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Animating the Future

Jul 15th, 2013 | Category: Feature Stories
Adam Watkins (left), associate professor of Computer Graphic Arts, assists a team of advanced students with a game design during class.

Adam Watkins (left), associate professor of Computer
Graphic Arts, assists a team of advanced students with a
game design during class.

By Brance Arnold ’10 MA

At a very young age, both Jacob Green ’10 BA and Matt Tovar ’08 BA held a deep passion for all things art, but never knew growing up how they could parlay their love of artistic pursuits into careers. By a touch of fate, each found the answer as students of the University of Incarnate Word’s (UIW) Computer Graphic Arts (CGA) program.

“Almost all of my favorite things to do growing up either involved art, video games, or science, but I never knew what I would be able to do to make a living,” said Green.

While attending New Braunfels High School, Green took a digital graphics and animation class that would serve as the spring board for his future. At the Austin Student Digital Film Festival, he won a scholarship to attend a summer course from the Digital Media Academy at the University of Texas at Austin. Serendipitously, this experience was the catalyst for introducing Green to UIW.

“It was there where I met Adam Watkins, head of the 3-D animation half of the CGA program, who happened to be teaching the intro 3-D course,” explained Green. “He saw I had an interest in the field and told me about the CGA program at UIW.” As a result of this chance encounter, Green applied to UIW to pursue his ambition of becoming a CGA graduate.

Like Green, Tovar’s early love of art also led him down the path to UIW’s CGA program.

“I was always interested in art as a kid,” said Tovar. “I was always drawing in my notebook but to be honest I never really thought about pursuing it as a career.”

It wasn’t until his brother’s friend, who worked in the industry, sought help one summer that he decided on animation. Tovar was a student at another university, but after assisting the friend, he did some research and made up his mind.

“I heard about UIW’s CGA program and so I transferred my sophomore year,” said Tovar.

While in the CGA program, both Green and Tovar met students who shared their interests and aspirations. They collaborated with classmates to turn out high quality work and continually learned new things, not just from the faculty, but from their peers.

“It was a great learning environment that fostered a lot of growth and success which was taught by CGA faculty who were all active industry professionals,” Green said.

“UIW taught me that you have to get other eyes on your work. It was great working in a classroom setting with others that share the same interest and passion towards animation. We would bounce ideas off each other as well as help critique one another’s work be- cause even the person giving the critique is learning,” shared Tovar.

Alumnus Jacob Green at Los Alamos Canyon in New Mexico. Green works for Los Alamos National Laboratory as a 3-D animator.

Alumnus Jacob Green at Los Alamos
Canyon in New Mexico. Green works
for Los Alamos National Laboratory
as a 3-D animator.

Green and Tovar learned 3-D modeling, rigging for games, animation, film, character design, sound design, game development and design, basic programming and many other elements to complete a well-rounded curricular experience. Green attended seminars featuring professionals who worked at local design and animation studios as well as representatives from Pixar and other major studios in the industry.

Following graduation, Green moved straight into a career at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., where he has worked for the past four years. At the laboratory, he works with a team that has created a studio designing movies and video games for the purposes of training, education and familiarization.

His team has worked for clients such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to create virtual libraries of machinery and equipment as well as design fictional nuclear facilities used by students and nuclear security personnel. Currently, the team’s biggest project is creating a video game that allows the Los Alamos Fire Department to virtually tour and run exercises at high-hazard facilities.

Due to Watkins’ own work with the laboratory, Green said they have almost exclusively hired students and graduates of UIW’s CGA program.

During Tovar’s senior year, he received an internship at 1080 Entertainment in San Antonio. Since that time, he has worked for Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Sony Pictures Image- works, Infinity Ward and Naughty Dog.

Now a resident of Los Angeles, Calif., Tovar has worked on films such as “Green Lantern” and “The Amazing Spider Man”

as well as video game projects such as “Uncharted 2,” which received the Game of the Year Award by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, “Socom 3,” and, most recently, “Call of Duty: Ghosts.”

“Green Lantern was pretty special to me,” Tovar said. “It was my first feature film and my first time living in L.A., the hub of the animation industry. My name was displayed on the big screen for the first time.”

Now professionals in their field, the two credit much of their success to the education they received at the university.

“My education at UIW has been vital for me and the work I do. I utilize everything I learned in the CGA pro- gram. It was also critical to my pursuit of a family,” said Green. “Without the salary and benefits I receive working at Los Alamos, it would have been extremely difficult for my wife and I to start a family, which we did, and now are proud parents of a two-year- old little girl.”

“Once I started working in the industry, I realized that all those late nights I was doing homework really prepared me,” Tovar shared. “The 3-D program didn’t just help teach me animation; it also taught me the other departments of CG.”

Alumnus Matt Tovar enjoys some sun in San Diego, Calif. Tovar resides in Los Angeles where he works as a 3-D animator.

Alumnus Matt Tovar enjoys some sun in San Diego, Calif. Tovar
resides in Los Angeles where he works as a 3-D animator.

As UIW continues to grow and evolve, so does its School of Media and Design, which houses the CGA program. Though UIW has had a well-developed 3-D animation and game curriculum for several years, a new Department of 3-D Animation and Game Design (ANGD) has been created to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation and Game Design this fall.

Watkins, founding coordinator for the CGA program, serves as the coordinator for the ANGD program. He said the program will prepare and provide graduates with the work ethic needed to succeed.

“Our program helps students understand all aspects of 3-D animation for film, TV, game design and production processes, but by the time a student graduates, he or she will have focused on one particular aspect they’ll need to be competitive,” said Watkins.

The AGND department will have two distinct tracks that share a common 3-D core of classes, 3-D Animation and Game Design and Production. These two industries have a high demand for competent and trained animators.

“As early as 2007, more than half of the top 20 movies were partially or totally animated,” said Watkins. “Video game companies employ more than 120,000 people in 34 states, with Texas being among the top five.”

The new degree program will further broaden UIW’s appeal to students who aspire to be animators. “With virtually no local or regional competition in the 3-D area, UIW is a very attractive destination for animators,” said Watkins.

To learn more about the 3-D Animation and Game Design (ANGD) program, visit UIW’s School of Media and Design at http://www.uiw.edu/simd/

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