Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CU, TAM grad living a dream at Dreamworks

Jacob Melvin, a University of Colorado computer science and ATLAS Technology, Arts and Media (TAM) graduate, is living his dream -- as a technical director at DreamWorks Animation, where he has worked on animation projects such as "Kung Fu Panda" and "How to Train Your Dragon."
In his job, he coordinates the work of various animators, making sure that things go smoothly. He might even write some code to fix a problem.
Melvin worked hard to get where he is, but "I was never the ideal college student," he told a group of high school students participating in the ATLAS DigitalCUrrents three-week summer workshop. The DigitalCUrrents students are working on a documentary on the 100th anniversary of their school, North High School, in Denver.
And while Melvin's grades weren't the best, his interest in graphics, animation, gaming and programming produced impressive projects -- polished enough to attract the attention of Dreamworks during a National Society of Black Engineers’ career fair in 2007.
But he almost missed his big chance.
Melvin said he walked by a booth at the fair and got interested in reading a brochure about Shrek. While he was standing there reading, the man at the booth asked him some questions. After a while, Melvin said it finally dawned on him that the man was interviewing him. That chat led to more interviews with Dreamworks employees and a job offer within a week.
One of the projects Melvin showed Dreamworks was his senior computer science project, which involved designing software that could convert a picture of a person into comic book art.
Melvin said his project made a difference. "Not all majors require a project like that," he said, so he had an advantage over others competing for a Dreamworks job.
Melvin also encouraged the DigitalCUrrents students to seek internships, both for building a resume and finding out what they want to do. While at CU, Melvin had an internship making games for a software development company.
But "I learned I'd rather play them than make them," and that his true passion was in animation. That's where the TAM courses came in. TAM "got me to see how I could use computer science" for animation and graphics using software such as Flash. He also took community college courses on animation.
Melvin also participated in several CU programs, including a pre-college academic bootcamp called Summer Bridge; the Multicultural Engineering Program; and the National Society of Black Engineers, and he was able to obtain some scholarships. He also worked as a TA for a course.
He said he is very pleased he is able to work at a job where he loves what he does.
"When you love what you're doing, you never look at the clock," he said.

For more information about Melvin and his work, follow these links:

IEEE Spectrum: Dream Jobs 2010: Jacob Melvin
Daily Camera article: Behind-the-animation-scenes: CU grad inspires teenagers
The Black Scholars Index
How to Train Your Dragon Official Trailer
Kung Fu Panda

Bruce Henderson is director of communications at the ATLAS Institute. He worked as a newspaper reporter, photographer and editor for 20 years before becoming an associate professor of journalism at CU, where he taught journalism and new media publishing for a decade.

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