Make way for the rampaging moose-bear! The immersive narrative Fianna-Heim, the creation of three interactive design and game development (ITGM) students at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), is set in a Viking-inspired world soaked in myth, magic, and manipulative beasts where, as the trailer’s voiceover warns, “Humanity is destined to repeat the follies of the past.”
“The main goal we set out to achieve was to make the best game trailer we could,” says Fianna-Heim tech lead Ryan Hanretta, who worked alongside project lead Cindy Quinn and art lead Zach Smith on their joint, 20-week senior thesis project, created in Unreal Engine. On top of the game demo and trailer, the students delivered a professionally printed 90-page Fianna-Heim art book. “The solid deliverables you see in our portfolios opened up great employment opportunities for all of us,” Hanretta says.
In the fully realized trailer, a protagonist named Fi travels from her woodland home into a rune-strewn underworld (note: Fianna-Heim is not a complete, playable game). Created under the guidance of professor Cyril Guichard, Fianna-Heim won Best Game Trailer, Best Game FX, and Best Environment Runner-Up at Entelechy 2021, SCAD’s annual faculty-awarded ITGM student competition, which drew over 150 submissions this year.
“At SCAD, we take games seriously,” says Guichard. “Even in a most unusual year, our interactive design and game development program provided our students with every chance to capitalize on their passion. Zach, Ryan, and Cindy all brought their A-game with Fianna-Heim. I’m proud that what they achieved as students has led directly to ideal creative careers.”
Smith is the 2d artist whose concept art provided the basis for Fianna-Heim’s fully realized settings, including a village, waterfall, bear cave, and aspen forest. Having minored in sequential art at SCAD, Smith emphasizes that classes with sequential art professor Rashad Doucet were transformative: “I loved learning about story-driven character design, which feeds into creating concept art. Connecting my minor to my major really influenced my work on Fianna-Heim and focused me on what I’m doing now.”
“Through working on this project, we all figured out where we wanted to go with our careers when we graduated,” adds Quinn. Hanretta agrees: “It wasn’t until Fianna-Heim that I fully understood that what I love doing is effects.”
It’s notable that Fianna-Heim translated directly into professional opportunities for its three creators. Smith is currently an in-demand freelance concept artist, illustrator, and comic artist. Hanretta works as a vfx artist for Savannah-based real time effects studio Undertone FX. Quinn, whose Maya/Zbrush modeling and Substance Painter textures on Fianna-Heim are astonishing, is an environment and vegetation artist at Turn10 Studios, working on the hit Forza franchise. (If you think a vegetation artist might not be essential to a racing game, check out the new announce trailer for Forza Horizon 5.)
Smith, Hanretta, and Quinn met in freshman year, then grew more familiar after joining SCAD Game Development Network, which provides students with a collaborative network of faculty and industry professionals, facilitating an advanced understanding of the game industry. By the time senior year rolled around, the pandemic had the students collaborating remotely.
Across two academic quarters totaling 20 weeks, the structure of their online class was a Zoom meeting for the entire class lasting between 30 and 90 minutes (the duration dependent on the day’s agenda), followed by an additional 10–30 minutes when Guichard would meet individually with groups to discuss details of their projects. Those additional segments, Hanretta points out, “became really important not just to the work but to our own wellbeing.”
Outside of Zoom sessions, the Fianna-Heim team were seldom not working on or thinking about the game. Quinn: “It was a true collaboration. With Fianna-Heim, we aimed to combine a realistic style alongside more stylized art direction, and succeeded together. One major challenge was to achieve vast, gorgeous vista points that create impactful cinematic moments.”
No cinematic moment may be more impressive than the ultimate moment when Fi has the chance to release her god from the “tree root prison” in Fianna-Heim’s hallowed halls. Asked what they think of their accomplishment, Zach, Cindy, and Ryan’s response is unanimous: “Moose-bears for life!”