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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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ESSENCE: Attaining an ambition

Arts+criticism+writer%2C+Sameeksha+Sharma%2C+interviews+Anna+Keniston%2C+a+graduate+visualization+student%2C+on+leveraging+prior+work+experiences+to+achieve+a+long+awaited+ambition.
Graphic courtesy of Anna Keniston

Arts criticism writer, Sameeksha Sharma, interviews Anna Keniston, a graduate visualization student, on leveraging prior work experiences to achieve a long awaited ambition.

Every job leads to the next. This message often gets lost under the constant echoes of perfectionism but art is a journey of striving. Some of the most prominent artists had to strategically work jobs that weren’t ideal. However, those formative work experiences became the platform that helped several artists build to the roles they aspired to.

Anna Keniston, a graduate visualization student at Texas A&M, seized the opportunity to be a training intern at Dreamworks this summer before returning to them just a few months later. There, she was a looks development intern and defined the color, lighting and texture for various animated assets.. What began as a job in data entry led Keniston to gain the exposure and mentorship to become one of the few handpicked artists that got to work on major feature Dreamworks animation movies like Madagascar and Shrek.

“The summer of 2022 I worked in the College of Engineering and that allowed me to be a training intern,” Keniston said. “At the time, I was only able to qualify for the training internship and took the database entry job with Dreamworks. It wasn’t exactly what I was interested in but I knew that it would take me close to the people and the job I eventually wanted.”

Keniston joined Dreamworks as one of 37 interns that got the opportunity to learn from working professionals at the animation studio in Glendale, California. Throughout her internship, she said she went out of her way to gather skills beyond her role as a training intern.

“Once I was there, I began finding ways to learn relevant skills for becoming a looks animator,” Keniston said. “I would watch videos and take in person classes that Dreamworks used to train interns on their proprietary software. So I went out of my way to learn skills that would help me grow as a looks artist while working as a training intern.”

By applying herself to the responsibilities of her role and taking on the initiative to learn new techniques, Keniston said she forged strong relationships with the Dreamworks team.

“Eventually, I made connections with people on the looks development team and got to work on an asset,” Keniston said. “This was exactly what I wanted to be working on and it was a dream come true.”

After Keniston returned to A&M for the Fall semester, she said she received a call from Dreamworks offering her the looks development internship that she had been aiming for all along. Dreamworks had extended Keniston an offer as soon as a looks development internship had become available, she said.

“So I will be flying out to California in the next couple of days to go and work with Dreamworks on an actual animated movie,” Keniston said. “I will get my own assets to follow. This includes painting in 3D space to decide an object’s color, roughness and texture.”

Keniston said every line and color in an animation movie is purposefully chosen and carefully designed by a team of artists. Keniston said it is a great responsibility to make artistic choices for major feature animation movies that are watched by millions of people across the globe.

“From my understanding, there are a total of 300 people at the studio, out of which about 30 people are look development artists,” Keniston said. “This means that only 30 people in the world choose every color in all Dreamworks movies.”

Keniston said she was initially shocked and even intimidated by the small team sizes at Dreamworks. Watching just a handful of artists creating the looks, lighting and texture of all assets in a movie made Keniston question her odds of making it on the team, she said.

“I’m so psyched that I got selected for the looks development role,” Keniston said. “My day-to-day role will be trying to match concept design to animation models by adding looks through color, lighting and texture. The last look development artist worked on a swirl of jellyfish in the new Ruby Gilman movie so I’m really looking forward to learning more about my projects.”

Keniston said she feels especially grateful for her group animation projects at A&M and Megan Walker, Class of 2009, currently working at Meta, who has been mentoring Keniston on becoming a full-time looks development artist.

“I ended up at A&M because of Aggie football,” Keniston said. “From when I was much younger, I wanted to be a storyboard artist. I originally wanted to draw and go to [Savannah College of Art and Design] which is an art school in Massachusetts. Before I made that decision, my parents took me to an Aggie football game and that changed my career path.

“As for animation, I’ve always loved animated movies. Dreamworks, Disney and Pixar had a hold on me as a child. When I discovered the gem of visualization, I realized that I could become one of the people that makes these movies as hypnotizing as they are. That made me instantly commit to animation,” Keniston said.

Keniston said she is excited to begin work and let her art speak for itself. She wants to work on a variety of assets and eventually create the looks for a main character in an animation movie.

“My next dream is to make this internship stick and in the long run I want to see myself becoming a lead look development artist,” Keniston said. “I think that would be really cool and it will give me the opportunity to help other Aggies that are looking for mentorship, just like [Walker] graciously offered me.”

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