A portrait of college senior Toby Johnson

Graduation Spotlight: Toby Johnson, Visualization

Toby Johnson had no art experience as he entered the visualization program at Texas A&M University. But he did have a love of movies, fostered by his father, an amateur filmmaker.

“I grew up loving that world,” he said.

Now Johnson will walk the stage at Reed Arena Dec. 16 as one of the first graduates of the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts, with a portfolio full of feature animation for movies.

Johnson found his niche in lighting and compositing.

“Once I figured out that lighting was a nice mixture of tech and animation — a lot of problem-solving but also getting to use light in a very artistic way — that was very appealing to me,” he said. “I felt like I had an eye for it, so I focused on that.”

Johnson will move on to an internship for DreamWorks Animation. He has been mentored by Dave Walvoord, who earned a master’s degree in the visualization program and is now visual effects supervisor at DreamWorks.

As part of the program’s summer industry course, Johnson helped to create an animated short with the mentorship of Walvoord and other DreamWorks artists.

“It was by far the most meaningful animation project I’ve worked on, because I got immediate feedback and experience from mentors in the industry, and I got to work side by side with like-minded students,” he said.

Johnson has also worked for “The Hive” as a student technician, helping others in the program with equipment, setting up the Viz Fall Show and other “jack-of-all-trade” tasks, he said. He credits the program’s culture of students collaborating and helping each other.

“You’re helping them, they’re helping you,” he said. “I’m not a great classroom learner. I’m OK, but I’ve learned the most just by talking with people. Viz is great for that, especially when you get in your specific tracks. Whenever you specialize in specific things, you don’t want to just do that, or you have questions about other stuff. That’s when someone else who is interested in another aspect of animation knows more than you. And so it works out to be super communicative, which I think is great.”

That spirit of collaboration is now a part of the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts, and Johnson said he is eager to see that evolve.

“It’s exciting to know they’ll be able to work more hand-in-hand,” he said. “I’ve always thought that, for example, I wish Viz would work a lot more with the people who do sound production in performance studies. I think that would be a much cooler thing to help grow the arts scene at A&M. I’m excited to be one of the first people to have that on my diploma. It’ll be cool.”

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