Alumni Stories

Ty Johnson

Media Arts & Animation

3D Modeler for LAIKA
The Art Institute of Portland

Portland Alumni Ty Johnson

I like to tell people that I play with dolls for a living. In truth I'm more like a digital sculptor. Ty Johnson , 3D Modeler for LAIKA Bachelor of Fine Arts in Media Arts & Animation, 2005 , The Art Institute of Portland

Ty Johnson is working as a 3D Modeler for LAIKA, an animation studio in Hillsboro, Oregon. He creates characters based off of drawings and clay maquettes, but has the opportunity to incorporate his own flavor into them. “It is up to me to ensure my creations are aesthetically pleasing and also meet specific technical standards established by riggers, texture artist, animators and everyone else downstream,” he says. He’s especially excited to be part of the team responsible for the Oscar-nominated film, “The Boxtrolls.” “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love making internationally recognized Oscar-nominated films. Being a part of something as huge as ‘Paranorman,’ ‘The Boxtrolls,’ and ‘Kubo and The Two Strings’ has given me the opportunity to share my passion with literally millions of people.”

The process that Ty uses to create a character is incredibly intricate. Each puppet he models is further broken into over 72 mechanical parts. “These mechanisms allow for the articulation of eyeballs, glowing ears, and the swapping of magnetic facial expressions.” Each character is unique and requires custom internals, so Ty utilizes 3D printing to get the intricate parts to fit and function properly. “[It] is the hardest yet most rewarding part of my job.” Like many in his industry, he is inspired by the work of Jim Henson. “I can’t help but think of Jim Henson and his amazing puppets when I’m at work. I am a 90s child and Jim’s fingerprints were on everything I grew up with. He’s definitely a hero of mine.”

Ty, who in 2005 earned a Bachelor of Science in Media Arts & Animation from The Art Institute of Portland, says that his education taught him a valuable lesson in adaptation. As he was working toward his degree, the school updated its software from what it had been using to reflect a new industry standard. “I was distraught and worried that I was starting over. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The truth is that technology moves fast, standards change, and if you can’t adapt you’ll be left in the dust.” Ty said that the experience he gained in learning the new technology has played out time and time again now that he’s a professional. “Now when I learn about new tools and software I look forward to it like a kid on Christmas Eve.”

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