Degree from Michigan: B.S. in Evolutionary Anthropology with a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Current location: Chicago, IL
Year graduated: 2013
Student Organization Involvement: University of Michigan Marching Band and University Bands. Worked for the Transgenic Animal Model Core for two years, and created artwork for the Department of Radiology Media for two years. Also did freelance work for the Biology Department.
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: Graduate Certificate in Science Illustration from California State University Monterey Bay; Visual Information Specialist at the National Park Service
QB: I work for an organization called “Game Changer Chicago” that creates games to teach sexual and social health to youth on the South Side of Chicago. I am the sole artist, so my role encompasses a lot. I am in charge of:
- 3D art assets/animations
- 2D art assets/animations
- Backgrounds/board design
- Graphic design
- Sketches and concept art for games and grant proposals
We work a lot with schools, and we have at least one game that’s being tested in schools right now. It’s called “Bystander” - it’s about being a bystander in a sexual assault scenario, and it teaches what constitutes sexual assault.
KC: How big is your team at Game Changer Chicago?
QB: We are a group of four. There’s me; our programmer and game designer; our lab director, who is like a jack-of-all-trades and deals with the higher-ups for us; and our AV (audio-visual) specialist, who also works kind of as a generalist because she does a lot of our writing and research.
KC: Is this work funded by the University of Chicago, or does the organization operate as a private business?
QB: We’re mostly grant-funded. We have operational grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, and we typically get grants from the NIH for our individual projects.
KC: How would you describe scientific illustration?
QB: Scientific illustration is the process of creating biologically accurate drawings that are typically used to aid with the teaching of a subject. I usually tell people to “think of textbook illustrations.” But there is a lot more to it; people use scientific illustration for a lot of things.
KC: What made you want to pursue this field specifically rather than, say, graphic design in general?
QB: Biology has always been a really big interest for me. My mom is a biologist and my dad is an art teacher; I guess I kind of just fell in the middle. I knew since my sophomore year that I wanted to do scientific or medical illustration.
KC: How do you feel your education and extracurricular activities at Michigan have influenced your career path?
QB: I definitely did not go into college knowing what I wanted to do. My favorite courses at the University were Biology of Mammals (EEB 451), taught by Phil Myers, who has since retired, and Scientific Illustration (ARTDES 300) with Brad Smith. I had to do a lot of illustrations for my mammals class in order to study for tests, and I was actually learning how to do that in my scientific illustration class. These two courses were great for combining and solidifying my interests as an illustrator with my interests as a scientist.
KC: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of your job?
QB: Favorite: There’s a great atmosphere, it’s very laid back, and I work with a lot of amazing people. It’s one of those places where you don’t have to work exactly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s more like, “Did you get done what you needed to get done this week? Okay, good. Now go play some video games.” That’s the fun part - we do play games at work for research!
As the sole artist, I have a lot of creative freedom that I wouldn’t have at a commercial gaming company. At larger companies, there would likely be 10 or so other artists, and I would work on a very small piece of a project and not get a lot of say. Right now, I decide the art, and I help decide whether it will be a 2D or a 3D game. Also, I’ve found that working for a university has perks when it comes to health benefits, as well as getting access to scholarly articles and free or discounted software. Many students and staff get a discount or a free trial to suites like Autodesk and Adobe CC (Creative Cloud).
Least favorite: Working with grants can be stressful, and it requires that every game we make has a measureable outcome with its target audience. That means at the end of a project, we have to do research and write a paper on it. That scientific process imposes some limits on what we can create; we can’t just make something that’s going to be fun, we have to ensure that it also has a social impact.
KC: What are similar grad school programs or companies that students could look into if they want to pursue a similar field as your own?
QB: If you are interested in doing scientific or medical illustration or working in some sort of crossover field, there are a handful of North American schools that offer medical illustration programs, including Augusta University, University of Illinois-Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and University of Toronto. Some of these programs focus more on traditional illustration, and others more on digital. They are also very biology-heavy; you take the same anatomy classes as the medical students, you sit in on operations, etc.
My degree was from a program at California State University, Monterey Bay. It’s small and tight-knit and I loved it, but it did not prepare me for a career in digital art the way other programs would have. I believe it prepares students very well for freelancing and for some more traditional scientific illustration jobs.
KC: What advice would you give to current students hoping to follow in a similar career path?
QB: If you want to go into games, go to art school. That’s really what gaming companies are looking for – not that you have a really interesting and unique background, but that you know how to model a 3D character, how to design costumes, etc. If you want a more scientific or medical career path, take art classes if you are in LSA or take biology classes if you are in the art school. Also, check out the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) and the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) for resources.
I have not worked with him personally, but I’ve heard that Joseph Trumpey in the art school at U-M is a good resource for those trying to get into Medical Illustration. Also Brad Smith at the art school is great – he was tremendously helpful when I was applying to grad schools.
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