James Ward: Into the Animator-Verse
March 20, 2019
James Ward came to the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI after hearing about it from a visiting speaker at a junior college he went to. He was looking into four-year colleges to transfer to, but most were out of state and were going to put him way more into debt than he was comfortable with. When he heard there was a new school in Indianapolis that offered what he wanted to study and it was affordable, it was a no brainer. Ward majored in Media Arts and Science and graduated in 2007.
Flash forward to early 2018. Ward, who started his career at Plow Games in Indianapolis and completed online animation school, was hard at work creating shots for a new picture at Sony Imageworks. The project, called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, would go on to be awarded both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best animated film of 2018.
“I knew Spider-Verse would be something special the moment I saw the test footage, but I had no idea it would speak to so many people as it has.” James Ward
Ward recently reflected back on his time at the school and shared some insights. For him, the highlights were the 2D and 3D animation classes and having access to the computer labs for long hours. Faculty were also very accessible, offering lots of help outside class. He also mentioned the great extracurricular activities like SIGGRAPH that would bring in speakers and hold animation competitions.
Ward encouraged students to be as active and passionate as they can, get involved at school and online, and get to know fellow students with the same passions. Those friends can become valuable connections. Also, he said that students shouldn’t expect to go into school thinking they will be handed everything they need to succeed—they have to work for it.
“There are lots of paths to take in animation currently. You can work in independent shorts, video games, TV animation, film animation. I think it’s easy to have your focus only on the big studios like Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks. I had never heard of Sony Imageworks before I saw them at the job fair and now after almost 10 years working for them, I can say I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get in to those big dream studios, I was turned down countless times. And now years later I’m turning down offers from those studios. Take the job that works for you,” Ward advised.
Ward moved to San Diego to be closer to industry and work on his reel. Once he had one he was happy with, he attended a job fair at the CTN Animation Expo in LA. A few weeks later he got the call from Sony.
Now a senior animator, Ward has worked on a variety of movies and games through the years, including “Green Lantern,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” “The Smurfs 2,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and others. Other than working at his desk, he takes a lot of reference—acting out and recording what needs to be animated—often including others. For example, his wife appears in one of the school scenes in Spider-Verse. Currently, Ward is working on Spider-Man: Far From Home.
“The best part of my job is seeing the movie I worked on in the theater. All the hard work put into a project by so many people for so many months up on the big screen and seeing your name in the credits is extremely rewarding,” Ward said.