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The Intersection of Art & Tech

Game designer honors artist friend with scholarship.

People  |  Nov 21, 2017  |  By UNLV Foundation

Donor Louis Castle, left, and scholarship recipient Sydney Mendoza.

Editor's Note: 

This is part of the In UNLV We Trust series. These stories explore the reasons donors give to UNLV and the direct impact they have on the beneficiaries of their gifts.

When Louis Castle started college in the 1980s, he was torn between two passions: art and computers. He enrolled at UNLV pursuing an MFA, while still studying computers.

“But the concept of combining a computer science degree with a fine arts degree just didn’t exist yet,” Castle, 52, says. “So I had computer science labs overlapping with art studio time, and my schedule was a mess.”            

Still, he said, his interests were nourished: “At UNLV, the world was opened up to me. There was so much to learn. I had some great instructors that inspired me as an artist.” One, he says, gave him a maxim that inspires him to this day: “Art is the intentional creation of an emotional experience in an audience.” He realized that the concept applied not only to fine art, but also to computer game programming.

He and colleague Brett Sperry started Westwood Studios game programming company while he was still a student. They hired Las Vegas artist Rick Parks, who was known worldwide for his mural and landscape paintings, some of which were displayed in Las Vegas businesses. (Parks was also commissioned by Steve Wynn, Siegfried and Roy, and Donald Trump to paint portraits.) Like Castle, Parks had a knack for translating his art into computer games.

Soon, Westwood Studios took off with a series of successful games that ultimately led Virgin Interactive to buy the company. Castle continued his work as a game designer and now works as the head of Amazon Game Studios.

But when his friend Parks died from leukemia, Castle decided to honor him in a way that reflected the key moments of their careers.

“I thought of UNLV, and I thought what a great opportunity to create a scholarship for people interested in marrying the arts and technology. So we designed this interdisciplinary scholarship [The Rick Parks Scholarship] specifically to remember Rick and to encourage people with curious minds to marry technology and arts.”

“You hear people say they are either right-brained or left-brained,” Castle says. “But really, you should use your whole brain. It’s not like you only use half.”

In that same way, student Sydney Mendoza has a love for hand-drawn illustration, but after starting UNLV, he took a shine to graphic arts.

“I actually started to love it,” Mendoza, 21, says. As a student who kept his GPA high, he qualified for the Rick Parks Scholarship. “Because of that, I was able to fully focus my attention on growing as an artist and designer for a year without stressing about my financial situation.”

Today, Mendoza works part-time as a graphic artist while completing his senior year as a graphic design major. Like the generous donor who funded his scholarship, Mendoza plans to combine art and technology as a graphic artist who specializes in illustrations for book covers.

“I’m especially fond of modernizing the classics,” he says. “I love calligraphy, and I love modernizing the look with graphic arts.”

Like Castle, Mendoza says, “I love to combine the old and the new.”

Learn more about UNLV Foundation giving programs.