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Bringing Fantasy Worlds to Life

B.F.A. ANM graduate Jan Philip Cramer’s hard work has led to opportunities working on today’s iconic superhero films, including Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) struck gold early in 2018 with its release of Black Panther, the third-biggest grossing movie of all time in North America, surpassing Titanic,  according to Forbes. Yet with Avengers: Infinity War hitting theaters on April 27, Marvel’s 2018 run is just getting started, and Academy of Art University alumnus Jan Philip Cramer is just stoked to be along for the ride.

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Digital Domain 3.0 Animation Director and Head of Animation Jan Philip Cramer with his wife Dana Valeria at the Oscars. Photo courtesy of Jan Philip Cramer.

Cramer, a 2004 B.F.A. School of Animation and Visual Effects (ANM) graduate, is the animation director and head of animation at Digital Domain 3.0, a visual effects studio based in Los Angeles and Vancouver, British Columbia. The company is responsible for the VFX work on films such as this year’s Avengers: Infinity War and Beauty and the Beast (2017).

Cramer’s animation and VFX credits really speak for themselves. His résumé and portfolio work includes Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Deadpool (2016), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) and other blockbusters, including Ender’s Game (2013) and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). 

Due to the secrecy surrounding the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War, not much could be shared about the work done on the film. However, Cramer did reveal that his team helped create multiple full CG characters for the film, including one of the main characters: Thanos. Additionally, Cramer and his team were involved early on in the production process, prior to the film’s storyline being fully fleshed out.

“That’s something very special and that doesn’t happen often,” he said in a phone interview. “We want to be involved like that.”

In his role as animation director, Cramer guides a team of about 30 animators, on multiple films, who focus on bringing CG characters to life. He shared that his role is to be “on the creative level,” imagining how the shots could be while advising how to improve the picture on a 

technical level. In his line of work, animation and VFX is a supporting facet to all the other elements of the film—actors, set, plot—and it makes that universe believable. 

It’s no surprise that Cramer said he’s been dreaming up fantastic worlds and creatures since he was a child. Born in Dusseldorf, Germany, Cramer immersed himself in art and technology while still in high school. He came to the Academy in 2001 after a six-month internship at a motion capture studio in Los Angeles. He credits the Academy for providing him with a “fantastic foundation” in animation and film.

“The Academy provided you not only with an understanding of your specialty of choice—in my case, animation—but [they] give you a broader overview of art, in general,” shared Cramer. “Once I moved into a leadership position, having a well-rounded understanding of art and design proved to be very helpful.”

Hard work has led to success for Cramer, as he has clocked in countless hours to get where he is today. He landed a position at Sony Imageworks immediately out of school, working on 2007’s Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider. Shortly after that, he followed his advanced animation instructor Victor Huang to Weta Digital where he worked on James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi feature, Avatar.

“I could tell [Phil] had a passion and love for animation that was beyond the other students,” Huang said of his former student and colleague. “Combined with his work ethic and dedication to the craft, I knew he would go on to great things.”

The Academy recognized Cramer as one of their Emerging Artist Alumni in 2011. In the last year, he became a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures & Sciences. “[It was] one of the most emotional and fulfilling moments [of my] career,” Cramer shared.

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Cramer and his team helped create multiple full CG characters for the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War. Image courtesy of Marvel Studios.

There are moments when Cramer “can’t believe this is happening.” To create some of the most beloved and iconic superheroes “that so many people care for,” is a privilege that he is incredibly proud of. With an ever-changing and evolving animation industry, Cramer advised aspiring animators to stick to the basic principles of animation to be successful in any career.

“You have to learn the craft inside and out. You can’t hope for any gifts. Animation is all about hard work,” he said. “I became who I am today by being incredibly dedicated to the craft of animation and by working more than anyone else. I worked day and night until I became as strong as the more experienced animators. Follow your dreams, work hard and the opportunities will come to you.”