Animation Domination Comes at A&M Viz Lab

Wednesday night, the new Dreamworks animated movie Kung-Fu Panda was pre-screened by students and faculty at Texas A&M's Visualization Lab.

The early look at the feature came because leaders in the animation industry hope to cultivate and draw on Aggie talent for years to come.

This is Douglas Bell, and this is his new friend, Sito. That's Otis spelled backwards, Otis being the elevator on campus.

"I just kind of mixed it around and spelled it backwards," Bell said. "It's kind of an inside joke with me and my friends."

You might say A&M is on the upper level when it comes to producing talent. Bell started in the College of Architecture. Now, he's building virtual friends.

"I was like, 'wow, there's a whole bunch of people out here that really love to do the same thing I do,'" Bell said. "The graduate program seemed perfect, the right fit."

Check out some Aggie student projects by clicking on the videos with this story.

"We've had someone from Pixar actually refer to Texas A&M and the Viz Lab as a diamond mine," said Glen Vigus, Senior Visualization Production Specialist in the department. If you find a diamond mine, you're not going to abandon it. You're going to always come back."

Vigus has seen the animations and student talent come to life over the years, growing at A&M, then thriving when the animation companies come calling.

"They want people who are qualified, people who know what they're doing, and not just people who are just artists or people who are just computer specialists, and that's the big advantage our program provides," Vigus said.

Disney and Pixar's "Ratatouille" has food sprinkled throughout. An Aggie grad was on the front burner of making the meals sizzle on screen.

"There are challenges faced in how the objects are lit and how they react to different light to make them look good, but not too fake," Vigus explained.

Plus, the fish in Finding Nemo made waves due to Aggie designers.

"Rigging involves actually creating the skeletal structure of the animated characters to make them move and to control them," Vigus said.

"It's really a credit and a testament to the students and what they're able to produce that brings companies like those here looking for them," said Department Head Tim McLaughlin

And it won't stop at the movies, McLaughlin said.

"We're also going toward gaming," McLaughlin said. "We're going deeper into research and to computer graphics. We're going toward art for art's sake."

It means the A&M Viz students are only going up.

"Having Texas A&M as a name on my degree, I wouldn't choose anything else," Bell said.

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