Allen Hemberger - B.S., CSE ’01
Behind the Scenes
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 —at least without one Notre Dame engineer — the special effects that audiences have loved in some high-profile movies may have looked a little less fantastic than they did.
According to Allen Hemberger, creating images resembling “real life” is difficult because the human eye is extremely sensitive to computer-generated images that look fake. “In addition to the technical aspects of creating believable visual effects, the pace of my job is pretty high-octane, but the work is worth it as I have been able to grow into managerial roles.”
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, X-Men: The Last Stand, and King Kong, Hemberger was part of the visual effects team for Eragon and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Hemberger 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,” he says. “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 worked on the 2009 science fiction hit Avatar.
Hemberger believes his experience at Notre Dame and his willingness to work hard are key to his success. “Because my engineering and art advisers worked closely with me to design a curriculum incorporating both of my interests, I ended up with two majors and a rich blend of technical and artistic skills that are vital to the business I’m in.” He has also had several opportunities to teach visual effects courses at Notre Dame and elsewhere. “It’s always great to share what you know and get someone else excited about what you love to do.”