Midway through her freshman year studying communication design at the University of North Texas, Heidi Neunhoffer came across UT Dallas in a publication listing the University among 100 other schools deemed the best in animation education.
She said the arts and technology program, in particular drew her attention.
“I’ve always been interested in art,” Neunhoffer said. “I love observing the world, watching movies, playing games, thinking about stories, but for a while, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with art. I just wanted to draw and maybe tell stories. I really loved animation, but I never thought about who made it. Then, in high school, I found out a girl a few classes above me was going to Cal Arts to become an animator. She’s a great artist, and she really inspires me. I realized that if I really wanted to, I could go into animation too.”
After some careful consideration, she decided to transfer to UT Dallas to pursue her passion.
Now a senior, Neunhoffer has received the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation Scholarship, which supports students pursuing careers in the computer and video game industries. She was among 30 recipients representing institutions such as Duke University, Brown University and the University of Southern California.
“Institutions like UT Dallas rightly recognize the value in preparing students for careers in the video game industry, meeting a rising demand among students and eventual employers,” said Anastasia Staten, executive director of the foundation. “The ESA Foundation is committed to supporting this growth and has provided nearly 300 women and minority students with scholarships to pursue video game-related degrees, giving them not only the opportunity to follow their dreams, but also creating a pipeline of skilled and well-educated job candidates for the video game industry and other careers in STEM-related fields.”
The $3,000 scholarship will help Neunhoffer as she wraps up a fruitful undergraduate career.
Most recently, she had a hand in the preproduction of the annual short film created by the animation studio class. Neunhoffer had input with the script and storyboarding the project, which is in development.
“Heidi is a great example of the type of student who can excel within ATEC,” senior associate dean and associate professor Todd Fechter said. “She has the ability to take classroom concepts and expand them into something greater. Recently, she took it upon herself to create her own short story, complete with designs and storyboards. She created a nice presentation book and showed it to well-known industry professionals at this year’s CTN Animation Expo. They loved it! I’m not surprised. She is one of the most talented and dedicated students I’ve met.”
Neunhoffer has been hungry for opportunities to practice. She said preproduction design classes, taught by Fechter, allow her to hone her craft.
Neunhoffer also has served as a student assistant in the photography department since she began at UT Dallas. She helps with digital printing, mixing darkroom chemicals and assisting with maintenance of the Comer Collection of Photography.
She participates in Comet-Con’s Artist Alley every year, and is working on her ATEC Honors Capstone project.
“The ATEC program is really great because you get to choose what you want to focus on,” she said. “Going to school here has also helped me meet lots of people with similar interests, and it’s really given me time and resources to develop as an artist.”