CCAD grad and visual effects guru returns home to help train the next generation of animators

Steve Hubbard is back home after spending the past eight years working on visual effects teams for a bunch of big-time films, including “Captain America: Civil War,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Life of Pi,” for which his team earned an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

It was exactly the kind of work Hubbard intended to do when he packed up and drove out to Los Angeles after graduating from CCAD in 2010. The Reynoldsburg native has always been interested in film. “Back in high school I spent my lunch periods editing film and working in the computer lab, which, back then, wasn't so much a computer lab as where they kept the computer,” Hubbard said.

Additionally self-taught in graphic design, 3-D animation and more, Hubbard put those skills to work in a variety of positions in the city, including directing commercials and working as an associate art director for ABC6/Fox 28. But he needed a degree to open himself up to greater professional opportunities, and he wanted the kind of rigorous artistic training he knew he would get at CCAD.

After graduation, Hubbard landed a gig at vanguard animation and effects firm Rhythm & Hues Studios and spent the next few years working on dream projects.

“I knew, when I was working on ‘Alien: Covenant' and I got to model the space jockey chair that was in the original ‘Alien' movie, that this was going to be a career highlight,” Hubbard said.

He was also moving every year, often from one country to another, and getting a first-person education on the film industry in transition. With opportunities expanding to work in film in emerging, nontraditional markets, and given that he was teaching remotely for CCAD for the past couple of years, coming home hardly meant stepping out of the VFX field.

“This is where it's going. We're on the edge of something new in the industry, and we're doing it at [Ohio Film Group] and CCAD,” said Hubbard, who will serve as VFX supervisor at Ohio Film Group (OFG) and associate professor of animation at CCAD. “The whole city has changed, too, in the few short years since I've been gone. It's a perfect storm and one of the reasons I came back. It's an exciting time in Columbus for film and animation.”

OFG was founded by Gilbert Cloyd, who also donated the seed funds for the creation of the Cloyd Family Animation Center, which opens at CCAD this fall. The center will house CCAD's expanded animation department and will feature a virtual reality drawing lab, an analog drawing studio, a digital drawing lab and a dedicated stop-motion classroom. The department has also maintained most of its existing labs and other spaces while consolidating most aspects of the program in the new facility.

“It's a physical manifestation of our three main areas of focus,” said Charlotte Belland, chair of CCAD's animation program, referring to 2-D, 3-D and experimental animation. “Students can come here and, even if they know the kind of work they want to do, taste all three — come to the buffet, if you will — and get a sense of how to use these tools and techniques to help them tell a story.”

CCAD began offering curriculum in animation in the 1980s and began offering a major in animation in 2008. Belland said the opening of the Cloyd Center, which also includes a gallery dedicated to animation-related art and artifacts, a common area for students to collaborate across disciplines and direct access to the Ohio Film Group offices, is the next step in CCAD's commitment to animation.

“We believe in what this medium can do,” Belland said.

Senior animation student Katherine Williams, from Canal Winchester, couldn't wait for the school year to start as we toured the in-progress facility last week.

“I watched lots of animated movies growing up… Dreamworks, Disney. I remember being in middle school and becoming aware of the credits. I decided I wanted to someday see my name in the credits,” Williams said.

“I loved drawing, but I never did anything with animation [until I got to CCAD]. I immediately got to take classes that taught us how to use animation software,” she continued. “I'm looking forward to working in the stop-motion labs. I've always loved that kind of work. And the VR… I've never done that before.”

Williams said she can envision herself working for one of several local studios after graduation, which is exactly the kind of thing Hubbard likes to hear. “Because there are so many opportunities here now, it'd be great to keep some of the talent here,” Hubbard said, adding that, if OFG had existed in 2010, he might never have left.

He also said he wants students to be equipped to do their own work, as well.

“We're reaching the point in history where the software and hardware have become so accessible where anybody who wants to tell a story can do it on their own. The kind of software we have for making films now we've never had before,” Hubbard said. “Every week it seems like there's something new. That's why we get into this. That's what excites me.”

It's clear this is not a situation in which Hubbard is moving out of an industry to focus on educating future animators. His dual role is indicative not only of the growing partnership between OFG and CCAD, but also of his personal desire to continue making work.

“To visually communicate your ideas is something I think is an incredibly powerful thing, obviously,” he said. “Walt Disney didn't start doing propaganda films for World War II for nothing. It was because that visual medium can have influence. Which gets back to why I want to continue to see film that has something to say.”