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Engineering: True Hollywood Story

Allen Hemberger’s dual major (computer engineering and art design) prepared him to be able to translate natural phenomena into mathematics and write software programs that could generate a sequence of images resembling the “real thing.” In addition to working on Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, The Lady Killers, Catwoman, and X-Men: The Last Stand, Hemberger was part of the Oscar-winning visual effects team for King Kong.

After sitting spellbound for two hours in a crowded theater as amazing special effects flash across the screen bringing fantastic stories to life, how many people leave the building saying, “Wow, did you see the engineering in that movie?” The truth is that without engineering — or at least without one Notre Dame engineer — the special effects audiences loved in some recent high-profile movies may have looked a little less fantastic than they did.

Allen Hemberger, who graduated in 2001 with a dual major in computer engineering and art design, began his career in computer animation at Big Idea, Inc., in Chicago, the company responsible for VeggieTales. After that, he moved to San Francisco to work at ESC Entertainment on the Matrix films, Catwoman, and The Ladykillers. He then took a short break from the special effects business to teach courses in visual effects at the University. “Actually, I was laid off,” says Hemberger. “It’s the nature of the industry, one of those not-so-fun parts of the job, because you are usually hired ‘per project.’ After a few years working in the business, you end up with friends all over the globe at every studio in the world. Then when a given project ends, you e-mail your buddies and make your next move.”

Most recently, Hemberger finished work as technical director on Eragon, which was released late last year, and will soon begin working as technical director on the film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

He was on campus in December 2006 to present a talk to students titled “Superheroes Need Pants: Adventures in Visual Effects for Film,” during which he discussed some of the effects he has produced and how his dual background in engineering and art helped him accomplish them.