From the Computer Screen to the Silver Screen

Alumnus who worked on Oscar-nominated film is one of many graduates from Rutgers–Camden animation program finding success in a variety of fields

LiQin Tan, professor and head of the Rutgers–Camden animation program, pictured overseeing students in an animation class, emphasizes both 2D and 3D principles. Photo by Mary Anderson.

By Tom McLaughlin

There were the rough drafts, daily meetings, consultations, and collaborations, not to mention the constant cycle of revisions, deadlines, and who knows how many trips back to the drawing board.

But for Chip Lotierzo, a 2002 graduate of Rutgers University–Camden’s animation program who worked on the film Ferdinand, the years-long production process began, appropriately enough, in a barnyard. “We had some fun visits to farms to study bulls and goats,” he said.

Chip Lotierzo CCAS’02 worked on the film Ferdinand, which was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe in 2018.

Lotierzo served dual roles as an animation supervisor and an animator on the Blue Sky Studios film that brought the classic story of the lovable bull who would rather smell and protect flowers than fight to a new generation of adoring children and adults. Ferdinand earned both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. “It was amazing seeing it for the first time,” Lotierzo said. “It represents the collective work of several hundred artists working together over the course of three to four years toward the same goal. I think anyone involved with such a project would experience both joy and relief, as did I.”

Lotierzo, who grew up in Maple Shade, New Jersey, went on from Rutgers to earn a postgraduate certificate in character animation from Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Canada. A resident of Ossining, New York, he has worked in animation for Blue Sky Studios since 2005, and gives much credit for his success to the time he spent honing his skills in the early days of a then-burgeoning Rutgers–Camden animation program. “I learned a lot about pushing myself to create the best quality of work possible,” he said. “The amazing opportunity to work with other students was likewise a great way to challenge one another and to learn to build good working relationships with other artists.”

Lotierzo headlines a growing list of accomplished alumni of the Rutgers–Camden animation program who are thriving in a wide range of roles in different industries. “Alumni of the program are enjoying success in film and TV, as well as in video game design, architecture, medicine, music, and jewelry-making, among other industries,” said LiQin Tan, professor and head of the animation program. Notable alumni in addition to Lotierzo include Shaun Jennings CCAS’05, who works as technical art director for Ubisoft Toronto, a major video game development company, and Milady Bridges CCAS’08, an animation and visual effects artist who is program director for animation and visual effects at Drexel University. Bridges’ film credits include Jurassic Park 3D, Titanic 3D, and The Avengers.

Starla by Doaa Ouf CCAS’20

Some students currently studying in the Rutgers–Camden program have dreams of following a path to filmmaking. Doaa Ouf, a junior from Egypt working on a dual major in animation and filmmaking, has developed an animated duck character named Starla over the past year. “I would like to work for one of the big film companies and one day be at the Oscars,” she said. “That’s the ultimate dream.”

But there is much more to animation careers than making movies. Madeleine Hogan, a senior from Sicklerville, New Jersey, is not striving to work in movies or video games, but instead wants to take the skills she is learning into fields such as environmental services, medicine, or real estate. “I really like the 3D modeling part of it, as well as environmental design and architectural design,” Hogan said.

The Rutgers–Camden animation program—and the widespread applications of graduates’ expertise—is a reflection of Tan’s personal philosophy that the artistic and technical aspects of animation should be cultivated hand-in-hand. Some college programs, he said, mistakenly believe that artistic skills take sole precedence, leaving students grappling with how to use the technological tools at their disposal. “It is actually the ability to use these technical skills that allows an artist to open their minds to new ideas and visions that they otherwise would not have known were even possible,” he said.

It is an approach that Tan has put into action since arriving on campus in 2000 with the task of reestablishing the program. Tan, who already had considerable experience working and teaching in digital art and animation in China, Canada, and the United States, proceeded to grow Rutgers–Camden’s program from one to five computer labs. He restructured the curriculum to emphasize the need for students to develop their creativity as well as a strong technical foundation. “If you know the technical side, you have new sources, a new methodology, a new tool to inspire and create,” he said. “That can make all the difference in the world.”

Tan likewise instituted his belief that the future of animation is as much about where the mediums are going as where they have been. As a result, Rutgers–Camden students are trained in classical and 3D animation. He said that in addition to still-thriving markets for 2D animation, students who learn classical animation fundamentals can apply them to learning 3D and what he believes is the future of animation: “VR,” shorthand for virtual reality. “For instance, body movement has certain movements and principles that need to be followed,” Tan said. “When students move on to 3D, their brains will naturally still apply these 2D animation principles. That is extremely important.”

In addition to his leadership of the Rutgers–Camden animation program, Tan’s digital artwork has won awards and been exhibited worldwide. In recent years, he has written and published many works, including his latest book, Singularity Art, published last year.

For Lotierzo, the atmosphere that Tan cultivated proved to be the ideal place to express his love for both the technical and artistic aspects of animation, building a solid foundation for the successful career that he enjoys today. “Professor Tan helped me push my work by always challenging my ideas,” Lotierzo said. “He was always very positive and encouraging, but not at the expense of honest and constructive criticism. This was a great thing to be exposed to because, as artists, our work is always being pushed and challenged by other artists in order to elevate our craft.”

Posted in: 2019 Spring, Features

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