Alumni Spotlights

Kenji Endo ’14

Kenji Endo ’14 is currently working as a technical director at Blue Sky Studios, whose next movie starring Will Smith is due out in the fall of 2019.
After graduating from WFS, Kenji matriculated to Brown University and pursued animation and computer graphics. He interned at Pixar and had the chance to work on "Incredibles 2." Kenji is currently working as a technical director at Blue Sky Studios, whose next movie starring Will Smith is due out in the fall of 2019.

What are your interests and passions that led to your career?

I didn't have any plan to go into the field of animation or film after graduating from Friends or starting computer science at Brown—I think it was mostly a series of serendipitous discoveries. I have always been interested in worlds and world-building, art, and technology. In Lower School at Friends, in Teal Rickerman's art class, I remember on "Free Days" (once a month when you could spend class making anything you pleased), I would scrounge, head-first, around in the big box of cardboard and plastic in Teal's classroom, and build little scenes (hot air balloons, buildings, cities, trains) out of recyclables. In Middle School, after talking to Paulo Machado about interests in architecture, Mr. Machado worked with me on an independent study in sustainable architecture, designing an (in theory) sustainable townhouse scale model out of foam core and cardboard, with a green roof and water reclamation system. In IB Art in high school, with Cynthia Stan Mellow, I focused on world-building through sculpture and paper cuts, assembling small scenes of dragons, forests, and tree houses, out of black card stock.

What did you do upon graduating from WFS?

I graduated from Friends in 2014, and went on to college at Brown University in Providence, RI (from the second smallest state to the smallest!). With the Open Curriculum at Brown, I explored my various interests as a first-year (computer science, architecture, sculpture, literature), and ended up concentrating in computer science. I always enjoyed computer classes at Friends, but I can't quite recall what led me to take my first computer science class my first semester at Brown. I'm glad I did, however—that semester I learned about the applications of programming in graphics and animation (you can make all this stuff with code?!). I took the department's introductory computer animation courses my sophomore year at Brown, and realized that this was the area I wanted to pursue—it seemed like a perfect fit for my interests in technology, art, and architecture.

In animated films, everything in the world has been designed, modeled, textured, set dressed, lit for that specific shot, for that moment in the story. Unlike in live-action film, when you need to plan or wait for the right moment to shoot (when the clouds break and the sunlight looks just right hitting the mountains, for example), in CG, you can design and build everything in that world to fit exactly the moment or feeling in the story you're looking for. This means there's a ton of work to do! A single shot in an animated movie has easily been touched by over a hundred technical artists, designers, programmers, all in the effort to make the world and characters feel believable, and to ultimately tell a better story. Animation is an incredibly collaborative and interdisciplinary medium.

Can you tell us more about your past animation projects and what you are working on now?

In animation at Brown, I worked on an 11-person student animated short film, Toymaker, the largest CG production to come out of Brown and RISD, as lead on modeling, set dressing, rigging, and tech, helping to create the apartment environment and implement the technical build of the characters. I explored the architecture of Downtown Providence in the 1910-1920s, at the dawn of modern transportation, in an independent study in procedural building generation with my animation professor, recreating the scene by referencing vintage postcards and fire insurance maps I found in the library archives. I interned at Pixar Animation Studios on the Incredibles 2 (2018) Sets Technology team—helping with the technical world-building for the film. One of the big challenges on Incredibles 2 was the complexity and scale of the sets. Over my summer at the studio, I helped contribute to the vegetation and clouds pipelines, as well as on the optimization process for the environments, and a procedurally modeled asset for the villain's lair set.

After graduating in May 2018 from college, I started working at Blue Sky Studios in Greenwich, CT. Our upcoming film, out in Fall 2019, is Spies in Disguise, a film about the world's best spy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) going undercover as a pigeon, thanks to his tech-y side kick Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) (teaser trailer). On the Render team, along with working on scripts and tools for the pipeline, I help debug visual and technical rendering issues, and work to ensure that the complex environments are built, lit, and rendered efficiently.

What are your favorite WFS memories?

I miss the community of Friends, but have found reminders of Friends throughout school and post-grad. The people and community at Brown and Blue Sky remind me in many ways of my classmates and teachers at Friends—curious, kind, and creative people. I miss running on the trails in the Alapocas Woods and Delaware State Parks with the cross country team, and the silence and peacefulness of it, and in Meeting for Worship, though I've been finding pockets of silence in the woods of Connecticut.

Kenji Endo '14 was an almost-Lifer at Friends, along with his older sister Keiko Endo '12. On campus, Kenji ran on the cross country, winter track, and track & field teams, and was involved with the Business Meeting and Agenda Committee, The Whittier Miscellany newspaper, and the Charity: Water committee. After graduation, Kenji studied at Brown University, where he concentrated in computer science, with a focus on animation and computer graphics. At Brown, Kenji helped lead the Brown STEAM student group, part of a nation-wide student network that explores the interdisciplinary intersections of STEM with Art/Design/Humanities. After graduating in May 2018, Kenji currently works as a Technical Director at Blue Sky Studios, and resides in Queens, NY. Outside of work, Kenji enjoys running in the woods of Connecticut, indoor bouldering, juggling, and making candles. A collection of his recent work can be found at:
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