Pixar’s latest installment of the Toy Story series had the help of 16 former students who developed their experience at Texas A&M’s Visualization Lab.
Toy Story 4 currently tops the box office with $650 million around the globe, and Aggies played an important part in the film’s success.
The Aggies who helped in the making of the Pixar film’s fourth installment include Jean-Claude Kalache, Jesse Weglein, Austin Goddard, Patrick James, Robert Graf, Chris Chapman, Gary Bruins, David Verona, Laura Murphy, Don Bui, Bob Moyer, Sajan Skaria, Kevin Singleton, Seth Freeman, Jon Reisch and Jonathan Kiker. The former students held various roles in the movie, from director of photography to effects supervisor and technical director.
Department of Visualization Associate Professor Ann McNamara said the Visualization program at A&M offers a collaborative and interdisciplinary program for students.
“What’s interesting about the Aggies who helped in the making of this movie is a lot of them have very specific leadership roles and supervisor roles,” McNamara said. “I think what’s interesting about our program is that it allows you to specialize into those roles. It’s really easy for them to take their skills and hone them in one specific area.”
McNamara said she believes both being a Viz student and an Aggie gives students the skills they need to go out into the world.
“One of the things we do here at Texas A&M in the Visualization program, is we have the technical and the creative in the same department,” McNamara said. “I think one of the major skills that they are able to pick up here is creative problem solving.”
The Visualization program also offers a summer industry course that partners with a big studios such as Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and Reel FX.
“It’s a 10 week course, students work in teams and they have a faculty advisor,” McNamara said. “The studio will send artists to work on the ground with students in the Visualization department, they work hands on to create 30 second animations in 10 weeks. It really emulates a production environment and I think that’s really helpful when they move into their careers.”
Department of Visualization Associate Professor and Director, Tim Mclaughlin said the movie making process has a lot of different roles that people play from early on, including story development and visual elements.
“One of the beautiful things about Toy Story 4 is just the richness of the materials and the lighting, the environment, the sky, grass and the objects,” Mclaughlin said. “If you look at the objects they interact with, every object appears to have had a history — there’s weathering and age and paint.”
Mclaughlin said incorporating creative artistic ability with technical skills is what got these Aggies the important position they have in the Toy Story franchise.
“It requires the ability to look at the world around you and convert it into computer graphics,” Mclaughlin said. “And, maybe that’s one of the biggest things our students learn here - how to collaborate with a big team and being able to observe the world and turn that into art with a computer.”