Fifteen years ago, if someone had told Brent Adams that he would be known as the “Walt Disney of BYU,” he would have said that person was dreaming. But that’s exactly what his students call him.
Even before he studied architecture at the University of Utah, Adams was always interested in design. After beginning his career at an architecture firm in Salt Lake City with an innovative computer that specialized in 3-D design, Adams began to love computer visualization. While teaching night classes on design at BYU, he decided to leave architecture for a short time to get his master’s of fine arts degree at the University of Utah.
“I realized there was a limit to how much architecture will use visualization, since it is mostly used for just floor plans,” Adams said. “I decided to get to know computer graphics better and then take what I learned there back into architecture.”
It was during this time that a special projects animation class was created at BYU at the request of several of Adams’s students. Long story made short, Adams never returned to architecture. Today, students in the animation major and students emphasizing in animation in the computer science major complete their projects in the Center for Animation.
Recently, the Center for Animation moved from the College of Engineering to the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences in order to more closely align itself with the Department of Computer Science.
As the program has grown, so has its success. Pixar, Sony, Disney, DreamWorks and Microsoft Games all send experienced personnel to BYU each semester to mentor students, and those students are advancing to exclusive internships and jobs at these and other top studios. Pixar officially mentors only one other program — CalArts, an arts school personally started by Walt Disney.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation,” Adams said. “They mentor our program, which makes us improve, which makes them more interested in us. Most major studios have about a dozen schools they mentor, and luckily we’re on all of [the studios’] lists.”
Gaining the attention of the top studios, winning more awards than any other animation program and receiving an impressive amount of internships have put BYU in its own category for animation programs. The Center for Animation only graduates about 30 students per year, while most animation programs are at private art schools, which can graduate hundreds annually.
Adams claims that another key to the Center for Animation’s success is working together in teams and sharing discoveries with one another.
“The fact is that students here are Relief Society presidents, Elder’s Quorum presidents and returned missionaries, so they just learn that they need to work with each other,” Adams said. “It’s typically not what education is about, but that’s what it is here.”