Austin Peay State University (APSU)
Clarksville, 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.
“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 – 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.
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”?
“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.”
“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
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.”
Did You Know?
- Vassey has been writing and drawing the online comic strips “Legend of Bill” and “The Gnome Syndicate” for six years and is in production on her first graphic novel. You can learn more about Vassey and her art at www.facebook.com/kayevasseyart . 
- Learn more about APSU’s Visiting Artist Speaker Series at www.apsu.edu/art-design/exhibitions-speakers/visiting-artists.php. All events are free and open to the public.