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Animated Alumni

Animation entrepreneurs Jason (’97) and Michael (’99) Carpenter believe NC State’s College of Design is the “greatest place ever,” and the two brothers credit the College for giving their careers a successful start.

“The College of Design is perhaps my favorite place on Earth,” said Jason. “Everything I am able to do today in my career, and as a designer, I owe to my wonderful teachers and fellow students from the College of Design.”

The reality of their combined strengths hit home while in graduate school.

“It was great traction with employers to be a brothers pair,” said Michael. “Companies seem to like hiring siblings or close-knit teams who appear to share a brain.

“Together, you are worth more than the sum of your parts.”

Directing animation projects from TV commercials to major theme park attractions (like Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center – an interactive ride experience about the future of technology), their company, Carpenter Brothers Animation, is a success. The last few years they have worked closely with Big Buddha Baba to create projects for Walt Disney Imagineering.

“It has been a thrill to take part in Imagineering’s creative process and to see how they blaze a path with new technology.”

The Carpenter brothers are originally from Greensboro, N.C., and now reside in the Santa Monica/Los Angeles area of California. Their interest in NC State began when Jason enrolled in the residential Design Camp while still at Grimsley High School.

“Design camp opened my eyes to a whole different world,” he said.

Jason’s love of art and newfound desire to become a designer led him to NC State to study industrial design and art + design. Michael, who followed his brother into the industrial design program, said “the unbridled sense of optimism and can-do attitude in N.C., and specifically at the College of Design, leads you to having no question if you can do something or not… you simply do it.”

“One thing we have seen that sets NC State apart from other schools is the emphasis given to creative problem solving from day one,” said Michael of his design-school experience. “Some of our colleagues have attended fine schools and possess excellent technical skills, but they don’t tend to face design problems in the same way.

“We learned to think differently and to think around the problem,” he said. “Learning to brainstorm about brainstorming and to take a step back to see a number of ways to approach a design problem before trying to solve it. This approach has stayed with us in all that we do.”

Michael describes Bryan Laffitte, chair of the industrial design department at the College of Design, as “a magician with the way he draws. Bryan set a great example for his students and made us all want to be more like him.”

In fact, Michael revealed that one of his projects with Laffitte helped him narrow down his career aspirations, and recalled a Halloween-themed project for which Laffitte encouraged his studio to create costumes for the College of Design’s annual Halloween Bash.

“I created a commando chicken and once I did that – there was no going back for me,” Michael said. “I knew I wanted to work with and create characters.”

Jason recalled refusing to use a computer during his first three years of design school. Being an animator these days is almost all digital, he said.

“[NC State Alumni Distinguished Professor Head Art and Design] Chandra Cox still teases me about how she had to beg me to use a drawing tablet,” Jason said, “and how that led me to take [associate professor of art + design] Pat FitzGerald’s animation class, which ultimately started my career path.”

California is the hub of animation, so they decided to study, work and live there. The brothers went to graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) to earn MFAs. While in school, the Carpenters were hard at work earning credibility in the animation world.

Between them, their in-school credits included an animated segment for Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show, a short film for Sesame Street, the identity campaign for WB Kids and work on Cartoon Network’s Aquateen Hunger Force.

“The reel from these projects landed us the Epcot Center Spaceship Earth job,” Jason said.

Six months out of the Cal Arts program, the brothers were directors. Presenting themselves as a team has helped them exponentially in animation projects.

“We fill in each other’s gaps,” Jason said.

“We still get to play in the sandbox together like when we were kids,” Michael added.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Design Influence. Photo courtesy Carpenter Brothers Animation.