UW Stout Graduates Prepare Millions of …
Four UW Stout alumni at DreamWorks Animation Studios helped create some of the most iconic animated films and shows in the world in sunny Glendale, California – or away from their homes in the Hollywood Hills.
the School of Art and Design “Dream Team”, as Game design and development art Program Director Andrew Williams names them Chris Grun (who graduated in Graphic Design in 1995), Benjamin Pease (who graduated in Game Design Development Art in 2015), Margaret Rigotti (who graduated in Game Design Development Art in 2018) and Hue Vang (who Graduated with a master’s degree in design in 2018).
“These were some of the most dedicated, talented, and hardworking students in their cohorts,” said Williams. “It’s been a pleasure working with them and we’re incredibly proud to see their names in the credits of so many DreamWorks projects.”
FALL INTO THE DREAM
As the animation field grew in the early 1990s, studios produced multi-million dollar box office hits like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The nightmare before Christmas and Whisper of the heart, Graphic designers were in demand and Chris Grun wanted to be there.
Growing up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Grun drew X-Wing Starfighter and Stormtrooper after seeing war of stars In the theatre. He attended Minneapolis College of Arts and Design for a year but needed something more affordable. He’d heard about UW-Stout and how it was considered one of the best art schools in the Midwest, so he switched to the graphic design program.
During his studies, Grun spent two summers at Sheridan College International School of Animation near Toronto. The experience promoted his drawing skills. “It opened my eyes to what was possible in the conversation,” he said. “Animation was booming in those years and there were plenty of jobs across the country.”
The director and the set designer gave me a lot of leeway to fulfill my role as I saw fit. It really gave me the space to creatively stretch my wings in the studio.
Grun, who received an Outstanding Alumni Award in 2016, enjoyed the camaraderie with other artists at UW-Stout – an experience he did not have at the other schools. His ability to make lifelong friends would serve him well, and he was hired soon after graduating. Unfortunately, the entertainment companies he worked for early in his career went bankrupt.
“It’s a part of the industry that you don’t really talk about in school,” he said. Keeping in touch with your school and work friends is the best way to hold a lifeline when the going gets tough. These are the people who can lead you to another job or another industry. “
Grun joined DreamWorks in 2013 as a Matte Painter, creating environments like Capitol City in The hunger Games and computer generated dinosaurs in Land of the Lost. As Head of Locations, he now moderates communication, environments and props through the studio departments. His favorite project so far is The Boss Baby: family business, released last June.
“The director and the production designer gave me a lot of leeway to play my part as I saw fit,” he said. “It really gave me the space to develop my grand piano creatively in the studio.”
With so many box office hits, Grun thinks what makes DreamWorks so special is its sense of humor. Even during a pandemic, his cinematic productions helped people feel connected. “That always helps in times of need,” he said. “Nothing like a good belly laugh to lift the mood.”
NO TWO DAYS ARE THE SAME
Benjamin Pease and his siblings loved Aardman Animations’ work, like that Wallace and Gromit Shorts that inspired them to try their hand at stop motion animation. While looking for colleges, his interest led him to UW-Stouts Game Design Development Art Program, where he focused on arts and computer science as a minor.
Upon graduation, Pease – from Rochester, Minnesota – focused on finding an artistic career in the game industry. But when a friend from high school reached out to tell him that DreamWorks was closing, he applied for a position as technical director to help artists develop and update tools and troubleshooting software.
“I like that no two days are the same,” said Pease. âWhile we encounter some repetitive tasks or programming problems, most days bring us new tasks. Involving employees in discussions is helpful for both motivation and inspiration. “
A FLASH OF INSPIRATION
In 2013 Margaret Rigotti and Hue Vang were looking for a good game design program. When UW-Stout was named co-champion at the E3 College Games Competition for the game developed by students Shock frozen, they knew exactly where to graduate.
Rigotti from Sheboygan and Vang from Two Rivers both graduated in 2018. Growing up only 40 miles apart, they soon joined the DreamWorks team in Glendale.
Vang grew up appreciating the work of comic book artist Jim Lee and filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Mokoto Shinkai. He developed his own animation, comics and games to develop his 2D and 3D art skills and dreamed of working on animated feature films.
“I really like Shinkai’s personal story,” said Vang. âAfter watching his animated films, I followed his steps to move from an everyday job to my dream of being a professional artist. The challenge was to implement the plan to achieve my goals, because life is unpredictable. “
“I liked the stories and the characters, but I was also interested in how computer animation worked. Then I realized that making these films was someone’s job and it sounded pretty funny.”
At the presentation of his capstone game Everend In the SOAD seniors show, Vang had one of those unpredictable moments that started his career. He met Grun, who contacted Vang when DreamWorks was looking for a matte painter, and his dream of becoming a professional artist came true.
As a Matte Painter, he creates 2D assets like sky, clouds, mountains, rocks and vegetation in movies like The Croods: A New Age and Ghost riding free. He also has Barb’s card in. created World tour of the trolls.
â3D animation is a digitally and financially expensive process,â he said. “Instead of rendering the entire environment in 3D, areas are created that extend into the background to match the artistic style and overall feel of the sequence.”
Rigotti’s introduction to DreamWorks was similar to Vang’s. Former SOAD director Dave Beck put her in touch with Pease and they discussed an open position as technical director.
She grew up watching DreamWorks films such as How to train your dragon and had in the back of my mind how great it would be to work there. “I liked the stories and the characters, but I was also interested in how computer animation worked,” she said.