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2017 Valedictorian: Crysta Frost

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Photo courtesy of AAU Publications.

Crysta Frost’s whole Academy of Art University career has been about taking 180-degree turns: East Coast to West Coast. Suburb to big city. Fine art to technical art. Character rigging to game production, and vice versa. Many of those turns were acts of thoughtful spontaneity, while others were more spur-of-the-moment decisions.

“As soon as I stepped on the eighth floor [in 180 New Montgomery] and saw everything, I knew that this is what I wanted,” she said. “I went from painting and drawing all day to 3-D programs and game engines.

Frost, a School of Game Development major specializing in technical art, was named valedictorian of the Academy’s Spring 2017 graduating undergraduate class. Before she made the cross-country drive from her small Virginia hometown to Oakland, Frost earned her associate degree in fine arts in 2012 at Northern Virginia Community College. She says earning that certification was a “tipping point”—she wanted to do something else with her life and needed a change of scenery. 

“I thought I was going to be a traditional art teacher—drawing and painting—but I wasn’t finding that entirely fulfilling at the time,” Frost said. “I loved to teach people but there was something missing.”

Compared with Frost’s present day work, what the traditional art specialties seemed to lack was some arithmetic. As a technical artist, her discipline focuses on character rigging and expands to tool-writing and game production. 

According to Frost, rigging—or building of the internal skeleton of video game characters to be manipulated by animators—bridges technical and artistic skills together. In her eyes, riggers are “the happy medium where they talk to both sides and have to speak both languages,” which is why she clicked with it in the first place.

“I loved it because it was mathematical; there was code involved and I found I really liked writing code,” she explained. “It’s a really visceral thing to bring a character to life. Animators give them personality but as a technical artist, you’re enabling them to be people.” 

At first, Frost said the transition from learning fine arts principles to gaming was a challenge. Getting over the learning curve didn’t begin at the design aspects, it started at the basic functions. But with instructors and peers around to help her, she learned and improved quickly. 

“To become a game developer, I had to leave the 2-D world behind and go into three-dimensions,” she said. “It was incredibly difficult but I was committed to my dream so I couldn’t stop.” 

Her portfolio includes rigs for six-tentacle water creatures and zombie apples, rigging tools to increase efficiency, plus production credits for Last Fate, a virtual reality game concept from her Research and Development class. As the game’s producer, she was responsible for task managing, staying on schedule and overseeing student designers and developers from inception to completion. The experience complimented her own skills as a developer, rounding out her wheelhouse and helping her land a job at Unity Technologies as a production associate. 

Frost’s Academy career was founded upon the “high risk, high reward” mantra. In her case, squeezing in hard work, dedication and passion in between the phrases would be appropriate too. She attributes a friend’s key piece of advice as the reason why she’s where she is today: “Dive off the deep end at every chance you get.”

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Valedictorian Crysta Frost. Photo by Bob Toy.

With the Class of 2017 sitting at her feet in the Bill Graham Auditorium on May 11, Frost spoke to her peers to be daring, to not shy away from the possibility of failure and to open up to any and all opportunities to grow and discover. 

“In trying anything new, there’s always going to be a 50 percent chance of failure,” she said to the audience. “But there will always be a 100 percent chance that we’ll learn something new, and I believe that is the goal.”