As a feature technical director/digital artist for Pixar Animation Studios, Mike Krummhoefener '92 (manufacturing engineering technology) helps create some of the most technically advanced — and successful — animated films ever made.
He joined Pixar when Toy Story 2 (released in 1999) was in production. Then came the Academy Award-winning Monsters, Inc. (2001), for which Krummhoefener served as a technical director and character artist, which means he helped sculpt and model the film's characters and form their quirky, humorous personalities.
For Finding Nemo (2003), Krummhoefener developed a lot of the underwater elements such as the different types of coral and the mass array of fish early in the project. Later on he digitally hand-sculpted and articulated characters such as Gill and Mr. Ray. Pictured above, Krummhoefener sits in front of NASCAR driver Terry Labonte's Finding Nemo racer at Pixar.
On The Incredibles, due out in November 2004, he was a technical director on the character team and also built several locations for the Sets Department.
It's a career he could not have anticipated as a student at RIT.
"I guess I always had an appreciation for animation," says Krummhoefener. But engineering seemed like a solid career choice. "And when I started college, who knew from computer animation? It's come so far in 10 years."
His degree in manufacturing engineering technology took him to a job at Bausch & Lomb as a project engineer with the Contact Lens Division where he designed manufacturing equipment for the packaging line. Then he saw Jurassic Park. "I was blown away."
He wanted to know more about the companies making that kind of movie, what technology was being used — and what it would take to get into the action.
"I moved back home with Mom and Dad and set up my studio in my old bedroom because the hardware and software cost as much as a house back then," says the Rochester-area native. "I sold everything I owned, took out loans and borrowed money from my parents just to get started.
Under the name Hoefner Digital Studios, Krummhoefener began getting work developing animated company logos and photo-realistic images of prototype products for clients including Ray-Ban, Interplak, ESPN, Kodak, Post Central and Brown Industries.
"With my manufacturing engineering background from RIT and being the first studio in Rochester to offer this type of technology, I was able to attract big clients and help them design their prototype products," says Krummhoefener. "The funny thing is, I had marketing VP's and top industrial designers come to my parents house and sit on my bed because my bedroom was small and I didn't have room for extra chairs."
Despite the lack of a glamorous office, Krummhoefener's work came to the attention of Pixar, creator of Toy Story (1995) and A Bug's Life (1998), and the innovative computer animation company called him. Although his own company was beginning to take off, Krummhoefener found he couldn't say no.
He moved to California and hasn't looked back. One of his favorite parts of the job, he says, is seeing the characters come to life — and then watching kids and adults react to the stories.
Krummhoefener's latest project is Cars, which is scheduled for release late in 2005.
"By far, this movie has been the most challenging as a digital artist," he says. "I'm working with John Lasseter, trying to capture and create his vision of the movie digitally. I'm sculpting the most detailed, elaborate characters and locations ever created by Pixar."
He loves the demanding work. "I do enjoy my career. It's extremely satisfying to work with a group of talented artists and creative minds."
Spring 2004 update to story in The University Magazine, Spring 2002