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From Central Pennsylvania to Middle Earth: Architecture Student Jacob Stephens’ Journey

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Penn State students will have the opportunity to learn from alumnus Jacob Stephens (B. Arch. ’96) when he returns to campus this week to share his experiences creating digital special effects for Avatar, The Hobbit trilogy, and many other projects for Weta Digital in New Zealand.

Stephens will give a lecture, “From Central PA to Middle Earth: An Architecture Student’s Journey,” on Thursday, January 15 at 7:00 p.m. in the Jury Space on the first floor of the Stuckeman Family Building. He will also participate in the Penn State designXchange workshop on Friday, January 16.

The Penn State designXchange is a multi-disciplinary design/think workshop bringing together faculty and professionals. Stephens will teach workshop participants the design process he uses in creating special effects and share how his training as an architect prepared him for this career. He will also guide them through a design charrette.

After graduating from Penn State, Stephens began working at George Lucas’ computer games company LucasArts, where he designed and built levels for several Star Wars games. He then joined Weta Digital in 2008 to work as a Senior Layout Technical Director on James Cameron’s Academy Award®-winning Avatar. He continued work as a Lead Layout Technical Director on X-Men: First Class, Stephen Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy.

Jacob has nearly twenty years' experience creating award-winning environments for film and games, from Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight’s Falling Ship level to the floating mountains of Pandora to the forests and cities of Middle Earth.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Jacob combined his mother’s love of art and his father’s knack for engineering and construction by studying architecture at Penn State. It all came together for him when he was introduced to 3D modeling at the Stuckeman CAD lab (now Stuckeman Center for Design Computing).

Jacob is also an active member of the Visual Effects Society.