EPX Con 2022 brings speakers from Blizzard, Epic Games, and Pixar Animation Studio

The event, which took place in the Big Ten Theatre at the Iowa Memorial Union on April 23, brought UI alumni from coding, filmmaking, and animation backgrounds to advise undergraduates on how to succeed in their aforementioned fields.


Larry Phan

The 2022 EPX Gaming Con is shown at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Ariana Lessard, Arts Reporter

On Saturday, about a dozen students sat in the Iowa Memorial Union’s Big Ten Theater for the entire day, listening to speakers with University of Iowa ties explain their paths to success in coding, filmmaking, and animation.

The 2022 EPX Con featured nine speakers, including independent filmmaker Timothy David Orme, Pixar Animation Studios Technical Director Chris Burrows, and Jon Hathaway, senior producer at Epic Games.

Orme, who graduated from the UI in 2009, is now an award-winning freelance filmmaker and animator. During his talk, he emphasized the importance of being willing to work for free — or pursue passion projects on the side, regardless of the potential lack of financial gain.

“Every major milestone for me has been driven by a personal project,” he said. “Working for free will ultimately lead to higher quality work, more jobs, better jobs, etc.”

Orme did not have a linear career and attended graduate school three times, including at the UI’s film school. He urged filmmakers to use their spare time to build up a portfolio of passion projects to secure quality job offers.

For those suffering from burnout, an artist’s mortal enemy, Orme had advice, too.

“If you burn out, you need to recharge, but that’s OK,” he explained. “Burnout is like an artistic yawn, you need to sleep, you need to recharge. So do that, and do that guiltlessly.”

Next spoke Burrows, who is in charge of stylizing images in Pixar animation, and that’s precisely the topic he discussed during his talk.

He described stylization as the process of selecting and applying an aesthetic to an animated film, as well as many sub-aesthetics. He broke it down into four categories: Design and shape, color and pattern, motion, and rendering.

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Burrows explained that he tries to understand why things look the way they do by studying the world around him and noticing the patterns. From vacation to a daily basis, he takes reference photos of strange patterns in order to tease apart why things look the way they do, and he argues that, once you know how things look the way they do, you can enhance the realness.

“This is a visual media. It is perfectly valid to do something because it looks cool,” Burrows said. “We are not bound by the laws of physics and can break them.”

For instance, he said, if he desired to animate glass that, according to physics, could never interact with light the way it appears to in the animation, then he can for the sake of the story and the overall stylistic result.

Burrows is always working, he said, but still finds time to create animated dragons for his neurodivergent son who loves Dungeons and Dragons.

Hathaway became Epic Games’ senior producer at 35. In the past, he’s worked at Bungie and Microsoft, and worked on Halo and Destiny 2. He said his job search was kickstarted by being part of the UI’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Hathaway said, looking back on his journey, internships proved very important and that a degree was not enough. He also believes being technical is very important, as people who can code well will be paid substantially more.

Hathaway also expressed a desire for more of his classes at UI to teach C++, as while he was here he was only able to take an introductory course on it. He stated that C++ has proven to be the language of game development for the engineers at Epic Games.

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