Ringling College VR Program Launches with Flight School Partnership
It all started with a text. In 2017, Ringling College of Art and Design Illustration graduate and member of the Ringling College Board of Trustees Brandon Oldenburg reached out to his alma mater to discuss a potential partnership with Flight School, the creative studio he co-founded with Reel FX Animation’s AR/VR division that same year. The idea? To team up with Ringling College students to develop a real, playable, and commercial Virtual Reality (VR) game.
It was a natural fit. Oldenburg is not only a graduate and a career creative, but also the leader of a team at Flight School, the studio that released the interactive VR experience “Manifest 99” in 2017. It so happened that this release occurred in the same year that Ringling College announced plans to roll out the very first Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program in Virtual Reality Development. That program enrolled its first students in the fall of 2018.
This collaboration wouldn’t be the first between Flight School and Ringling College. In addition to serving on the College’s Board, Oldenburg also worked with Ringling College faculty to help develop and promote the VR major. Since he graduated in 1995, Oldenburg has been actively involved in mentoring and recruiting Ringling College students from many of the College’s majors. As an illustration major working in VR, he is the poster child for what a student who graduates from Ringling College can do, irrespective of the major from which they graduate.
“We discovered that we were losing talent to other studios, either from timing or because the bigger studios were better known,” Oldenburg explains. “So we started leading workshops, where we’d be on campus for a few days and really get to know some of the students. They also get to know us, so our recruiting became more informed. And this really worked for us. Seeing how we all worked together gave us an idea of how certain students would fit in a collaborative environment, like our studio.”
Shared projects and experiences like these played a major role in the rollout of the College’s VR program. Ringling College, always striving to stay at the forefront of art and technology, has experimented in the realm of VR for years, with Game Art graduates executing final projects using the medium. These students saw tremendous success landing jobs after graduation, using their skills in the rapidly developing industry.
But because the VR realm is so new, the College and its faculty required professional expertise and insight to build this pioneering new major. Furthermore, the College needed to ensure that graduates from the program would have opportunities in the VR industry. Helping to fill these two needs is where the collaboration with Flight School arose.
Flight School brings the programming side of the game industry and the groundwork of game mechanics to enable the students to build the aesthetics of a playable game. The students receive hands-on experience designing for virtual reality and learn about the production of VR assets. The added benefit is that the studio gets the fresh thinking and design skills of the students to create a beautiful end product.
“Working with professionals holds our students to professional standards—and to professional expectations and parameters,” explains Morgan Woolverton, interim Department Head for Virtual Reality Development and Game Art. “When you are a student, you are often only responsible to your own creative vision, but opportunities like this teach students to find their voice, to find their creative solution within an existing client framework. And that is what it takes to be a great creative.”
And the learning isn’t one-sided. Kyle Clark, Flight School CEO, explains, “In these collaborations, especially when you’re mentoring young people, there is a lot of learning from the mentor and mentee. It’s mutually beneficial to have these fresh minds and fresh brains, and it helps us to push the norms. People out of school come into our studios and they aren’t hindered. We can learn from that newness.”
“In addition to giving students real-world experience in the VR field, the partnership will also help us test our VR course offerings and inform the VR curriculum as we pioneer the world’s first Virtual Reality Development major. This is a triple hit: a true win-win-win,” stated Dr. Larry Thompson, President of Ringling College of Art and Design.
And so the partnership begins. As the College forges its Virtual Reality Development program, a major component will be the student collaboration with Flight School. Each year, a select group of students will work with the studio to create a playable game. In this inaugural year of the partnership, three Game Art students have been working with Flight School to create a VR game that will be introduced at SXSW 2019. In addition, students in the Business of Art and Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, and Motion Design majors will be working with the team to brand and market the game through the the Ringling College Design Center and the Ringling College Collaboratory, which connects businesses to Ringling students. In all, more than two dozen students will tackle the project through multiple immersive workshops.
President Thompson asserts, “This kind of interdisciplinary work is what will take the project, the program, and the College to another level. After all, it is just this type of collaboration that is used in the real world to create the magic of VR.”
About Ringling College of Art and Design
Since 1931, Ringling College of Art and Design has cultivated the creative spirit in students from around the globe. The private, not-for-profit fully accredited college offers the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in twelve disciplines and the Bachelor of Arts in two. The College's rigorous curriculum employs the studio model of teaching and immediately engages students through a comprehensive, first-year program that is both specific to the major of study and focused on the liberal arts. The Ringling College teaching model ultimately shapes students into highly employable and globally aware artists and designers.
About Flight School:
Flight School is a creative studio comprised of an acclaimed team of innovators with a mission to craft inventive and emotionally resonant stories for a multitude of platforms, including film, games, VR and AR. With a legacy for immersing viewers into remarkable new worlds, Flight School’s team of artists and dreamers have collectively garnered some of the industry’s top accolades, such as Academy, Emmy, Annie, Cannes Lion and Lumiere Awards. At Flight School, we’re fearlessly exploring the unknown to be at the forefront where technology and storytelling merge. www.flightschoolstudio.com