Thirteen Aggies, most of them graduates of the visualization
sciences program in A&M’s architecture department, assisted
Pixar Animation Studios
in the creation of the Oscar nominated animated feature film “Finding
The stunning underwater adventure with memorable characters, humor
and heartfelt emotion takes art and technology of computer animation
to a whole new level while capturing the imaginations of young
Nominated for four Academy Awards, including best animated feature
film, "Finding Nemo is also the number one selling DVD of
Much of the film’s digital wizardry was generated by computer
graphic artists and technical developers trained at the Visualization
Laboratory at Texas A&M’s College of Architecture.
A&M’s Master of Science program in visualization sciences is a
48-credit-hour thesis program that helps students develop the
technical, artistic, cognitive, and computer science skills necessary
to successfully communicate ideas and information using digital
and electronic media. The program, designed to prepare students
for long-term careers in visualization, helps participants develop
the focused expertise and broad knowledge required by the rapidly
“For me, the ‘Viz Lab’ was a fantastic experience,” explained
Patrick James BS ENDS '96, MSVS '98, who has been working as a
technical director at Pixar since 1999. “I saw the facility (Viz
Lab) during my freshman orientation in the College of Architecture
and immediately realized that it was what I wanted to do. I really
enjoyed the community feel of the program.”
Patrick, who’s interview about working at Pixar appears below,
also said the visualization program offered him a chance to be
creative in other areas.
“I spent a lot of time editing videos, printing photographs and
doing things other than computer graphics. It was a good mix of
art and science.”
According to Bill Jenks, director of the Visualization Lab, former
and current “Vizzers,” as visualization students are fondly called,
and other A&M graduates listed in the “Finding Nemo” credits include:
Character Unit CG artists Chad Belteau (BED '97) and David Batte
(MCS '97); Ocean Unit CG artists Amy Moran (MSVIS student), Apurva
Shah (MCS '93) and Keith Daniel Klohn (CVEN '93, MSVIS student);
Shark/Sydney Unit CG artists Christina Garcia (BED '97, MSVIS
student), Jean-Claude J. Kalache (BED '93, MSVIS '97), Keith Daniel
Klohn, Chris Chapman (BS ENGR '96, MSVIS '98) and Christina Haaser
(MSVIS '02); Tank Unit CG artists Amy Moran, Chad Belteau, Gary
Bruins (attended A&M), John Halstead (CECE '97, MSVIS student)
and Patrick James (BED '96, MSVIS '98); and Technical Development
Team members John Halstead, David Batte, Apurva Shah and Bill
Sheffler (BED '96, MSVIS '98).
Beyond the Viz Lab: Life at Pixar
Patrick James BED '96, MSVS '98 has been working as a technical
director at Pixar since 1999. Below he talks about his job and
recalls his experiences as a visualization student at Texas A&M.
Q. How would you describe your responsibilities?
A. I work across several departments and through
several different stages of the films here at Pixar. I started
in rendering when I first got here, which was a great place to
get an education as to how all the departments work together and
to see how a film gets made. Since then, I've worked on many other
films as a modeler, a simulation and effect TD (technical director),
a layout artist and a lighting TD.
Q. What does your average working day entail?
A. Most of my time is spent working in the shot-based
world of the various films. In layout, I'm given a sequence of
shots to put together by establishing the camera position and
rough blocking of the characters. The same process goes for lighting.
I'm usually given a series of shots that are similar in their
look, and I work on them all in tandem, bringing them to reviews
with the director once or twice a week for approval.
Q. On which Pixar projects have you worked?
A. “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Mike's New
Car,” “Finding Nemo” and several other films in shorts that are
TOP SECRET! I can't talk about them...
Q. What were your responsibilities in the film
A. I came to the film late to help out in the
layout department. I worked in several different areas, such as
the fish tank, the dentist office, the ocean floor, and the reef.
Q. What did you think about the film?
A. I think it had a real touching story and that
it was leaps and bounds above any other CG film to date as far
as imagery and lighting—a real beautiful film.
Q. Tell us about your experiences in the Visualization
Program at Texas A&M?
A. For me, the Viz Lab was a fantastic experience.
I saw the facility during my freshman orientation in the College
of Architecture and immediately realized that it was what I wanted
to do. I really enjoyed the community feel of the program. The
open lab where everybody spent their days and nights was such
a fun place. There was always somebody there to bounce ideas off
of, to go eat with, to talk with no matter what time of night.
It was like a small family.
I also liked the chance to do things that were more creative.
I spent a lot of time editing videos, printing photographs and
doing things other than computer graphics. It was a good mix of
art and science.
Q. How does your Viz Lab training relate to what
you are doing at Pixar?
A. It's very similar in almost everything but
scale. At the Viz Lab, I worked on a project and did everything
for it, from story, to sound, to animation, to rendering. Here
at Pixar, our projects are much more grand in scale, so it requires
people to specialize in specific tasks. I miss working on so many
different things in one film, but I get to delve into a project
much deeper now, and it's definitely more rewarding.
Q. What is the most rewarding aspect of your
A. Seeing the credits roll by and having your
friends scream your name. Watching the movie through other people's
eyes. Seeing how happy it makes kids. Playing soccer three days
a week at lunch.
Q. What is your fondest memory of your stint
as an Aggie Vizzer?
A. We had an end of the year show called Viza-Go-Go.
It was the highlight of the year for everyone in the lab. I stayed
up all night long editing it together. The show started at 7 p.m.,
and myself and Stew Milne were running across campus with the
tape at 6:59 p.m. I had absolutely no energy, but I just had to
get this tape to the theater. We made it about halfway there,
and I was so exhausted, I had to hand it to Stew and he ran it
the rest of the way. After I gave it to him, I made it to the
theater and sat down. It felt so good to sit down. I made it just
in time for the show to start. I don't think I have ever felt
more proud...and relieved.
Q. What advice do you have for students currently
enrolled in A&M's visualization program?
A. I spent too much time working on my own. Try
working as a team. It pays off in the end.
Q. Do you regularly work with fellow Vizzers
or are you guys spread out in different departments?
A. We cross paths fairly frequently. I see most
of the Vizzers outside of work more than I do at work, though.
Q. For aspiring animators, a job with Pixar is
a dream realized. Now that you're there, have your ambitions,
goals, or dreams been altered?
A. I think so. I have always thought that it
is impossible to be truly satisfied. You'll always be looking
on the horizon for what's next. Even after a good meal you only
feel satisfied until it's time to eat again. During school, my
only goal was to get to where I am. Now that I am here, my goal
is to enjoy it.
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