The Academy Hosts 2017 Red Bull Doodle Art Global Final


Photo by Bob Toy.

Although more than 30 languages were spoken on Saturday, June 24, at the 2017 Red Bull Doodle Art Global Final hosted in the Atelier Gallery at Academy of Art University, the universal language of art was evidently stronger than words. For the final stage of the 2017 Red Bull Doodle Art Contest, 47 global finalists from 43 countries flew thousands of miles to compete one last time for the winning title. But this time, their doodles were in virtual reality. 

“The Academy has always been on the cutting edge of the most advanced technology as a way to express and push boundaries of art,” said James Egan, one of the judges of the contest and executive director of Immersive Technology and Short Term Programming at the Academy. “To me, it’s a natural partnership with Red Bull to bring this first international virtual reality doodle contest to the heart of the most important technology companies in the world.”

People roamed the packed gallery where audible “wow’s” could be heard as people strapped on HTC Vive headsets and explored the vastly different VR work of the global finalist. Viewers were transported to mythical lands crawling with fantasy creatures, nature scenes depicting different parts of the world and images that told a story.

This was a well-earned moment for the finalists, who had spent three days in art workshops throughout the Academy campus prior to the opening of the gallery. It was here where they learned how to use a Google Tilt Brush to help bring their doodling skills to life. In the end, artists had just two hours to create a piece of VR art that was critiqued on creativity, personal style and execution by the four judges of the contest, who were professional artists. 

“What a ride,” said Shiella Witanto, a global finalist and recent graduate of the School of Illustration at the Academy. “The whole experience is just amazing. I wouldn’t have dreamed it to be anything more.”


Through an HTC Vive headset, an attendee views the work of one of the global finalists. Photo by Bob Toy.


An attendee views the finalists’ artwork with the HTC Vive headset. Photo by Bob Toy.


Guests could view the finalist' artwork in a new dimension through the HTC Vive headset. Photo by Bob Toy.

Finalist after finalist from countries around the world including Spain, Thailand, China and Lebanon talked about what a special four-day experience it was. They smiled reminiscing about their adventures making international friends, exploring San Francisco and being able to express their talents through 3-D art, many of whom had never had the opportunity before. 

Mominah Arif, a global finalist and 23-year-old architecture student from Pakistan, spoke passionately about her VR art and her first time visiting the United States. Viewers of Arif’s VR work were surrounded by a serene, brightly colored Pakistani garden filled with flowers and a flowing waterfall. She wanted to share her love of Pakistan’s geography through the universal language of art. 

“Even if we don’t understand each other’s languages, it doesn’t matter,” said Arif dressed in a salwar kameez, the traditional dress of Pakistan. “Once we start drawing, we understand one another. This has really brought everyone together.”

Another global finalist, Bella Griffiths of New Zealand, chatted with her new friends, but stopped a moment to explain the influence of her VR art which told the story of the New Zealand folklore of Maui, a man who slowed the sun so his people could have more hours in the day to fish and hunt.


Red Bull Doodle Art Contest winner Ayaka Toyomasu. Photo by Bob Toy.


Red Bull Doodle Art Contest participants commemorate their experience with the Sharingbox. Photo by Bob Toy.

“I really wanted to incorporate my culture and virtual reality is a great way to do it,” the 19-year-old said. “VR can do so much. It’s like a sculpture. It can really take the viewer into the depth of your work.” 

Starting at 10 a.m., the crowd had a few hours to discover different works of art before the global winner was announced at noon. When the moment finally came, the crowd gathered around Sunni Brown, a judge and professional info-doodler. After complimenting the work of many artists, Brown announced 19-year-old Ayaka Toyomasu of Japan as the winner. 

Everyone cheered as the pixie-haired teenager was handed a Golden Gate Bridge trophy as her VR work shined on the screen behind her. Toyomasu’s work depicted a young girl in pigtails surrounded by a world of creativity with butterflies, owls and rainbows. Brown said her work was chosen for its technical difficulty, personal style and creativity. 

Although Toyomasu didn’t speak English, her translator was there to translate saying she was overwhelmed with emotion and didn’t have words to express her happiness for winning her first art competition. 

At the end of the event, people jammed out to the music and continued exploring the VR worlds at their fingertips. As Mark Edwards, associate director of copywriting for the School of Advertising for the Academy, who attended the event said, “It is these students who will determine what VR is and where it will go going forward.”


All of the global finalists’ VR artworks can be seen at