Former students help
create 'Finding Nemo'

Visualization graduates apply talents to
Pixar Studio's popular animated feature


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 Nemo.”

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 and old.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including best animated feature film, "Finding Nemo is also the number one selling DVD of all time.

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 growing discipline.

“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 “Finding Nemo?”

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 job?

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.

- The End -

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