A trio of Huskers were recently credited for helping expand the lore of a galaxy far, far away.
Seniors Sophia Stueven and Ally Hall, as well as alumna Megan Whisenhunt — all part of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts — worked on the recent “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series on Disney+ as part of a three-month internship with Lola VFX. And the work has transitioned into employment with the Los Angeles-based visual effects firm.
“It’s been great having them begin to work with us, and we’ve been very lucky to find such great employees,” said Trent Claus, a visual effects supervisor with Lola VFX and a Husker alumnus (Bachelor of Fine Arts, 2006). “They’ve each come to us with varying amounts of film experience, but not a tremendous amount of visual effects experience necessarily, so we’ve been trying to fit in as much training as possible. What’s been great, though, is their eagerness to learn and their work ethic to get the job done.”
Stueven began interning at Lola in January.
“Seeing my name on the credits of ‘Obi-Wan’ was extremely surreal,” she said. “I had watched ‘Star Wars’ before working at Lola, but when I started working on the ‘Obi-Wan’ shots, I dove right into the Star Wars fandom.
“I feel like a tiny toddler in the large Star Wars family. Being able to help on the process of the Star Wars series, with one of the strongest fandoms in the media world, was something I am very honored to be a part of.”
Members of the Lola VFX team also worked on the recently-released "Thor: Love and Thunder" film.
Claus said they have been training the students in rotoscoping and junior-level compositing tasks.
“For ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi,’ they each worked on a number of different tasks depending on the shot and scene at hand, but most notably, they helped us create the dramatic lightsaber fight seen in a flashback between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi during episode five,” Claus said.
Stueven said the work she did on the series focused on the beginning stages of the de-aging process.
“I prime the shots and make the ready for the final compositor to finish,” she said. “I do a lot of rotoscoping, removing tracking dots and blue screen when the shot is too dark for the compositor to key out. This means that none of my work for ‘Obi-Wan’ is the final shot. I was able to work on some pretty great shots of the flashbacks on the fifth episode.”
Stueven said she quickly became a Star Wars fan after getting the job at Lola.
“I started watching all the animated series and reading more about the theories and lore of the universe,” Stueven said. “One of the shots I worked on was Anakin executing Order 66 at the Jedi temple. When I saw the footage for the first time, my jaw dropped in disbelief and excitement, and I stared at the screen in awe for a while.
“It’s a dream to be part of a large crew that makes Star Wars stories possible. It’s an opportunity I am extremely grateful to be able to take part in.”
Her favorite part of working on the series was piecing together the rest of the story as she watched the series unfold.
“Because I was able to see some shots before the show came out, I had some prior knowledge about what would be in the story line,” she said. “It was a totally different experience watching for me. It was also fun to see my friends and family watch the series and see them get excited about shots that I had worked on.”
Now, having worked alongside some of the best talent in the industry, Stueven is excited to expand her skills and build a career in the visual effects field. She credits Nebraska’s Carson Center for helping her prepare for that career.
“The Carson Center is an amazing group of supportive people who are dedicated to helping others succeed,” she said. “The administration, faculty and staff focus on preparing students to get jobs through priming their interview skills and giving us real-world experience with clients in classes, such as World Ready and Innovation Studio.”
Skills earned working with Nick Burkhardt, director of creative and emerging media with Athletics, and the rest of the Huskers staff have also helped propel her success.
“I shot and edited videos for Husker volleyball, and behind every edit, was Nick’s critiques and challenges to push my skills to the next level,” she said. “The community at UNL truly has fostered a welcoming and challenging space where I am able to grow.”
Claus said Lola VFX hopes to continue to hire Huskers like Stueven.
“We hope to continue to hire from Lincoln over the next few years,” he said. “I’ve been excited to start building good relationships not only with Megan Elliott and the faculty of Emerging Media Arts, but also with Francisco Souto and the School of Art, Art History and Design.”