Geographically speaking, Hamilton Lewis is about as far away from his Kansas roots as you’ll find in the continental U.S. But the Lawrence native hasn’t forgotten his hometown since making it big in Hollywood.
Lewis, lead pre-visualization artist with Los Angeles’ The Third Floor studios, made it back to Lawrence this week to see friends and family, visit his old school and promote his newest project, Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War.”
The 2005 Free State grad and Ringling College of Art and Design alumnus was among dozens of artists to work on the blockbuster’s visual effects. For Lewis, who grew up loving Marvel superhero flicks, the chance to work on the latest Avengers film has been “a dream come true,” he says.
At The Third Floor, Lewis works with clients to develop the look of their projects. That’s what a pre-visualization artist does, he explains — sometimes there’s a script, sometimes there’s a storyboard, but often he and other artists are tasked with visualizing the aesthetics of the project based on verbal directions or loose ideas from clients.
“I’m fortunate enough to be in the very tiny room where it’s me, the director, the producer, the special effects supervisor and that’s it,” Lewis says of his current job, which he snagged about two years ago after spending seven years at DreamWorks Animation.
At DreamWorks, Lewis had the opportunity to work on films such as “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Rise of the Guardians,” “Penguins of Madagascar,” three “Kung Fu Panda” sequels and, most recently, last year’s “The Boss Baby.” But since arriving at The Third Floor, he’s been able to work on the kinds of projects — Marvel superhero flicks — he dreamed about as a kid, Lewis says.
For “Avengers: Infinity War,” part of his job was visualizing what Iron Man’s new suit would look like and “how they would get the suit” on the superhero. He also has been lucky enough to work at all three locations for the project: The Third Floor headquarters in LA, at the Disney Studios lot in Burbank, Calif., and on location in Atlanta.
“So, I got to go on set and be with the team in Atlanta, which was really amazing, because every day you’re seeing your shots come to life,” Lewis says, adding with a laugh, “Then you have catering, which is like a five-star picnic.”
After spending the last year and a half on “Infinity War,” which premiered to positive reviews last week, Lewis says he’s already tackled four new projects just within the last several months alone. He’s received a promotion, he says, and now has teams of artists working under him.
One of his current projects: an unnamed Marvel film, the details of which Lewis can’t legally discuss right now.
“At my core, I’m an artist,” Lewis says. “Computer animation skills — that’s like my paintbrush.”
It was here in Lawrence where Lewis first began to explore his talents, he says, with encouragement from his art teachers at Free State, Laurie McClane-Higginson and Carolyn Berry. At Free State, Lewis developed his craft with the school’s Firebirds Productions, shooting sports highlight reels and homecoming videos.
He returned to his alma mater earlier this week to visit with teachers and students, one of whom, he says, plans to study video game design at LA’s University of Southern California in the fall.
“We’re going to meet up when he gets out there, so it’ll be great,” Lewis says.
Lewis also spent his time in Lawrence this week visiting the Lawrence Schools Foundation offices and speaking at a Lawrence Rotary Club event. He enjoys “giving back,” he says.
“I’m always thankful to my teachers and my mentors back in Kansas,” Lewis says. “I really value being from Kansas, because LA is a very different world.”