The Hopper (Visual) Effects

Fiore Petricone ’21 with Danny Stock

When I contacted GDS alum Will McCormick ’17 for an interview about his GDS journey, his education since graduating, and his art, he told me he was so busy working on a friend’s movie set that he was only free on the weekends. This type of occurrence is somewhat common for Will, a college senior studying animation at the University of Southern California (USC) Film School in Los Angeles. In addition to his work for school, he’s creating his own art and supporting fellow artists in theirs. As a High School senior [now a graduate of the Class of 2021] looking into studying the somewhat similar field of design, learning about a graduate from my school and art program doing incredible, industry-defying work is both encouraging and daunting. 

Will and I both went to the same (very small) middle school, Sheridan School, where the small and tight community meant that everyone knew everyone. Many Sheridan graduates go on to GDS after middle school, as it is a similar, but comparatively bigger learning environment, which allows students to transfer fairly seamlessly into High School. 

When we spoke, Will recounted the many hours he spent in the computer labs at GDS, working on projects for his AP art and design portfolio. Keep in mind, his digital design education at GDS was at a time when even the best industry-leading art software was much less powerful and far less intuitive than they are today. This meant that making even simple designs and art pieces could take a lot of time. If you wanted to do something complicated, you were almost better off doing it by hand with more analog methods. Despite the limitations of technology at that point, Will got the most out of the software that he had, creating depictions of scenes that blend the futuristic technology of Blade Runner with the exotic characters and landscapes of Star Wars. Michelle Cobb, the GDS AP Art and Design teacher still uses Will’s work in classes as examples not only of great digital art but also of good art in general. In particular, she draws students’ attention to Will’s use of perspective as well as lighting and shadows. 

“Michelle Cobb was probably the biggest influence on me in GDS’s art program,” Will said. “She pushed me as an artist and taught me new techniques and styles that greatly benefited my work. If anything, I would say GDS Studio Art has made me a hard worker who is willing to put many hours of practice into my craft.”

Of particular note was the memorable Identity Art Show for which Will spent many weeks composing a piece of digital art. He said, “It was also the first time I really tried to capture photorealism in a Photoshop painting, and it was the first time I took a lot of reference images to improve my piece.”

After graduating GDS, Will spent a semester at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco before transferring to USC Film School for Animation. At USC, Will primarily focused on Visual Effects (VFX). This work ranges from tracking the movements of actors in scenes—to make sure the visual effects reflect the actors movements—to color grading entire 3D models of cities, ensuring that the lighting reflects the mood of the scene. This work has allowed Will to use experimental and industry-leading software to create VFX for a variety of different student and professional projects. 

After Graduation

Fiore and Will both graduated in spring 2021—Fiore from GDS and Will from USC. In one of his final writing projects before joining the ranks of GDS alumni, Fiore reflected on his interview with Will. He wrote, “With the world turning more and more toward an integrated digital reality, designers, programmers, and artists will play a greater role in the ways we experience our own realities.”

This fall, Will has begun work as a VFX PA (Visual Effects Production Assistant) on a Netflix show being filmed in Atlanta, Georgia. In-person shooting will proceed this fall and then will go to post-production until the Summer of 2022. 

In his first semester at the Parsons School of Design, Fiore is currently working on self-portraiture, through multiple media and wire sculpture, at the intersections of his identity as an American—”and thus complicit in American acts of imperialism”—and his identity as a vegetarian. 

In our increasingly digital world, and in the spaces where physical art still thrives, we will turn to artists like Will and Fiore to shape the world around us with arresting imagery and the kind of caring, diligent attentiveness they found at GDS.

See more of Will’s work at https://williamtmccormick.com/