‘Toy Story 4’ brought to life by former viz contributors

Sixteen former Texas A&M visualization students helped bring back to life some of cinema’s most beloved characters in Toy Story 4, the latest installment in the hit animated movie series, which opens Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Contributing a wide range of talents to the movie, the Pixar vizzers worked in shading, lighting, rendering, rigging and other specialized roles combining computer science know-how with artistic talent — skills initially honed as students at Texas A&M’s Visualization Laboratory.

The movie is already earning widespread critical praise.

“’Toy Story 4’ delivers a cinematic grand slam, a nine-years-later sequel that's wholly equal to the high expectations raised by the terrific trio that it follows,” said CNN critic Brian Lowry. “Touching, raucously funny, adventurous and yes, even profound, Pixar's signature property once again touches them all.”

In a nod to the movie’s animation excellence, Richard Roper of the Chicago Sun-Times noted how routinely the studio’s artists create breathtaking visuals.

“We were about halfway through the adventure when a relatively simple establishing shot nearly took my breath away,” said Roper. “In the larger story, it was nothing — just a few seconds of visuals, introducing us to a stretch of main street in a resort/vacation town. But my goodness, the attention to detail, from the shadows to the hint of a breeze gently moving the foliage to the natural wood grains. We’ve seen this kind of beauty from the Pixar animation geniuses for the better part of three decades now, but it’s still something to behold on the big screen.”

Former viz students who helped realize what promises to be the latest Pixar smash hit include:

  • Jean-Claude Kalache  - director of photography: lighting
  • Jesse Weglein - interim lighting lead technical director
  • Austin Goddard - art production coordinator
  • Patrick James - technical director
  • Robert Graf  - technical director
  • Chris Chapman - technical director
  • Gary Bruins - effects supervisor
  • David Verona - rendering technical director
  • Laura Murphy
  • Don Bui
  • Bob Moyer
  • Sajan Skaria
  • Kevin Singleton
  • Seth Freeman
  • Jon Reisch
  • Jonathan Kiker

Since 1989, the visualization program at Texas A&M has provided a steady stream of aspirants for the burgeoning field of digital and electronic visualization. Over the years, many of the world’s most celebrated animation and special effects studios have partnered with the program, providing scholarships, academic advice and regularly supplying visiting industry professionals who work with students on special projects.

This summer, pros from Disney Animation Studios are working with graduate vizzers to create animated film shorts as part of the department’s annual summer industry course. Previous summer courses have featured tutelage from industry professionals at Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic, DreamWorks, and others.

Visualization graduates have achieved success as creative directors, computer animators, university professors and software designers, with many working in the animation, visual effects and electronic gaming industries.

Now nearing its 30th anniversary, the Texas A&M visualization program offers two Master of Visualization degrees, one in science and one in fine arts, as well as an undergraduate degree, the Bachelor of Science in Visualization. The programs are administered by the Department of Visualization in the Texas A&M College of Architecture.

The department nurtures a unique studio environment combining academic rigor with creativity, fun, camaraderie and collaborative problem solving.

Richard Nira

rnira@arch.tamu.edu

posted June 19, 2019