Academy of Art University Alumni Use Educational Foundation for Impactful Careers in the Arts

With alumni from over 112 countries, Academy of Art University graduates have made their mark on creative disciplines across the world. Every student artist brings with them inherent talent, passion, and drive that help them excel. Combined with working faculty that have direct experience and connections in today’s workplaces, these skills are cultivated in collaborative environments with practical application.

The foundation that gives all these lessons and interactions their precise direction is the carefully designed curricula implemented at Academy of Art University. Blending core skills with specialized workshops and hands-on learning, academic programs are designed with the goal of helping students pursue their creative, educational, and career goals.

Crafting a Curriculum for Creatives at Academy of Art University

A closer look at Academy of Art University’s curriculum shows how learning is centered around skills essential for real-world work environments. A core element of this structure is practice-based learning, where students are given ample opportunities to try out their understanding of classroom concepts in workshops, projects, and interactions with expert faculty. Taking advantage of projects that replicate real-world experiences runs students through the paces of what a typical day on a job may look like and reinforces course studies.

Academy of Art University remains focused on student preparation through practical knowledge. This includes ensuring that students are grounded in the basics of communication, mathematics, and organization so they can be effective colleagues when they pursue employment. The majority of any Academy of Art University degree program, however, remains focused on building up artistic skills through hands-on experience. Many disciplines cap off their curricula with a thesis or culminating project such as a fashion show, film presentation, or architectural design.

One way the Academy prepares students is by offering the latest in technology for each academic field in collaborative classroom settings. Students can learn and practice on the same equipment they will see on the job after graduation. Guided by faculty who are active professionals and savvy with these tools, they’ll have first-hand guidance on best practices for use while adding their own creative expression to every project.

Industry-based education also ensures that the emphasis is always on the specific skills and access students will need for a particular career field. Studios, labs, printing, metal shop, workshop, and robotics facilities are just a few of those available depending on a student’s line of study. All students also have unlimited access to library resources including everything from reference texts to material catalogues, music databases, and movie collections.

Academy of Art University Alumni: Taking Careers to New Heights

The success of these curricula is evident in the alumni that have made their mark on their industries. Academy of Art University designs educational programs to prepare students for the workforce and celebrates each time a graduate breaks into the career of their choice.

Jordan McCracken-Foster: Making the Dream(works) Happen

Graduating from Academy of Art University with an MFA in Game Development/Concept Art, Jordan McCracken-Foster dreamed of landing a job in animation. He soon found himself employed as a character designer and visual development artist at DreamWorks.

He credits the faculty with pushing him to his artistic limits as he struggled to get his footing. McCracken-Foster had always known he wanted to be an artist, but attending classes under the guidance of faculty including Brian Hess and Michael Buffington helped him tap into his own talent. The result was some of his top work and several entries into the Spring Show 2020 exhibit.

Benjamin Huang: Bringing Creative Vision to Disney

Benjamin Huang turned to Academy of Art University for both an MFA degree in Computer Graphics and the hands-on learning to bring creative ideas to reality. There he was able to strengthen his animation skills and succeed in a highly competitive job market with one of the most coveted of animation employers: Walt Disney Animation Studios.

His credits include working on the feature film “Raya and the Last Dragon” on the team that brought the land of Kumandra to life. In his work, Huang was able to travel throughout Southeast Asia for inspiration and use his Academy skill set in his role as environmental look supervisor on the film.

Studio X: Taking Center Stage at Sundance

Not only does Academy of Art University help develop talented alumni ready for the workforce, but it also offers students an in-house animation studio to put skills into use. Studio X produces collaborative film projects for hands-on learning that also stand out to film critics. The most recent production, Strawberry Mansion, premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to positive reception.

Students on the project experienced creative freedom with expert guidance throughout from faculty. Some students, including Maria Cifuentes, found themselves working with new techniques and learning to apply them on the fly. Participants also brushed up their client management and problem-solving skills as they worked under intense deadlines that simulated real-world production situations.

Hank Chang, Yixuan Wu, and Penpicha Jingjungvisuti: Adding Effects at Netflix

Studio X has been represented at Sundance six times in the programs’ 12 years, and alumni have gone on to make waves at other industry events for major brands. Hank Chang, Yixuan Wu, and Penpicha Jingjungvisuti teamed up on the visual effects for the Netflix musical drama, “I’m No Longer Here.” The film was nominated for Best Special Effects at the Ariel Awards and was a Tribeca Film Festival selection.

The Studio X team worked to create vivid shots alongside the film’s production team. Their experience as students of Academy of Art University’s School of Animation & Visual Effects helped prepare them for the challenge of completing 37 shots in just six weeks. The film’s Director of 3-D Animation & Visual Effects, Catherine Tate, welcomed their contributions and underscored the importance of students actively working on films that also tell stories that can make a difference.

Ruby Wang: Directing Award Winning VR Film

Working in virtual reality (VR) became a real-world experience for Academy of Art University alumna Ruby Wang. A graduate of the School of Visual Development, she was well equipped to work on an international talent team for the VR film “Lutaw.”

Wang chose to attend Academy of Art University because it afforded her the opportunity to cultivate her interest in both illustration and animation. Her classwork and faculty interactions helped boost her confidence and pressed her to refine her artistic skills. What’s more, Wang found herself faced with valuable networking opportunities that aligned with her passion for immersive storytelling.

Justin Greenwood: Illustrating and Producing a (Graphic) Novel Series

From illustration to television production, Justin Greenwood has already created a storied career for himself. The artist sought out Academy of Art University and the School of Illustration to hone his craft. After graduation, he was brought onboard with the creative team for “Stumptown,” working on the art for two volumes and going on to help with art direction for the show. He credits his time at Academy of Art University with priming him for the real-world pace of new situations and art requests.

A Pathway to a Career in the Arts with Academy of Art University

While alumni venture into any number of industries and career paths, they all have in common the firm foundation of skill development and hands-on learning from Academy of Art University. These student graduates have all shared how their experience helped contribute to their professional success. Tailored curricula emphasize the skills that are essential to a given field and help graduates take their given talents to the next level.

Academy of Art University has a storied history of providing industry-based curriculum learning to artists, designers and creatives. Students can choose from more than 120 accredited degree options, all taught by instructors who are experienced professionals in a course of study. Academy coursework is a hands-on experience that combines a solid foundation of core skills with the freedom for students to express themselves creatively. To learn more about the bachelor’s, master’s, certificate, and continuing education programs available for art and design, visit

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