The small details are what’s important for Peter Burroughs (‘17 B.A.). Burroughs is a freelance environmental artist and current intern at Blizzard Entertainment, an American video game developer known for games like Overwatch, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo. His work focuses on creating indoor and outdoor settings for films or video games. Environmental artists work on background visuals with which characters and objects will interact–anything from buildings to trees to furniture.
Burroughs was first introduced to game development as a first-year student through a Professorial Assistantship (PA) with the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab (GEL Lab). “The GEL Lab is somewhat unique among PAs however, because instead of published papers and findings, our research involved creating actual video games for clients,” Burroughs said. His experience allowed him to work with other artists, programmers, and designers to develop fun and innovative ways to use video games in the classroom. He drew character concepts, painted icons for user interface, and met with clients to discuss their goals for the project.
“I think it’s important to keep in mind that the research and tasks you do as a PA will vary based on the professor, and your experience is largely dependent on what you put into it. If you’re passionate about your work and demonstrate that as much as possible, a PA can be an invaluable learning experience and truly open doors for you,” he said.
Shortly after graduating from MSU with a degree in Media and Information and Game Design, Burroughs began working for a small start up company in Lansing. During this time, he was also slowly building his freelance clients until he was able to become a full-time freelance artist. The skills he learned from the GEL Lab were an invaluable foundation for freelance work and beyond.
“I was mostly working from home during that time, doing small jobs like painting pets and graphic design, but I started pushing more into the game development scene,” he says. His persistence paid off and led to him becoming a freelance environment artist for Axis Studios, a Scottish animation company that creates cinematics for Riot Games. “Freelancing for me, was a way to practice my skills and improve in order to make myself more appealing to a company.”
“In high school, we had a pretty robust art program. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that necessarily, but I knew I liked it a lot. I tried to apply it to a career path, like architecture.” However, it wasn’t until Burroughs attended MSU that he learned about game development. “It was something that combined my various interests between art and video games. Being told that was a career path and something you could do for a living is something that set me on that journey.”
Now in his work with Blizzard Entertainment he is focusing on props. “A prop artist is someone who would deal with small, interactable objects like tables, barrels, various furniture, and set dressing,” Burroughs explains.
Burroughs became a part of the prop team at Blizzard due to his personal interest in designing props. “I had expressed an interest and experience in making physical props. Sometimes I create costumes and cosplay for clients and conventions. [Blizzard] thought that would be some interesting experience to bring in.” Around 2018, Burroughs began to experiment with medieval bookbinding. He combines technology like 3D printing and traditional tools to create these props.
Burroughs offers sound advice for students considering going into the art industry. “All the time in our head, we have this idea that we’ll go directly from college to working at a big company or our dream job. That’s not the only route, and it’s not necessarily the best route,” he begins. “My advice would be that you have to find what’s right for you. A degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a job. You have to look at your skill set and see where you are at right now. After the pandemic, more companies are open to freelance contracts. You just have to find what’s right for you.”