Emma Mathes, an arts and technology (ATEC) freshman at UT Dallas, has always loved art, drawing and science fiction — from literature to movies to comic books.
So when she heard about a contest to design a superhero, she was all over it. Never mind the contest deadline was just three days away.
“Basically, I worked on it 24/7 over one weekend to meet the deadline,” said Mathes, a National Merit Scholar from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who drew a character she developed with fellow ATEC major Daniel Colina.
Her design of Quasar, a researcher who can create pockets of intense gravity, earned Mathes a $1,000 Clark Van Pelt Scholarship from Element X, a motion design studio in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas.
“We spent way too long nerding out over this guy and deciding what superpowers he would have,” said Mathes, who is taking classes in 3-D computer animation processes such as modeling and texturing in her second semester. “Daniel came up with the rough idea, and I ended up drawing it out.”
The scholarship is for any student enrolled in a college degree program for 2-D/3-D animation, visual FX, motion graphics or game design, said Chad Briggs, president of Element X.
“While we had several good entries, Emma’s stood out in in terms of simplicity and overall design of her character and the backstory. The composition of her image was well laid out and did a great job of demonstrating comic book tension,” Briggs said.
Mathes even came up with a backstory for Quasar, aka Quinlan “Quinn” Black, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland as a teenager, earned a doctorate in quantum physics and led a team of scientists in black hole research while still in his 20s.
As he was testing a gravitational containment unit one day, an electrical storm compromised the device and killed all except Quinn and his assistant. Quinn became trapped as the unit overloaded, altering him beyond repair.
Now, he lives in self-exile inside a containment suit to protect others from the mass destruction that would occur from “the nearly inescapable gravitational pull and concussive blasts of force he can create,” Mathes’ contest submission reads.
“He can create rifts in space, relocate objects and slow down time — like what happens when you get close to a black hole,” Mathes said. “I should have studied up on the physics more.”
Should the containment suit fail, bad things would happen, she said.
“It would be a total meltdown,” Mathes said.
Mathes said she was surprised to learn she’d won the competition.
“I got the email at 3 a.m. — I may have still been up drawing — and called my mother right then,” she said.
In high school, Mathes used her skills to create Web comics after she and some friends dreamed up a steampunk universe, complete with time travel and aliens. “The really nerdy part is the alien language I created to use in the speech bubbles,” she said.
Mathes hopes to work in animation or another creative field someday. For now, she’s enjoying her creative pursuits both in and outside the classroom.
“I’m a nerd who loves sci-fi, comics, art, computers — definitely a good fit for ATEC,” Mathes said.