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Academy Students Among Top Finishers in Blizzard 'World of Warcraft' Art Contest

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(L–R) Haoyu Zhang, Ayhan Aydogan and Executive Director of the School of Game Development David Goodwine. Photo by Bob Toy.

For the fourth year in a row, Academy of Art University students were among the top three finishers in the annual Blizzard Entertainment Student Art Contest. One of the leading video game companies, Blizzard called upon college students to create epic environments and characters for World of Warcraft, its popular online video game, and share their vision of Azeroth, the world in which most of the game is set. M.F.A. senior Haoyu Zhang won first place in the environment category for his submission, Red Roof, while Ayhan Aydogan—also a senior completing his M.F.A—was named overall runner-up for his entry, a comical character he dubbed The Goaty.

Zhang’s stunning, 3-D design features a vibrant fairytale-like village of cobblestone streets, lush trees and flowers and cottages with shimmering red roofs. The very detailed work of art took him eight months to finish using a variety of animation and illustration software, including 3ds Max, Photoshop, 3D-Coat, Unreal Engine 4 and Unfold-3D.

“I was working on this design for my thesis project and didn’t plan on using it for the contest at first,” said Zhang, who was a runner up in the Blizzard contest two years ago. “But I love the stylized type of art Blizzard uses and started to think this piece might work for the competition, so I submitted it.”

Aydogan was inspired to create his humorous goat character because he wanted to do something different from all the demons and evil creatures World of Warcraft: Legion, the sixth expansion of the game, is known for.  “I was trying to come up with something really cute and funny that contrasted with those characters,” he explained. “That’s how I came up with the idea for The Goaty. It took me about 12 days to execute the piece.”

Aydogan and Zhang both received a trip to Blizzard Headquarters in Orange County as part of their prize. The two students appreciated the opportunity to meet with Blizzard artists and members of the company’s recruitment team.

“The staff at Blizzard spent two hours reviewing my portfolio and giving me feedback for ways to improve my concepts and colors,” said Zhang, who was thrilled when Blizzard offered him an internship a couple of weeks later. “It’s my dream to work for Blizzard—I love their art style.”

The visit to Blizzard was equally rewarding for Aydogan. He especially enjoyed getting to sit down with lead character artists Tyson Murphy and Rob Sevilla.“We got to help design characters for the game with them, pick their brains and see how they worked,” he said. “It was amazing and very educational.”

Aydogan has an internship with Airship Syndicate where he helps design the company’s Battle Chasers game, a job he loves. “It’s great, because I have the chance to work with one of the most legendary comic and game designer artists in the world, Joe Madureira,” he said. “He’s also a really cool person.”

Aydogan and Zhang credit the education and training they’ve received from the Academy with helping them do so well in the Blizzard competition and landing their internships. They especially appreciated support from School of Game Development instructors Jamin Shoulet, Pryce Jones and George Cwirko-Godycki. 

“Jamin encouraged me to enter the contest and I also learned a lot from him,” Aydogan said. Zhang added that Jamin provided him with excellent feedback that helped him finish his entry.

With their success in the Blizzard Student Art Contest and their internships, both Aydogan and Zhang are well-equipped to win in the world of game design.