

For the record, Vassey isn’t a good “Fortnite” player.

“Actually, when I started working in the video game industry, I didn’t play them anymore,” she said. “When I get home, I do not want to think about or see a video game.”

Back To Those Tractor Doodles

One of the pieces of advice she gave students: “If you want to work in the industry, I would say the best thing that I could tell you is to be nimble, you have to be able to pivot.”
One of the pieces of advice she gave students: “If you want to work in the industry, I would say the best thing that I could tell you is to be nimble, you have to be able to pivot.”

After her grandfather died and Vassey and her family went through his belongings, she found a doodle of the tractor he used to draw for her when she was a child.

“The drawing was folded up on a sheet of paper inside a city-delivered manual of how to survive a nuclear attack,” Vassey told the students.

She held up her arm and pulled back her sleeve.

“That’s the tractor,” Vassey said, displaying a tattoo on her inner wrist. “It’s colored in, those are actually crayon marks that were on the drawing I found.

“That’s how I got started.”

 

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