Westmont Magazine An Animated Career
When he became a computer animator, Matt Baer ’93 was surprised to use sines and cosines to make a tornado. “I bought back all the physics and calculus books I used in school,” he says. “I never thought I’d need them for my work.”
Matt began Westmont as a physics major and graduated with a degree in economics and business and a minor in art. Determined to make a living being creative, he saved his money and developed a demo reel for Wavefront Technologies. His persistent application to the Santa Barbara software company paid off when they offered him a three-month internship and then a full-time job. He started at the bottom in tech support answering phones, but Wavefront paid for him to take programming classes and encouraged him to learn on the job. In time, Matt was teaching training sessions, solving technical problems and mastering the basics of computer animation and computer graphics.
His real goal was to work on an animated movie — something his two children and grandparents could see — so he moonlighted with Santa Barbara Studios to get some film experience. He left Wavefront in 1998 for Tippett Studios, moving to Berkeley to learn from the animator who created many Star Wars creatures. A year later he took a job with PDI, now part of DreamWorks. For 12 years, he has worked on several feature films, including “Shrek,”“Madagascar” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” Internet Movie Database lists his credits.
As an effects animator for “Shrek,” Matt designed clothing for the characters; on Shrek 2 he worked on a variety of effects ranging from dust to fire to magic. For “How to Train Your Dragon” he was head of effects, managing 50 artists who produced oceans, clouds, trees, fire and the destruction of mountains. “With a team that big, you become a coach, helping them work together efficiently and solving problems to improve the look of the film,” he says.
“In every show, I want to create a visual effect I’ve never done before,” Matt says. “It’s a game of leap frog, with all the studios seeking to push the envelope. I want to make amazing images and inspire others to do the same. For example, I created fire for all the Shrek films, but it was a new invention each time, especially for the fire-breathing dragons. I want to keep learning — there is always something new. It’s fun to be involved in innovation.”
Matt’s mother, Kathy White Baer ’65, and his aunt, Carolyn White Dale, ’65, went to Westmont as did his wife, Sarah Greene Baer ’95, and his sister, Marlene Baer Heckert ’95. “Playing tennis in college taught me how to manage time and priorities,” Matt says. “I had a small window for homework, so I had to be efficient and organize my time. That has helped me professionally — sometimes I feel like a short-order cook with lots of things in the oven.”
On the weekends, Matt likes to cook and garden at home and spend time outdoors with his family, hiking, playing tennis, snowboarding and going to the beach — anything that doesn’t involve computers. The Baers attend Mosaic Church in Pasadena, Calif.
Matt often thinks about the most effective way to live out his faith at work. “I try to be compassionate and do what is best for each individual,” he says. “I want to end up with a better team, with people who are motivated and charged up to create amazing images.”