Spotlight on Jason Porath, effects artist at DreamWorks Animation (ALT in Ibaraki-ken, 2006-2007)

By Jessica Tang, JETAASC Career/Networking Coordinator (ALT in Saga Prefecture, 2008-2009)

JETAASC continues the second interview in an Alumni Spotlight Series highlighting the diverse career paths of JETs after returning to Southern California. Jason Porath, a talented visual effects artist at Dreamworks Animation and also current JETAASC Webmaster, reveals a bit of his experience in visual effects and why everyone should go see “How to Train Your Dragon” in theaters now.


Before setting sail on the JET Program in 2006 to Ibaraki Prefecture, Jason Porath, originally hailing from Kentucky, attended the University of Southern California majoring in Cinema TV Critical Studies. A self-taught effects artist, Porath was even hired to teach video game texturing and modeling at USC after graduation. He worked in visual effects for a few years before going on the JET Program after a teacher in college had encouraged him to go and gain travel experience and utilize the Japanese he had learned at USC.


Currently, Porath’s position at DreamWorks Animation, ranked number six on Forbes’ Top 100 List of businesses to work for, was achieved after an intense interview period and years of preparation in the industry. “It took five years of experience before I felt up to par even applying to DreamWorks Animation. In all, it was a nine month process to get in; there were marathon rounds of interviews.” Porath was persistent in keeping in touch with DreamWorks Animation contacts that he knew and after the application process ended, he celebrated his newly gained position by taking a trip to Europe and Japan.


In the computer graphics field, Porath explained that the top two specialties are visual effects and animation. “For visual effects, be very careful – the field is volatile and going through intense changes” as he noted that there are many major companies going out of business at the moment. As a visual effects artist, Porath works on anything that is difficult to animate such as natural phenomena (smoke, water, dust). For animation training, Porath recommended programs at Texas A & M, Vancouver Film School, Ringling, Full Sail, and a trade school in Los Angeles called Gnomon.


As for tips in getting involved in the visual effects career path, Porath recommended participating in the industry’s online community. “Get a lot of feedback on your work. There are many specialized online communities such as CGtalk.com where there are some good people in the industry who can help.” Porath also recommended using specialized forums for software skill building. Getting knowledge of the industry is also an important step. An interesting event that Porath attended called the “Visual Effects Bake-Off” occurs around Oscar time when nominees pitch why they should receive the Visual Effects Oscar for their work. “It’s a good time to watch big hitters in visual effects and mingle with others in the industry.”


Porath’s career has also had noteworthy experiences involving his Japan experience. When working on a movie with a Japanese director, Porath served as a covert interpreter for his supervisors who thought that the director was holding out on them with minimal English instructions while speaking a plethora of Japanese with the producer. Porath’s involvement with Mindshare LA, where he serves as a content advisor and has spoken about Hollywood’s use of visual effects for body censorship, brought him to the set of OK Go’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass.” Porath worked on various sections of the Rube Goldberg contraption that encompasses the entire video (and also appears in the ending group shot).


Finally, Porath encourages those wanting to pursue a visual effects career to keep their spirits up. “Don’t get discouraged; get self-motivated. Most people in the industry are self-taught. I know high school dropouts, college dropouts, literature majors, and even ex-NASA rocket scientists in visual effects. Keep at it!”


Keep an eye out for Porath’s handiwork on the next Kung Fu Panda movie and in “How to Train Your Dragon” as it is, in his opinion, “the best movie DreamWorks has EVER done.”