Wilkes prof learns special effects from Sony

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First Posted: 9/30/2013

Eric Ruggiero, an associate professor and chair of the Integrative Media Department at Wilkes University, was impressed with the complexity and sophistication of animation and special effects he saw created at Sony Pictures during the summer.

Ruggiero, 53, was one of four people from universities in the United States and in France who spent time at Sony’s Imageworks under the IPAX Faculty Fellowship Program. He spent six weeks in June and July at the Culver City, Calif., studios, not only witnessing the magic of the high-tech work done by hundreds of production specialists but making more contacts to help his students land internships and jobs.

IPAX stands for Imageworks Professional Academic Excellence Program, a venture under three divisions of Sony Pictures: Imageworks, Animation, and Interactive.

Ruggiero said he witnessed special effects work done on upcoming releases such as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” which hit the big screen last week, “The Amazing Spiderman 2,” “Smurfs 2,” and “Hotel Transylvania.”

He learned about new software and how the production team worked on 3D modeling and with computer graphics to create cinematic special effects.

They were hired like any other employees and issued ID badges to get through security and assigned parking spaces. The studio had learned the fellowship participants’ areas of interest and set up interviews with professionals in those areas.

“My area was mostly compact multi-layering of images to form a final product,” said Ruggiero, who also does computer graphics work on the side. “It’s technical, and it’s artistic. That’s always been my specialty.”

He said the experience provided him with firsthand exposure to movie-making.

When moviegoers see a film, he said, they are there for suspension of belief.

“If the production people do their jobs, it’s seamless.”

He was impressed with the organization of labor in the production of special effects and graphics and said hundreds of people are part of the rigid “pipeline process” from beginning to end of production work. The same workers he saw when he went in at 8 a.m. each day were still there working at 6 or 6:30 p.m. when he left, he said.

He worked hard, too.

“My head was ready to explode,” Ruggiero said, adding that he had 93 pages of notes. “We would have lessons to complete.”

He was chosen for the fellowship after submitting essays and samples of student and department work.