Katie Hirsch is one of the lucky few who manages to combine her passions with her job.
An animation and computer enthusiast since childhood, Hirsch has used her talent and enthusiasm for both fields in her career as a computer game developer, and, most recently, in her production of a short animated film about a hungry reptile.
Hirsch’s two-minute short, “Dragin’ On,” will premiere in this month’s Maryland Film Festival at Baltimore’s Charles Theatre.
“I was inspired to make the film because I wanted to create a made-up world with made-up rules,” said Hirsch, who graduated from UMBC in 2004 with dual degrees in visual arts (animation) and computer science.
Hirsch began the film during her final semester at UMBC. After graduating, Hirsch began working for Breakaway Games, an entertainment software company in Hunt Valley, Md. Beginning on the art side of the company, she modeled and added texturing graphics to gaming applications. She has since moved to the programming sector.
“I enjoy [programming] because every day there are new and different challenges and problems to solve,” she said.
She recognizes her training at UMBC for helping her to develop skills in coding and the use of specific art programs, but adds that learning how to think critically and solve problems has been very helpful as well. She credits many of her professors, especially her computer science advisor, Dr. Richard Chang, and her art professor Dan Bailey, with encouraging her to “push the envelope technically and creatively.”
Hirsch was very involved on campus as a student, setting records as a varsity pole vaulter while also working as a graphics lab assistant, volunteering with the Center for Women in Information Technology, and serving on the executive board for the Visual Arts Council of Majors. Additionally, she was one of the first four students to be named an IRC Fellow by the Imaging Research Center, and she was also nominated for the Computing Research Association’s Undergraduate Research Award.
As an alumna, Hirsch is still involved with UMBC. She has attended career panels and serves on the Chapter of Young Alumni steering committee, and she even set up a tour of her office for the Visual Arts Council of Majors. She wants to give something back to current students, explaining, “UMBC presented me with a lot of opportunities, and if I can’t contribute monetarily, I can at least contribute my time.”
She encourages undergrads to get as much experience in their field as possible before graduating, but to also enjoy their time at UMBC and take advantage of all of the options that are available.
With all of her experiences, Hirsch has been able to fuse her many interests in order to find a job that is perfect for her and still have time to create her short film. Centering on a rainbow-colored, “dragon-like critter” that spends his days eating colored pellets in the desert, Hirsch said “Dragin’ On” has given her the perfect imaginative outlet.
“You can create things that never existed before.”
– Jennifer Matthews ’07
Originally published May 2006

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