Arts & Humanities

Viz Lab Grads Bring A New Kind Of Art To The World

Anyone who has seen a movie with special effects — especially the Academy Award-winning ones — has seen the outstanding artistic talents of an Aggie.
By Tura King, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications August 2, 2012

TAMU visualization Anyone who has seen a movie with special effects — especially the Academy Award-winning ones — has seen the outstanding artistic talents of an Aggie.

These Aggies are graduates of the Texas A&M University Department of Visualization, home of the “Viz Lab,” housed in the university’s College of Architecture.

While most people don’t often think of cutting-edge technology as having much to do with art, the Viz Lab, established in 1988, and its academic programs began with the idea that Leonardo Da Vinci and other Renaissance artists were also scientists, architects and engineers. In addition to those long-established disciplines, today’s “vizzers” also need skills such as computer science, video technology and psychology. So the visualization academic programs set out to produce leaders in the fields where art and science merge.

In a short span of years, they have succeeded in a really spectacular way.

For example, when the movie “Rango” won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature this past February, it was the first feature-length animated movie created by the digital wizards — including eight former Texas A&M visualization students — at Industrial Light & Magic.

Aggie visualization grads are among the leading creative talent at Pixar, Blue Sky, Industrial Light and Magic, DreamWorks/PDI, LucasFilm Animation, Walt Disney Animation, Microsoft, and Sony Pictures Imageworks, Electronic Arts (EA), Blizzard, Iguana Entertainment, Aspyr Media, Bouncing Pixel, Presagis, Reel FX Creative Studios and more.

brave 2012
Dozens of Aggies have worked on popular movies, including Pixar Animation Studio’s most recent film, “Brave,” which featured the work of 24 Aggies.

(Pixar Animation Studios)

Other movie credits for dozens of Aggies include “Avatar,” “Toy Story 3,” “Shrek Forever After,” “The A-Team,” “Iron Man 2,” “Marmaduke,” “The Last Airbender,” “Star Trek,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” as well as the “Harry Potter,” “Transformers,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Night at the Museum” series. Eighteen Aggie vizzers also served on the Academy Award-winning team behind “Up,” and most recently, the work of 24 Aggies was highlighted in Pixar Animation Studio’s latest movie “Brave.”

The Bricklayer’s Disaster,” an animated short created by Texas A&M graduate students in visualization, earned the 3D Animation Award at the Animex International Festival of Animation and Computer Games in Middlesbrough, England.

Texas A&M’s master of science in visualization sciences program graduates have achieved success as creative directors, computer animators, university professors and software designers, with the majority working in the animation, visual effects and electronic gaming industries.

In addition to hiring Texas A&M graduates, Pixar and DreamWorks are ongoing supporters of the program, providing visiting artist lectures, one-on-one reviews of student work and scholarships for current students given by former students and matched by money from the studio, college officials note.

Last July, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, EA Games President Frank Gibeau and COO Daryl Holt offered praise for the significant talent pool presented by programs such as the undergraduate and graduate degrees in visualization at Texas A&M. The Viz Lab has quietly become a world leader in producing the talented graduates needed by the gaming and entertainment industries.

Perry said, “Twenty-one universities currently offer these programs in Texas — Texas A&M’s Department of Visualization, ‘Viz Lab’ as it is referred to — is rapidly developing a reputation; it’s one of the best in the world.”

Vizzers have also won recognition in the art world. For example, Emily Kiel’s self-portraits, tributes to iconic masterworks from the art world, have captured the attention and praise of art blogger Michelle H. Harrell, coordinator of teen/college programs for the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA), in Raleigh.

In a Sept. 1, 2011 blog entry, Harrell, who is curating an exhibition of self-portraits by college students, singled out the photos submitted by Kiel, a master of science in visualization student, as two of her favorite entries.

Kiel’s submissions to the NCMA exhibition are part of a series of works she created for her thesis research. One pays tribute to pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s painting “Ohh Alright” — and the other recreates Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

The visualization program is continuing to grow at the university. The Department of Visualization is offering a new, technology-infused master of fine arts degree program that will prepare students for careers in digital art education, fine arts, entertainment and media industries, as well as art as a vocation.

The MFA-Visualization degree joins the Bachelor of Science in Visualization degree program, which began in 2009, and the Master of Science in Visualization program, which began in 1989.

Once known for its accomplishments in agriculture and engineering, Texas A&M has now stepped solidly into the artistic world and, as Aggies are known to do, the university’s graduates are not only making their mark but also stepping out front to set new standards for the field of computer graphics and entertainment.

Media contact: Tura King, Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications.

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