By Meg Cullar
Photos by Julie Copenhaver
Once upon a time, a young Baylor student couldn't decide whether to major in graphic art or theater—he loved them both. Thirty years later, Doug Rogers ’82 enjoys a fairy-tale career where his two true loves can co-exist happily—and successfully—ever after.
Rogers—best known as the art director for DreamWorks' Oscar-winning film Shrek—shared his story September 16 with a full crowd in the Mabee Theatre of Baylor's Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.
Rogers said that the liberal arts education he received at Baylor has served him well in the art, film, and theater industries.
"I work with people in the film industry every day who don't know the most basic things, because they went to art schools," he said. "They can draw and paint amazingly, but they don't know why a gothic arch exists, why the Roman Empire existed, why you plant corn in a row on the side of a hill. When you are creating films like I do, you are creating entire worlds."
Rogers's recent on-screen work includes the animated feature Tangled, for which he was the production designer. He showed students his original sketches and computer-generated models for Rapunzel's tower.
The lively crowd of theater and art students emitted "ohs" and "ahs" whenever Rogers mentioned his involvement with yet another blockbuster feature.
No matter how miniscule the detail Rogers described—"Remember the scene in Shrek where the Farquad mascot is rocking himself back and forth and there's a little sign next to him?"—the Baylor students nodded in recognition. "On the bottom of the sign, there's a code I made up. It translates, 'I hate the University of Texas!'" And the crowd went wild.
Rogers has also been known to garb good guys in green and gold—and bad guys in maroon. Although Rogers couldn't reveal any secrets from his work for DreamWorks' upcoming November release Puss in Boots, these students will no doubt be eager to see the tale of the swashbuckling, green-eyed kitty with a yellow feather in his cap.
Baylor theater performance major Britain Simons said he expected a more formal approach from someone so renowned. "He was very laid back—he likes his job and still gets pumped about it," he said of Rogers, who was dressed in a Disney Princess and the Frog Hawaiian-style shirt. Rogers was visual development set designer for that film.
Art students were equally captivated. Erin Dickhaut, a graphic design student planning a career in animation, said, "I felt like I was on the Wayne's World 'I'm not worthy' bit—to meet someone who started in graphic design."
Andrea Duarte said she gets her artistic inspiration from animated films and has been obsessed with Disney all her life. "What really impressed me were his sketches and seeing how everything begins," she said.
Rogers was an art major at Baylor and began his career as a graphic designer for the Women's Missionary Union and then for a design firm in Dallas. While he was acting in a production at the Dallas Theatre Center, the set designer quit mid-production. "The set wasn't finished, and I thought, 'I think I can do this,'" Rogers said. His set design was well received, so he did another and another.
That's when it dawned on Rogers that set design was a perfect mix of his two loves. "I don't know why it took me so long," he laughed.
While earning a master's degree at Yale's School of Drama, Rogers escaped the cold for a summer in Los Angeles, where he designed for The Shakespeare Festival of Los Angeles. He returned there after graduation, and his work quickly caught the eye of others in the city.
"I got a call one day from Jeffrey Katzenburg's office at DreamWorks," he said. "They were looking for somebody who thought differently than an animator would. They wanted to make a computer-generated film, only the second one after Toy Story." It was Shrek.
Rogers has also kept his hand in live theater; for several years he was the resident designer of The Shakespeare Festival of Los Angeles, and last December he worked there with Helen Hunt and Lyle Lovett on a production of Much Ado About Nothing. He has also designed for Broadway, for Luciano Pavarotti's world tour, and for HBO's Deadwood Mysteries.
Rogers is currently the concept designer for the castle at the new Shanghai Disneyland Resort. Rogers said the castle will be 240 feet tall and house a ride, a Bippity Boppity Boutique, a restaurant, a wedding chapel, and a magic show. "The castle will talk and do magic things," Rogers said.
Rogers told the Baylor students that he still believes in "Once upon a time." But he made it clear that hard work and a good education were the real secrets to his fairy-tale success.