Hollywood animators give hands-on classes to students at Texas A&M

July 24, 2012 4:50:09 PM PDT
"A Shark's Tale," "Shrek," and Disney's latest movie "Brave" -- all of these animated films have something in common. They have a connection to Texas. We have a closer look at how the future of animation is being brought to life in our own backyard.

Texas A&M, a school known for its agriculture and engineering, is making the grade in graphic design.

"What we're doing is taking a twist on that history by taking really strong engineering fundamentals, technical problem solving and combining it with art and design," said Tim McLaughlin, head of the Visualization Department at A&M.

He says many graduates of the Viz program go on to work for companies like Dreamworks and Disney's Pixar. And some of those A&M alum are coming back to pay it forward.

"Over a 10-week period, we bring seven different instructors. Each one of them is here for a week to work hands-on with the students," said Dave Walvoord, the visual effects supervisor at Dreamworks.

Walvoord is bringing his years of animation experience to the A&M classroom. During this special 10-week summer course, students will produce a 30-second animated film.

"The program really prepares them to work long hours and work hard like we do in the industry," Walvoord said.

It's the only class of its kind in the country that gives them a true work experience.

"How to solve really difficult problems, a really large scale problem, in a team and how to split that amongst four people and get everything done in a very tight schedule," student Kourtney Kebodeaux said.

"It's just really exciting to me, being able to see your work up on the screen, and you can see how people react to your work. That's one of the best payoffs working in this industry," student R.J. Pena said.

And it's not just producing for the silver screen. They can develop video games or create visuals for medical breakthroughs -- even the oil and gas industry has a demand for graphic designers.

But no matter where they land, these Texas A&M students are visualizing a future of success.

The starting salary for visual animators can be as high as $70,000 a year. But it's not easy to get into Texas A&M's "Viz" program. Out of about 80 applicants each year, only 25 are chosen.

KTRK is owned by the Walt Disney Co.

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