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Allen School’s Barbara Mones celebrated for her distinguished career in computer animation and XR education

Allen School teaching professor Barbara Mones has had a remarkable career in education as director of Animation Production for the Animation Research Labs, director of the Reality Studio and as leader of both the Facial Expression Research Group and the Octopus Research Group. In recognition of her outstanding work, Mones was recently honored with the 2021 Distinguished Educator Award from the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (ACM SIGGRAPH) for her trailblazing role in developing curricula in computer animation and her continuing role in extending the curricula to virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). 

Mones, who joined the Allen School in 1999, has built a career working in and teaching computer graphics and animation production. Her research is in animation, visual storytelling, content development, fast prototyping, facial expression for stylized characters and the animation production pipeline design for games, film and immersive environments. As director of the Reality Studio, Mones teaches students about effective production pipelines and clear storytelling for and in VR, AR and MR. Students develop and create their own animation and immersive projects under her guidance. 

“Since joining the Allen School, Barbara grew a single course in digital animation into a suite of courses extending from traditional to immersive — virtual reality — digital animation,” said Ed Lazowska, Professor and Bill & Melinda Gates Chair Emeritus in the Allen School. “Year after year, the animated shorts that her students create are invited to prestigious animation festivals in the U.S. and beyond. Year after year, her graduates take positions at leading animation houses. Year after year, we receive messages from former students describing how their careers were shaped by the experiences they had with Barbara at University of Washington.”

The curricula Mones has developed in computer animation has been widely recognized and influential — she has lectured at institutions globally on animation and curriculum development. She also coordinated an international student animation competition for the ACM SIGGRAPH for 17 years and served as Art Chair for the organization’s Education Committee.

“Barbara gave me my first opportunity to learn the skills for animation and visual effects. She introduced me to my grad program and set me on the path to working in the film industry,” said Elizabeth Muhm (B.S., Computer Science and Mathematics, ‘09), a former teaching assistant for Mones who is currently a software engineer at Google. “She both shared her passion for the craft and taught practical skills I use daily like how to manage up and how to think of all your work as a draft to iterate on.”

Students who study digital animation at the UW have the opportunity to put what they learned into practice in the Allen School’s Animation Capstone, in which they collaborate on the production of an animated short film following an industry-standard production pipeline that spans modeling, shading, lighting, animating, rendering and post-production. With her capstone students, Mones has produced and directed 20 animated shorts, many of which were screened at domestic and international film festivals. Along the way, she has developed a curriculum that now incorporates AR, VR and MR into storytelling, content development and filmmaking.  

Dancer By the Sea” and “The Tyrant” are her most recent films to be screened at festivals — and both have garnered many awards. “Dancer By the Sea” has been screened in 22 national and international festivals, including in Canada, Portugal, Germany, Holland, Romania and Russia. “Dancer By the Sea” won 24 awards including Best Inspirational Film at the Top Shorts Festival, Best Family Animated/Best Music Score at the Canada Shorts: Canadian and International Short Film Festival, Best Inspirational Film  at the Festigious Los Angeles Film Festival, Award of Outstanding Excellence at the CineMagic Film Festival and the Award of Outstanding Excellence – Viewer Impact, Inspirational at the Depth of Field International Film Festival. “The Tyrant” has been screened in 10 national and international festivals and won four awards to date, including Best Animated Film at the Gold Star Movie Awards, Honorable Mention/Best Animated Short at the Independent Shorts Awards and Gold Winner/Animation at the International Independent Film Awards. 

Standouts in previous years include the 2008 film “KINGS,” which won a Reviewers’ Choice Award at the Port Townsend Film Festival and Honorable Mention at the New Jersey Film Festival, both in 2011, and “Fish Out of Water,” produced in 2017, that received an Honorable Mention at the fifth annual Noida International Film Festival and was a Merit Winner at the Global Shorts international short film competition. 

Furthermore, her graphics and animation have been shown in museums and institutions worldwide, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Villa Ciani Museum in Switzerland and the ACM SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater. She also has designed and implemented training programs in the areas of digital modeling, animation and 3D paint at Dreamworks/Pacific Data Images and Industrial Light & Magic.

Before arriving at the UW, Mones was a Teaching Fellow at the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and worked for the White House and National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Al Gore’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. For this she was presented with a NASA Group Achievement award. She was recently elected into the SIGGRAPH Executive Committee to serve for three years. 

Watch Mones talk about the award and speak more about her work here. All of her screenings and awards can be seen on the Animation Research Labs website

Congratulations, Barbara!