Working with Walt: Marc Bryant ’99, M ’03

Marc Bryant at Walt Disney Animation Studios in California.

Marc Bryant specializes in fire, smoke and destruction — as far as animation goes, at least. Bryant, who earned both an undergraduate and graduate degree at Clemson, is living the dream as a member of Disney’s effects department, creating and animating film at Walt Disney Animation Studios in California.

Wielding his background in Clemson’s computer science and digital production arts (DPA) programs and his previous experience in live-action visual effects, Marc Bryant eagerly transitioned into animation when he accepted the opportunity to work for Disney Animation in 2013. As an effects animator, Bryant works on the animation for things like water, electricity, smoke, magic and fire, and he relishes the different challenges that each project presents. “You might be animating magical storms in one movie and blowing up a city in the next. There’s always some new challenge to keep you engaged.”

Throughout his work, Bryant often relies on the strong technical foundation he acquired as a graduate student in Clemson’s DPA program. Along with the necessary technical coursework, the diversity and customization of the program’s curriculum allowed Bryant to pursue valuable creative courses, like photography, that he believes have served him well in the imaginative aspects of animation work.

Those skills helped Bryant play an integral part in the development of one of Disney Animation’s most recent projects, “Moana,” a colorful tale surrounding an ancient Polynesian heroine on a seafaring mission to save her island village. As the effects lead for Te Kā, the movie’s angry, volcanic antagonist, Bryant researched volcanoes and lava types as well as lava and smoke movement in order to perfect Te Kā’s fiery temper. Working with a character as heavily featured and complex as Te Kā compelled Bryant and the rest of the department to build an FX rig with many different elements, like pyroclastic plumes and lava, in order to easily simulate her movements.

“We needed a solution that would allow us to iterate quickly and to closely collaborate with multiple departments,” he explains. The effects department decided to take a layered approach to constructing Te Kā by using a mixture of pre-simulated elements and custom per-shot simulations to modify the character’s movements quickly and effectively.

“Layout would start this process by placing pre-simmed elements, allowing the directors to evaluate the framing and timing of volcanic events at a very early stage. Animation could also adjust these elements to suit their purposes as they worked on Te Kā’s character performance,” explains Bryant.

Then the effects department layered in the “hero” FX, which consists of custom sims that react to the character’s movements. Bryant describes these hero rigs as “modular, with basic components, such as smoke, fire and lava, saved into individual Houdini galleries.” Breaking down the rig allowed research and development artists to simultaneously work on its different parts. “The individual galleries would then be assembled at shot time, providing the artist with a solid starting point for their custom simulations,” informs Bryant. Disney’s effects department uses Houdini as their animation application software, which provided the built-in solvers for Te Kā’s fire and pyroclastic smoke simulations. Animating the more liquid lava required a combination of Houdini’s FLIP solver and Disney Animation’s Splash solver, which was developed for the breathtaking water in “Moana.”

After all of the work put into “Moana,” Bryant is on to the next project, specifically focused on improving tools for Disney Animation’s upcoming sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.” As his work with Disney Animation continues, Bryant is soaking up every magical moment: “It’s the best job I’ve had. Walt Disney Animation Studios provides a fantastic environment and the chance to collaborate with people who created the classics from my childhood. It’s pretty humbling.”

A Passion for Service: Kim Gray Evans ’98

A Passion for Service: Kim Gray Evans '98

Kim Evans’ involvement with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Central Savannah River Area in Augusta, Ga., began with volunteering five hours a week.

Evans, an accounting major at Clemson, had worked in management accounting in the manufacturing and health care sectors. With the birth of two sons, Jacob and Jared, she wanted to be home more and started a small accounting firm. It was one of her clients, a Boys and Girls Club board member, who recruited her to work with the organization.

“I’ve always been someone who just never sits down — within six months to a year I was probably working for them 30 hours a week,” she says. Within 2½ years, she was part of helping the organization grow from three to eight area clubs serving more than 3,000 youth. By 2011, she was the chief financial officer, managing a $3.5 million budget and overseeing grants and federal funding.

Then the CEO was promoted to the national level, and Evans became interim CEO. It didn’t take the board long to remove “interim” from her title.

It was the Boys and Girls Clubs’ mission to “inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens” that ignited Evans’ passion. “I didn’t have a Boys and Girls Club growing up, so I had no idea about the mission when I started,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in the community and giving back. All the things I wanted to do with my life’s work aligned very quickly with what was happening here.”

This past spring Evans was invited as one of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America CEOs to attend a year-long Harvard
Business School executive education program, studying companies and organizations and the ways CEOs make decisions, and translating that to the nonprofit sector.

“Sometimes in the nonprofit arena we don’t have a product that we sell,” she says. “We have to go out and make the case to individuals and corporations and foundations that we’re worth the investment.”

Back home, Evans’ priority is convincing folks that the mission of helping kids reach their potential is worth an investment. “I focus on building a better community. These kids are the future. This is your future workforce, your kids’ future neighbors. This is worth the investment.”

Expertise, Heart and Passion: Lisa Bennett ’05

Lisa Bennett '05

Back in the early 2000s, Lisa Bennett was a secondary education major at Clemson who had no way of knowing that one of her coworkers at a video rental store would go on to found one of the most successful educator development organizations in Zambia. Lusungu Sibande was just another employee in the trenches with Bennett, restocking DVDs and keeping a “naughty” list of late video returners.

Lusungu and her sister, Kondi, started A to Zed in 2006 and immediately invited Bennett to travel to Zambia with them. In 2016 Bennett was finally able to join the sisters, offering her abilities as an educator to help teachers in Zambia through professional development workshops. She became an instant believer, making plans to return in summer 2018.

“I enjoyed helping teachers address what they may be lacking in classrooms,” Bennett said. “It’s very fulfilling to help them put proven methods into practice, and we can’t wait to go back.” And, she adds, “Lusungu and Kondi made me part of their family and an honorary Zambian citizen.”

Bennett worked with teachers and students in grades 5-9, but her work wasn’t confined to the classroom. A to Zed also tackles service-learning projects, such as helping teachers and students raise and sell crops, the proceeds of which get put back into schools. Members of A to Zed also found time to host a field day for Matthew 25, a local orphanage.

Bennett said the experience made her realize just how much the hardworking people of Zambia accomplish with limited resources. One teacher she observed used a single book and no other reading or writing materials to effectively teach a class of 40 students.

That experience taught Bennett an important lesson about the role of teachers: “In the end, it’s about me and what I have to give, and that’s expertise, heart and passion,” she said. This summer, she’ll take these talents back to teach — and learn — from the educators of Zambia.

Pursuit of Passion: Lindsay Louise McPhail ’09

 

Stepping into the Art Cellar means being greeted with bold primary colors, pretty pastels, trinkets to take home and statement pieces to hang above mantels. It’s not just a place for artists to sell their wares, but also a home for art education and mentorship.

Lindsay Louise McPhail, the Art Cellar’s owner, wanted to be an artist and a teacher. She’s living the dream — just in a different venue than originally planned. These days you’ll find her in the back of the converted restaurant’s old kitchen in downtown Greenville throwing clay or teaching printmaking for ceramics. “I’ve always considered myself an artist,” she said. “I’ve always drawn and painted, and I’m always doing projects at home.”

After graduating from Clemson with a bachelor of fine arts in visual arts and working a few years, McPhail was planning to go through South Carolina’s Program for Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) to go into a traditional K-12 classroom and teach art. But then an underground art gallery in downtown Greenville put up a “For Sale” sign. “I called the owner, and she said her husband was sick, and she could no longer care for him and the business,” she said.

McPhail acted fast. Without any formal business education, she quickly got together a deposit for the business, developed a business plan and dove into an adventure she’d never planned. “It’s hard to describe just how surreal it all feels. I just feel very lucky that I get to do art every day and pursue my passion.”

McPhail’s gallery was on South Main Street for two years before outgrowing the space and moving to North Main Street. Now across from Noma Square, she features more than 50 local artists in gallery space. In addition to offering monthly classes in painting or ceramics, McPhail’s business also houses three other artists-in-residence working in the studio.

The new space also gives artists more visibility than ever before with the new layout and the location, McPhail said.

“As an artist, the main thing you want is visibility, “she said. “Artists want to be working and creating in the studio. They may not have somewhere to display and sell, nor want to do it themselves. We provide that space downtown for them.”

Investigative Ace: Lauren Sausser ’05

 

Returning to The Post and Courier newsroom in Charleston after having a child had Lauren Sausser feeling frazzled. Turns out the breakneck pace of motherhood helped her turn out her best reporting. Sausser was named the 2017 South Carolina Press Association Journalist of the Year for daily newspapers based on her collective work from the past year.

“I constantly had a cold she was bringing in from day care. This was my first child so it was all brand new to me,” she said. “It’s really validating that my peers recognized me. We celebrated with dinner that night, and I went back to work on Monday.”

Sausser got her start in the newsroom as a copy editor at The Tiger her senior year of undergraduate work. “I did it because they paid me $50 a week,” she said. After graduation, she moved home to Spartanburg and worked for The Spartanburg Herald-Journal, then on to Columbia University in New York, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism.

As a health care reporter, Sausser said she’s lucky to still have a very traditional newsroom job when across the country reporters are being asked not only to research, interview, write and report, but also to be social media savvy, as well as shoot video and photography.

“I love talking to people about what they’re passionate about,” she said. “There’s nothing more exciting than going into a lab somewhere and finding a scientist who can explain something in a way my mom can understand it.”

This past year’s reporting took Sausser into some long-term investigative pieces, including one about a woman from Oconee County who convinced people she had a baby she wanted to sell — but there was no baby.

Five months later, Sausser published a piece about heartless encounters with the so-called “mom” who duped many women into wanting this non-existent child. All the while, she was still churning out stories for the daily paper on misuse of funds by the Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees and showcasing stories from some of the 136,000 people who fall into the Affordable Care Act’s insurance gap.

“You work on it, you write it and then you go home,” she said. “It’s a nice pace. You put your work to bed when you leave. And who knows what’s going to happen the next day? There’s a big element of surprise in journalism.”

Engineered for Success: Paulette Vernon Evans ’01

Paulette Evans’ work as senior project manager with Cone Health landed her on the 2017 list of the Triad Business Journal’s Forty under 40. Since August 2016, she’s led the development of Reinventing Care, a $160 million project that includes a new women’s and children’s facility for a North Carolina hospital system that serves six counties.

“It’s probably the most complex project the hospital has ever tackled,” said Evans. “We are really changing things up for the entire system. It feels good to know in the end that it will be worth it.”

The project, which is geared toward bringing women and children’s services to the main Cone Health campus in Greensboro, means the hospital will be able to accommodate about 6,200 births a year. The project also includes the Wesley Long Hospital and Operative Services with a new 10-room operating suite and a redesigned behavioral health services area.

“One thing that sticks out to me is what we’ll be able to do with robotics in the operating room,” she said about the project. “It’s a collaboration between what a human being and a machine can do. The new technologies that are being used are going to be amazing.”

Tackling an analytical career as an engineer was natural for Evans. Her father was an electrician and her mother taught math for 30 years. “In school science and math were my favorite subjects — all day, every day,” said Evans.

In 10th grade when a career assessment pegged her as being a future engineer or a litigator, the research she compiled gave her an answer of combining her parents’ passions to become an electrical engineer. A full scholarship to Clemson for the class valedictorian solidified her choice of becoming a Tiger over a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.

Evans said looking back at her childhood, she has her parents to thank for the time they spent sharing the daily ins-and-outs of their own careers to set her up for success. “All the things I did growing up, all the conversations we had, they just stuck,” she said. “My dad would come home and debrief with us.

I spent a lot of time with him helping him with cars, and problem solving and trying to understand why things happen the way they happen. It just all pointed in the direction I needed to go.”

Long Live Longleaf Pines: Ryan Bean ’04

Ryan Bean has his sights set on turning three acres of land at Clemson’s Sandhill Research and Education Center in Northeast Columbia into an educational opportunity for South Carolina landowners.

Restoration of longleaf pine trees is important for enhancing the South Carolina landscape, according to Bean, a Clemson Extension and Forestry Natural Resources agent. “At one time, South Carolina had 7.6 million acres of longleaf pines,” he said. “That figure has decreased, and today the state has just 569,646 acres.”

The Sandhill REC plot once was home to pecan trees used for research. Knowing the pecan tree research was no longer ongoing, Bean proposed a new plan for the site. “This is a great piece of land, perfect for a forestry education site,” Bean said. “It will be a place where landowners can come and see firsthand how different planting techniques work. They can use this information when planting trees on their own properties.”

The longleaf pine ecosystem once covered more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, Bean said. Today there is only a fraction of that left due to land clearing, mostly for agriculture. Bean said the longleaf pine ecosystem is home to about 100 bird species, 36 mammal species, and 170 species of reptiles and amphibians. In addition, 29 species associated with longleaf pine forests, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened or endangered.

“There is a huge push to restore this ecosystem,” said Bean.

Bean said he loves working outside and helping people achieve their goals, noting he’d “go crazy” if he had to sit at a desk or in a cubicle for a job.

“I field many questions regarding tree planting and proper care for timber stands,” he said. “It will be nice for forestry and natural resource agents to be able to show landowners and others their options for planting and management practices using this demonstration site.”
Bean also will use the demonstration plot to collect data and reference information specifically for South Carolina.

“Our goal as Clemson Extension agents is to bring information and education to the people of South Carolina,” Bean said. “This demonstration plot will be an excellent way to collect local data, as well as educate people about the proper way to plant and maintain longleaf pine trees here in South Carolina.”

Privilege to Command: John “Jay” Raymond ’84

Making sure your GPS keeps the most up-to-date information for your drive is one of the small responsibilities of the satellites in the sky that Air Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond oversees from his headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

“It’s really hard for the average American to understand just how reliant their life is on space. Space capabilities like GPS and communication satellites fuel our American way of life,” he said.

Raymond took command of Air Force Space Command in October 2016 after the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment and promotion to four-star general. Prior to his current position, Raymond served as deputy chief of staff for operations of the U.S. Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The career military officer said he has prepared his whole life for this role. From growing up in a military family with service dating back to 1865 to attending Clemson’s ROTC program under the leadership of Col. Lew Jordan, Raymond said he knew he wanted a career in the military. “I love belonging to something bigger than myself and having the privilege of serving my country,” he said. “That was instilled in me at a young age.

Raymond’s command provides critical space capabilities for all of America’s joint military forces and the nation. His team operates eleven satellite constellations which enable global communications, deliver satellite imagery, ensure precision navigation and weather data, provide missile warning and guide precision weapons the United States employs.

“A vast majority of those weapons are GPS-guided,” Raymond said.

Commanding 40,000 space and cyberspace professionals in 134 locations doesn’t come easily. “I set high standards, and hold myself and the airmen I am privileged to lead, accountable to meet those standards. I come to work every day focused on removing any potential roadblocks that may interfere with mission success.”

While there isn’t an Apollo-type mission right now, it is an extremely exciting and critical time to be in the space business. The command works with industry and commercial partners to create an innovative satellite sector, which continues to expand the use of space-based technologies. Raymond said with space becoming a more congested and contested environment, working together with all nations ensures that “we protect the critical space domain so everyone can receive the benefits that it provides.”

“It’s my highest privilege to command,” Raymond said. “I’m privileged to serve alongside a great team making sure we defend and protect our space assets, which are absolutely critical to our American way of life.”

Goodbye Guy: Berlyn Kessler “B.K.” Sutton ’50

After 67 years in the women’s shoe business, B.K. Sutton said goodbye to his family storefront on Orchard Park Road in Greenville this past spring.

With more than 6,500 pair of shoes to part with, the Suttons saw hundreds of customers filtering into Sutton’s Shoes from March to May to say how much they were going to miss Sutton and his son Robert “Bob” Sutton ’79.

“We’ve had some hug us; we’ve had a few cry with us,” he said. “We have three generations of customers.”

B.K. Sutton said the decline of customers in the last 10 years, especially since the recession of 2008, ultimately drove the decision to close up the last storefront of three the family has operated since 1950. The family opened three Greenville locations, including the Pleasantburg Shopping Center and Haywood Mall, which remained open into the 1990s.

But B.K.’s looking forward to a full-time retirement with more golf and traveling. “My son is 61 years old. I’m 88 years old. It’s time,” he said.

B.K., a textile manufacturing major, began at Clemson in 1946. “There’s no other place I’d ever thought about going,” he said with a wide grin.

While working his first job at the Judson Plant in Greenville, he was called into active duty in the Korean War. “It wasn’t a shock. We all sort of expected it,” he said.

While B.K. was making headway in a military career, his father O.W. had aspirations of opening a department store. Sutton’s father worked at the Belk store in downtown Greenville in fashion merchandising. Opening an entire department store wasn’t in the cards in 1950, so O.W. and his wife Clara moved forward with one specialty — women’s shoes.

“It was in Lewis Plaza off Augusta Road. It was unheard of at that time to have anything off Main Street whether that was here or in Atlanta,” said B.K. “We priced shoes from $8 to $30. People were standing in line for our merchandise.”

After four years in the Korean War, Sutton remained in the reserves, but took his service-oriented heart back to the shoe store to help his father build their generations of legacy. Bob joined the store after completing his degree at Clemson.

“I hate to see the Sutton name leaving the big community, but I’ve really enjoyed my civilian life,” he said.

My Clemson: Ashley Stumpff Jones ’07

Clemson Family means going to Texas for a conference the same day as the national championship game and having the San Antonio Clemson Club welcome a stranger with open arms, high fives, cheers and hugs as we watched the Tigers beat ’Bama.

It means having Clemson Kappa Delta sisters donate money to help care for my family as my 21-month-old daughter was dying, and years later give again to support other families through Love Not Lost.

It means moving to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and finding immediate friends. It means visiting my in-laws at Hartwell Lake and seeing Tiger paws and hearing “Go Tigers!” everywhere.

It means love. It means support. It means unity. The Clemson Family is one of great character and pride. And I am honored to be a part of it.


Ashley Stumpff Jones is the founder and executive director of Love Not Lost, a nonprofit that photographs families facing a terminal diagnosis to help them preserve memories. She started Love Not Lost after losing her daughter Skylar to Spinal Muscular Atrophy.