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Studying Game Art at Ringling College of Art and Design

Natalie Perez shared her experience at Ringling College of Art and Design and discussed how it helped her become a better artist.


Hello! I’m Natalie Perez, a Lebanese-Spanish-American who speaks French and English. As a Ringling College of Art and Design senior majoring in Game Art and minoring in Business of Art and Design, I’m super passionate about 3D modeling, world-building, concept development (through visual production and narration), and graphic design through Unreal Engine 4, Maya, ZBrush, Substance 3DnDesigner, Substance 3D Painter, Photoshop, and Procreate.

I was always known as the “art kid” growing up, as I generally enjoyed drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil, but in sixth grade, the title was given to another classmate whose art skills were far more developed than mine. Determined to beat them, I decided to truly apply myself without looking back and ended up finding my calling through the spirit of a one-sided competition. I got into digital art two years later when my friend introduced me to an art application on iPad, and I quickly grew enamored with it.

Ever since pairing my love for digital art with my curiosity for game-making at Ringling, I have participated in a number of projects. In my sophomore year, I was involved in a class-wide “Exploration Game” project in which the class of 2023 collectively created a pool of assets to cross-pollinate into our own individual levels. I also created my own stylized Link’s Awakening-type “Adventure Game,” and I 3D-modeled a Kia Niro as a part of a car project.

In my junior year, I worked on a larger-scale biome project alongside a partner in which we both devised and executed a visual narrative embedded into an environment built from the conceptual stage to the modeling and set dressing stage. I also began the pitching and planning process for my senior thesis. In my senior year, I transformed my 2D-concepted pitch into a tangible 3D playable thesis game.

Apart from school, I have also participated in three game jams in groups ranging from three to six people. 

Ringling College of Art and Design

During my junior and senior years of high school, I was originally looking into colleges specializing in animation. Ringling was one of the first schools on my radar, and once I toured the campus and learned more, it became my top choice: I loved the overall upbeat, collaborative atmosphere and I could feel the passion radiating from the student work displayed in the halls. The campus felt homey, and I wanted to be a part of it. Once I got accepted, I decided to go into Game Art instead. I loved the structure of the major and felt like it would give me a diverse enough toolset of skills that I could apply in multiple industries to make me a sort of “jack of all trades." As an aspiring storyteller, I mostly wanted to learn about the ways to create a convincing, genuine visual narrative through worldbuilding. Now, four years later, I can certainly say that I got what I came for. 

Ringling’s courses are organized differently depending on the major. Game Art courses are built based on semester-long projects, and every set of major-specific classes is catered to accomplish this, which I very much like. In this way, I feel as though I am able to put my all into each assignment as I have multiple teachers with different specialties, who can help me push my projects to their furthest potential in all facets. Each student also has a requirement of certain other course subjects that they must take in order to graduate, which enables them to widen their worldview on vastly different subjects. 

My Ringling mentors guide me by encouraging an open line of communication. They always leave their doors open for me if I ever need their help, even if they are not actively teaching me during the given semester. Knowing my teachers now, I understand exactly who I need to go to for encouragement, who will say it to me straight, and who will push my project further with out-of-the-box advice. All of these methods are important in order to make my games the most functional and appealing that they can be. 


During the course of the Ringling College of Art and Design Game Art curriculum, each year generally has one to two large projects. Freshman year lays the foundation of traditional and digital art to get the students on an equal playing field. The end of freshman year and the start of sophomore are when students branch off into their respective majors to deep dive into what their curricula have to offer. In our sophomore and junior years, we have three studio classes per semester that work alongside each other: 3D for Games, Game Design/Programming, and Vis Dev for Games. These classes take turns being the priority for each semester based on each main project.

The software that we gradually learned throughout the four years is mainly Maya, ZBrush, Unreal Engine 4, Photoshop, Perforce, Substance 3D Painter, and Substance 3D Designer. The real challenges surround the upperclassmen full faculty critiques. In order to pass the thesis pitch, the professors vote during each student’s presentation using a yes and no scale. They also annotate what we can improve on in order to help us achieve a yes vote. They're always open to making meetings with us and often make rotations around the room – and even from classroom to classroom – to help each struggling student out individually.

Another big challenge, in general, was the strife with Covid-19 quarantines and remote learning. The teachers created discord channels for each year in order to attend classes more easily and in a more organized fashion than on Zoom. It ended up creating more of a community for us to get through the tough time together. 


My Ringling experience, to put it lightly, was an adventure. I am absolutely a different person leaving than coming in: I have grown more holistically responsible, outspoken, introspective, adaptable, and resilient. Tears were shed, and victories were celebrated. Of course, my art skills have broadened substantially in these past four years thanks to my mentors and teachers guiding me from strength to strength. I went into the major afraid of not fitting in due to my lack of knowledge of games, but I am leaving with an overwhelming sense of love for my Game Art family.

Beginners with a strong desire for art-making are some the best kinds of people to enter this school: we pride ourselves upon successfully turning bright-eyed bushy-tailed novices into industry-ready individuals through our carefully-curated fundamental beginning-level classes that teach the pillars of proportion, perspective, and rendering; and through our more intermediate and advanced dynamic specialized courses throughout the rest of the four years. 

Thank you so much for this opportunity! You can find me on ArtStation and Linkedin.

Natalie Perez, Environment Art

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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