SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Shrek 2, the much anticipated sequel to the mega-blockbuster Academy Award-winning movie, hit theatres this week, and while audiences don’t always stick around for the closing credits, family and friends of Jason Waltman, a 2001 graduate of Wittenberg University and Zanesville native, might agree that the film saved the best for last.
Waltman, a computer science major and double minor in art and mathematics while at Wittenberg, works as an FX developer with PDI/DreamWorks, which produced both Shrek movies. This time everyone’s favorite ogre must face his greatest challenge of all – the in-laws – as the fairy tale continues in Shrek 2.
Waltman’s work on the film can be considered ‘behind the fairy tale,’ as his skill, according to producers, entails some of the most important technological breakthroughs. Audiences across the country will see Waltman’s artistry and technical wizardry in scenes that feature special effects such as steam rising from a mug, dust being kicked up as the characters walk, something catching on fire and a computer-generated rainfall.
During a visit to Wittenberg last fall as part of Alumni Careers Day, Waltman shared with students and faculty how he was currently mastering the art of working with hair. The Shrek 2 Web site states that animators became “virtual hair stylists.”
“It’s amazing how much time and effort goes into learning the properties of curly, straight, long, short, wet and dry hair – and mastering how to make what we create look realistic,” Waltman said. “Then to give it movement, and show the way light bounces off of it, that brings about an entirely new set of challenges.”
For Waltman, challenges allow him to continue learning. “I’m finding that even after spending four years at Wittenberg and two at the University of Utah, I’m still learning,” Waltman said, adding that his typical 10-hour day at PDI/DreamWorks provides “the perfect job” for him.
“The thing that I’m most happy about in my job is that I’m able to be a computer programmer but still call myself an artist; my job is just as visual as it is scientific,” he said.
Waltman pursued his interests with vigor at Wittenberg, studying everything from photography and algorithms to software development. That focus has since translated into a creative career at one of the top film production companies in the country.
While on campus, he told students “how amazing and great it is to be back on this campus. Wittenberg is definitely someplace special, and believe me, you don’t realize it as much until you leave. You should be really happy and proud to be here because the programs offered and the people teaching them are really good,” he continued.
Waltman also suggested that students find other interests and combine them with art or focus on something else and let art compliment that.
“I saw attaching art to computer science as a selling point in marketing myself, and I used it to get into grad school and land my present job with PDI/DreamWorks,” he said.
He also discussed his typical work day, noting that producing one frame in computer-animated movies can take as long as seven hours. Fortunately, the company provides employees with breakfast and lunch.
“Another perk is that we do get a bonus contingent on how well the movie does,” Waltman added.
Another bonus might be job satisfaction. “When you get to involve two primary interests and know that at the end of the day you’re helping to make a movie that will be shown around the world, well, it feels pretty good,” Waltman said.
In addition to working on Shark Tale, another PDI/Dreamworks production set for release in October, Waltman is also involved with Madagascar, scheduled to hit the big screen in the summer of 2005.