Hailey Dowdy vividly remembers the day her life changed forever.
It wasn’t a dramatic or earth-shattering moment. It was a simple, happenstance conversation with a total stranger that encouraged her to follow her dream of a career in animation.
“Right around the tail end of my sophomore year, I was walking in Washington Hall, and I passed by an office and saw an original cel sheet from my favorite Disney animated show, ‘Gargoyles,’ from the mid-1990s,” Dowdy said, explaining the art of creating 2D animation by hand on sheets of transparent plastic called cels. “I saw it and said, ‘Oh my God, is that ‘Gargoyles?’ And this guy was like, ‘Yeah, come on in.’”
“When he asked me to come in his office, I was like, ‘Oh, shoot. I have to talk to people,’” Dowdy said, laughing. “Back then, I was a bit more of an introvert. But I ended up going into his office, and I spoke to him for two hours. I’m not going to lie. I ended up skipping one of my biology classes. We had a long conversation about animation history. That conversation made me really consider, ‘OK, maybe this is the right path for me.’”
Growing up in the small town of Wrens, Georgia, Dowdy said she had always been interested in art and animation.
“It is a very, very small town. It is one of those one-stoplight towns, and I was one of the very few artsy people there,” she said. “But I always loved art and drawing. In fact, I originally wanted to go to Savannah College of Art and Design to be an animation major, but sadly, SCAD is crazy expensive. I got a $30,000 scholarship, and I couldn’t even afford to go one semester. And, at the time, Augusta University didn’t have an animation program.”
She decided to enroll at Augusta University and major in biology because she also enjoyed the sciences and knew there were a lot of career opportunities in those fields.
“But I insisted on a minor in art because I wanted to keep art with me,” Dowdy said. “That’s what brought me to Washington Hall that day.”
After speaking with Osborne, Dowdy realized she never lost her desire for a career in animation. But she was nervous about what her parents would think of this decision.
“Originally, my parents didn’t want me doing art as my career,” Dowdy said. “But when I switched majors without telling them, it opened their eyes. They realized I’m really thriving in this area, and this is my journey as an art major. Now, they are very happy for me, and they see all the opportunities I have in animation.”
In fact, Dowdy already has a job in animation lined up after graduation with the Texas-based company, iDesign.
“They partner with universities to build online lessons and curriculum,” Dowdy said. “Currently, I am working as a motion graphics designer, where I make animated assets. I basically do all the animation with words. As an intern, I really fell in love with that company, and I am going to be continuing with them when I graduate.”
Osborne, an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Design, believes Dowdy was meant to stop by his office that fateful day during her sophomore year.
“Hailey is an absolute rock star in our animation program,” Osborne said. “The first time I met her, she was a different major. We had a long conversation about one of our favorite shows, and she became an animation student that day. She has such a deep knowledge of old cartoons that she could easily teach my ‘Animation History and Fundamentals’ class.”
Animation is clearly where Dowdy belongs, Osborne said.
“Hailey loves the work she does, and she gives her best effort into every single project,” he said. “Her work ethic is so strong. She can work two jobs and still turn out a great assignment each time. Wherever her journey takes her after college, she is going to knock it out of the park.”
While Dowdy is excited about her future career in animation, she admits that she will miss her cohort of animation students led by Osborne.
“My cohort is a very small group of people, and I feel like they have become a family to me,” she said. “We’ve gotten so close, I feel like a couple of the other art majors are a little jealous of us because we are such a tight-knit community. And, of course, A.B. is an amazing animation professor. I couldn’t ask for more. He will stay up all night with our cohort if he has to help us finish a project.”
In fact, Dowdy said she and her classmates have spent many a night in the animation room working on projects.
“Augusta University is literally my second home,” Dowdy said, laughing. “As an animation major, I didn’t have a lot of access to programs that I needed at home because I couldn’t afford to buy my own computer for animation. So, I have been here for well over 24 hours at one point. I’ve slept in the little animation room multiple times. I’m here more than I’m at my own house, so I am a little sad. I’m going to miss it after I graduate.”
But Dowdy sees only a bright future ahead for the animation program at Augusta University, especially with the recent announcement that the university plans to expand its program to include an additional 21 faculty members in the Department of Art and Design, which will make it possible to attract about 400 more animation students in the coming years.
The Department of Art and Design will also renovate two warehouses on the Summerville Campus to be devoted to growing the animation program.
“I have to admit, I’m very, very jealous of the newer cohorts,” Dowdy said, smiling. “We’ve seen the plans for the new expansion, and it is going to be amazing. I think with the new warehouses, it is going to open up a lot more doors and attract more animation students to Augusta University.”
“It is going to be really cool,” she added. “So, while we are a little jealous of the newer cohorts, I know we helped pave the way for the new expansion. Our work is what A.B. showed the university’s leadership to help get the animation program to this next step, so I’m very proud of the work we’ve done here at Augusta University.”