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 Media contact:  
 Phillip Rollfing  

Katzenberg visits
college's 'viz lab'

DreamWorks chief Katzenberg reviews
architecture visualization student work



First-time job seekers usually don’t start by having the company president review their portfolios, but yesterday Texas A&M University students enrolled in the College of Architecture’s visualization program did just that. Selected students screened their work for Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of animated film giant DreamWorks.

“The Texas A&M viz program turns out a great product, great students,” says Katzenberg, under whose leadership DreamWorks Animation SKG has produced such commercial successes as “Over the Hedge,” “Shrek” and “Shrek 2.” “I’m here to encourage the program’s students and faculty. We need each other to keep the animation industry vibrant.”

Katzenberg’s visit and public question-and-answer session capped four days of intense activity by DreamWorks staffers, who arrived in College Station last Friday to meet viz students and faculty, critique student demo reels, screen DreamWorks productions, lead workshops on visual effects problem-solving, and, most importantly, interview candidates for positions at the company.

According to DreamWorks outreach director Marilyn Friedman, the company has employed at least 15 Aggies over the last decade and now is looking for more great Aggie animators.

Helping to interview job seekers was two-time Aggie Dave Walvoord, a 1993 computer science graduate who received his masters degree in visualization from Texas A&M in 1996. Walvoord is a lighting director and supervisor for DreamWorks. Before joining Katzenberg’s studio, he worked for Blue Sky Studios, serving as senior technical director for “Ice Age,” among other films. At DreamWorks, he’s received praise for his technical production and lighting work on such films as “Over the Hedge” and the studio’s next release, “Kung Fu Panda.” He credits the Texas A&M viz program for much of his success.

“The Texas A&M program makes sure its graduates are well-prepared to start work in the computer animation industry,” Walvoord says. “I think Aggies are better prepared than graduates from other viz programs, primarily due to the program’s emphasis on theory. For example, the theory about how light behaves when it strikes a pane of glass was developed in 1819 but holds true today. Such basic theories never change. They guide current animation practice and cannot be learned on the job.”

Walvoord praised Katzenberg’s commitment to hiring recent graduates and stressed that the market for the best students has grown increasingly competitive, although the field is unionized, with salaries determined by contracts with the Animation Guild.

“ People enter the field because they love what they do,” Walvoord explains. “DreamWorks looks for applicants who have good command of core competencies and specialists who are very good at one aspect of the computer animation process.

“Texas A&M’s viz program curriculum draws from both science and art, and students typically enter the program with strengths either in computer technology or in art, but not afraid of either.”

Walvoord himself spent five years at Texas A&M honing his computer science skills, but when he discovered the viz masters program, he decided that he’d “rather be an artist than an engineer” and switched majors. He’s never regretted his decision.

Among students showing their work to the DreamWorks team were Tony Piedra of Sugarland, Seth Freeman of Katy, and Michael Losure of St. Paul, Minn. The three were part of an eight-person team that produced a two-minute animated film this summer, a process designed to teach them the entire animation process, from story crafting to final cut.

“It was a jump into the deep end to produce an entire film our first year in the program,” Piedra says. “But our team worked well together and we benefited from advice by a representative of animation firm Rhythm and Hues.”

“We sure did a lot of work for a two-minute cartoon,” quipped Losure.

The trio appeared both excited and nervous at sharing their work with studio head Katzenberg, but Freeman thought the experience was probably a success. “Katzenberg laughed at our film,” he says, “and that’s great, because it was supposed to be funny.”

The public session with Katzenberg and Walvoord was moderated by Dean Bresciani, vice president for student affairs, who noted “This is a real treat for me. I’ve hosted famous athletes, foreign dignitaries, even the former president of the United States, but these guys are really big.”

Katzenberg, who never attended college, nevertheless urged students to get the most out of their stay at Texas A&M.

“This is a time of incredible growth in the graphic arts – digital creativity is exploding, with the incredible rate of technological change,” he says. “There is a huge demand for people with a love of and knowledge and expertise in the field of CG animation. So I urge you to take advantage of the opportunities your university provides for learning methods and techniques of artistic expression. Opportunities to work in animation have never been greater, but above all, the arts can improve the quality of your lives.”

Katzenberg and Walvoord agree that art and technology go hand-in-hand to make CG films successful, combining good stories and artistic vision with the latest means to express them.

“Has there ever been great art without technology?” Walvoord asks. “Even the great masters of the Renaissance refined techniques of making better brushes and mixing better paints.”

Katzenberg agrees, “Today, computers are the tools that empower our artists.”

Asked by architecture dean J. Thomas Regan how he’d run a college, Katzenberg noted that a university should be a place of inspiration, “a place where people don’t just learn skills but learn how to go out into the world with a sense of their own worth, of what they have to offer.

“DreamWorks is looking for people who can tell us what sets them apart from the pack. So, students should find the thing that they love and become great at it.”

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'Viz' student Donald Fong shows his work to Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of animated film giant DreamWorks SKG

Jeffrey Katzenberg watches a piece by 'Viz' student Timothy Weaver

Jeffrey Katzenberg reviewed progress on the animated short "Pietro's Kitchen", and met with members from the 8 student team who are working on it. From left are Patrick O'brien, Seth Freeman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Losure, and Tony Ppiedra

'Viz' student Tony Ppiedra shows his concept art from "Pietro's Kitchen" to Jeffrey Katzenberg

'Viz' professor Ergun Akleman shares his research with Jeffrey Katzenberg

David Walvoord (MSVIZ '96), a lighting director for DreamWorks, returned to the 'viz lab' to give a lighting workshop for students

Katzenberg's visit culminated with the event "A conversation with Jeffrey Katzenberg" in the Preston Geren Auditorium. On stage were (from left) Katzenberg, Walvoord, and Dean Bresciani, vice president for student affairs

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