An alumnus’s animated career

What do an animated Porsche’s tattoo and a wannabe chef’s nipple have in common?

The answer: Bob Moyer. He designed each graphic while working on the movies Cars and Ratatouille as a character shader for Pixar Animation Studios.

Moyer, who graduated from the university in 2000 with a self-designed degree in computer graphics, returned to the campus last week to give a lecture on Pixar’s movie-making process. About 90 people attended Friday’s event, “A Cast of Simplexity: Characters in Disney Pixar’s Up,” which was sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Studies, the Individual Studies Program and the computer science department.

The following evening, the Alumni Association honored Moyer with a Distinguished Alumnus Award at its 10th annual Alumni Awards Gala.

Clad in a striped polo and khakis, Moyer has the boyish look of an undergrad. A self-described geek, the 30-year-old was always into computer graphics. After seeing Toy Story, which was the first animated feature film created only with computer graphic imagery, Moyer left the theater thinking, “that’s really what I want to do.”

“Part of the joy of that movie is it’s something we all understand,” Moyer said in an interview with The Diamondback. “The idea that there was some group of folks in some magic place in California making movies this way was really exciting.”

That ability to connect is central to Pixar’s stories. For example, a left-out rat has more impact than a outcast person, and the theme of being lost does better metaphorically when told by a fish, Moyer told the audience, alluding to Ratatouille and Finding Nemo, respectively.

Movie ideas come from directors in-house, and each movie takes about seven years to produce.

“We have a complicated pipeline because we have to make everything,” Moyer said. “Every blade of grass, every piece of sky, every wrinkle on the face, every piece of cloth – we have to make it all.”

Pixar calls its design ethos “simplexity,” which is the use of simple graphic shapes to highlight the complexities in objects that bring them to life. Moyer showed the audience basic animations of characters from Up, a new film coming out next month, to illustrate the difficulties in recreating facial movements and clothing.

To Moyer, details are key. While making Cars, he wandered around old trucks photographing rust and chrome.

“I’m very extremely focused on how things look and how things are made,” Moyer said.

In addition to satisfying his hyper-detail oriented mind, Moyer said he loves Pixar’s environment. Toys and drawings line the offices, impromptu mini golf sprouts between cubicles and the staff members range from “people who never touch a computer to those who never get a tan,” Moyer said.

The intersection of art and science has been with Moyer since a young age. Originally from Kettering, Moyer loved the storytelling and imagination of animation and theater.

He entered the university as a computer science major but writing algorithms and programming databases left him craving creativity, he said. So, he switched into a self-created, IVSP computer graphics major, taking computer science, visual art, Honors and Gemstone classes. He later went of to earn a master’s degree in visualization sciences at Texas A&M University in 2003.

Hark Tagunicar, a 2004 alumnus, took time off from his job to attend the lecture, which he found “really educational.”

“A lot of what Bob was saying hit me really deeply,” Tagunicar said. Like Moyer, he has a passion for art and science and dreams of working in computer animation.

Sophomore Mollie Wolfe wants nothing more than to work at Pixar. The studio art major was “ridiculously excited” for Moyer’s lecture, she said. She enjoyed the behind-the-scenes glimpse at what goes into making a CGI film.

“It made someone like me who has a big dream feel a lot better about getting to that position,” Wolfe said.

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