Aggie Vizzers help create visual awesomeness in ‘Panda 2’

Kung Fu Panda poster Texas A&M Vizzers work their digital mastery in the long-anticipated, animated martial arts flick “Kung Fu Panda 2” (KFP2). Po, Master Shifu, and the Furious Five return to defend the Valley of Peace and Kung Fu itself against a new and formidable enemy. DreamWorks Animation’s 3-D sequel promises to feed even the biggest visual appetite with extremely detailed and immense landscapes and even more awesome Kung Fu, “skadoosh” action.

To meet these visual feats, DreamWorks and seven former students from the Department of Visualization (Vizzers) at Texas A&M University worked for two years to perfect the awesome world of the Valley of Peace. The complexities added to the visual elements of the film increased due to the 3D elements and the scale of the world in which the heroes kick fur and feathers.

Included in the *credits for “KFP2” are Vizzers:

  • Dave Walvoord: digital effects supervisor
  • John Truong: lead character effects supervisor
  • Lei Han: lighting artist
  • Shaila Haque: technical director
  • Bobby Huebel: lighting technical artist
  • Rodrigo Huerta: animator, cycles
  • Michael Losure: visual effects artist
  • Dave Drell: character technical director
  • Alan Blevins: technical director

Aggies and DreamWorks have worked together on many projects. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks spent time in the Department of Visualization (Viz Lab) at Texas A&M reviewing students’ work and assessing the skills of Vizzers. At that time, former student, Dave Walvoord, also was there to give advice and encouragement to the next generation of Vizzers entering the job market for the digital animation industry.

“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.”

Subsequently, the work produced by Vizzers on “KFP2” reached the lofty standards that make DreamWorks movies so visually stimulating. As a supervising animator, Rodolphe Guenoden said, “This is a much more epic movie than the original was, and in every sense — the background, the vistas, the amount of characters on screen, the emotions on display — it’s visually striking. I think it’s stunning.”

To capture the epic-ness of the Dragon Warrior’s Panda Technique, Vizzers who worked on the film involved a combination of art and science, that they learned at Texas A&M. The Department of Visualization, or “Viz Lab” at Texas A&M, based in the College of Architecture draws on the ever developing technologies in computer science and the inspired talent of artists to produce modern visual arts and entertainment. Vizzers go on to work at DreamWorks Animation to produce such unforgettable films as “KFP2,” and they also go on to be the leading creative talent at Blue Sky, Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, LucasFilm Animation, Reel FX Creative Studios, Walt Disney Animation, Rhythm & Hues, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and they’ve been integral for the summer’s highly-anticipated blockbusters including “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “X-men: First Class,” “Super 8,” “Cars 2” and the recent “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

Aggies will be dotting the credits on the most visually breathtaking films at the box offices this summer. Fans will not be able to tear their eyes away from the screens — which is probably a good thing, otherwise they might miss Po’s most amazing moves and hilarious facial expressions.

For a taste of the movie, check out the trailer at http://www.kungfupanda.com and you’ll be hooked. And to see the future of CGI animation will be, samples of the work currently being produced in the Viz Lab can be seen on the Department of Visualization website, its Vimeo webpage, at iTunes U, and on the Viz Lab Facebook page.

*Based on KFP2 credits published in Internet Movie Database.

posted May 25, 2011