Drury Animation Students Learn from Leading Industry Professionals

Students in Drury’s animation program can be confident that the skills and techniques they learn will prepare them for the real world of professional animation.

How? Because they’re learning directly from current, leading professionals in the field.

One example: Drury adjunct professor Matt Sandoval. In February, Sandoval was co-recipient of the award for Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project at the 17th Annual Visual Effects Society Awards. Sandoval and the team he led were nominated for their work on the massive, rolling city of London in Peter Jackson’s 2018 film “Mortal Engines,” winning against competitors like “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Incredibles 2.”  

“Regarding the award, I cannot iterate enough how proud I am of the team, from production to artists,” Sandoval says. “It was an incredible experience.”

Additionally, Sandoval has previously worked on such high-profile films as “Black Panther,” “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” and the upcoming sequel to James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

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The Cutting Edge

“Learning from professionals does a couple of things for students,” says Steven Carpenter, a Drury animation professor with his own background in the industry. Carpenter is a past award-winner himself, having received a 2003 Emmy Award for his visual effects work on “Children of Dune.”

“Obviously, because our instructors are working professionals, they are very up-to-date,” Carpenter says. “And that’s one thing that is sometimes hard to do in a university setting, to stay current.”

Third-year Drury animation student Sylas Feemster affirms this.

“Last year, with Josh Evans I learned a lot of industry-grade programs, programs that they actually use for movies and for advanced modeling,” Feemster says. Evans, a past Drury adjunct, is another professional animator whose recent projects include films like “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Hotel Transylvania 3.”

“With Matt, we are learning Maya,” Feemster adds. “Maya is the most important single program for 3D animation. It combines creating the models, animating the models, the lighting, and almost every professional studio uses it. It’s the real deal.”

Hands-on Experience

Additionally, Drury professors provide students with authentic, real-world opportunities of their own. For example, one group of students recently completed a client-based project for Legacy Bank and Trust in Springfield.

“Management of the bank gave the students a vision of what makes us unique along with an idea of what we were hoping to communicate,” explains Legacy CEO John Everett, a DU alumnus himself. “The students were able to turn it into several short videos that the bank used as part of a digital advertising campaign on our signage.”

Over the course of the project, students communicated with Everett and other bank executives, receiving personal feedback to refine their final product before it went on display for the city to see. In this way, the project gave students experience with what Carpenter considers a critical aspect of being a professional animator – working with real clients and deadlines.

The Next Evolution

Of course, there are still challenges, as student Tannah Gensil is quick to point out.

“Going into the animation field, things are always evolving and always changing,” Gensil says. “Disney is now coming out and doing all of this live-action stuff, which had been done but they are really upping the game with it. And so I feel as prepared as I can be with the classes I’ve been taking. But you never know what is going to come out next month and change the ballgame again.”

Fortunately, no one knows this more than Drury professors, and they bring their wisdom from the front lines to help guide students.

“The programs I was taught when I originally started have changed so much,” Sandoval acknowledges. “I’m constantly learning and constantly evolving. I think the biggest piece of advice is just don’t give up on that. Always keep pushing yourself, always keep networking, always look at that one last tutorial video online. Try to give your work that extra five percent.”

Story by Bryan Haynes, marketing and communications graduate assistant.