Aylwin Villanueva

B.S. Informatics and B.S. Art, 2010

Why did you choose this major?

I knew I wanted a career in entertainment technology, but was more leaning towards games at the time. I wasn’t sure what scope yet so I attended a presentation of the different ICS degrees. The people aspect of Informatics completely was the ultimate factor. Technology is prevalent and is spread throughout every part of our lives now that I wanted to explore how can I use technology to have an effect on other people, whether be it games, television, software, music, health, etc.

What has been your career path since graduating with your B.S.?

Right after graduation, I was offered a position at Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects branch of Lucasfilm. Every year has been a challenge, and I also learn an incredible amount from our engineers, artists, and supervisors. I was a technical director for Strange Magic, Lucasfilm’s first animated feature film, and am currently working on Star Wars Episode VII.

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

Besides constantly learning, I love being the bridge between artists and engineers/technology. I really enjoy hearing and analyzing a problem or a workflow that I can help with. It’s amazing to see the artists use their skills to create something visually stunning. My creativity is taking what I know, in terms of ILM’s (Industrial Light and Magic) pipeline, workflow, tools, and technology, and using that to create something new that will help solve a problem, or improve on an existing tool.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I tend to jump around from tool maintenance/bug fixing that are currently being used in production, and continuing my work on new types of technology needed by supervisors and department artists. Over the years I’ve developed a lot of tools used in different production teams that I’m not in, but I need to address show stoppers for that team to continue. Between juggling support and development, I also have to be flexible with my priorities as I don’t drive the production schedule as to which movie sequences need to be delivered first. Most of the time, every sequence introduces a new challenge to solve — like how can we create such a detailed massive environment, a forest, planet, spaceship, etc., but still be efficient in delivering it down the pipeline for animators and lighting artists, and how can we build one quickly?

6. What was the best part of your experience at UCI? In what ways did your studies at UCI prepare you for your career to date?

Learning different programming languages and pragmatics. The experience using different languages helped when I graduated as I had to learn fast as I had to code in Python, which I didn’t use till my senior year. Sometimes I also have to dig into some C++ code, I’m not an expert in it but having a bit of knowledge helps to debug. I also liked having a wide spread of projects, from small scale — programming an Android phone, to a large scale project – Google App automated unit test suite. Working on the large scale projects, helped give a bit of professional experience before entering that ‘real’ world. I also remember doing a lot of cognitive walkthroughs in my senior year, and while I thought it was repetitive and boring at the time….it’s exactly what I do from time to time now when I collaborate with artists and in my head when I have to develop a tool UI that makes sense, and flows smoothly with their workflow.

What would be your advice to incoming students who might want to follow a similar career path?

Don’t pigeon hole yourself to what you are comfortable or good in. Learn a different programming language, take a quarter/class to try network programming or design interfaces, or take a class not related to technology; be open to opportunities that come along. Ironically, the worst grade I ever got in ICS was a computer graphics course. And I was hell bent on entering the games industry up to my junior year till I was given an unexpected opportunity to explore animation. When I work with creature technical directors, even things I learned all the way back from high school physiology are useful! And in terms of programming/classwork/work advice? If you’re stuck with a problem for a very long time, take a break and come back to it later. That always works. Yeah, that’s right you put a = instead of a ==!


“I love being the bridge between artists and engineers/technology.”