The Star Wars films transport us to adventures in a galaxy far, far away, and computer sciences alum Rachel Rose MS’03, PhD’07 helps bring them to life. She joined Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the visual effects company in San Francisco founded by George Lucas, right after leaving UW–Madison. One of her duties as a research and development supervisor is leading a group in the burgeoning area of virtual production, which makes virtual reality tools for filmmakers so they can make everything from dinosaurs to rebel starfighters. While she helped create a virtual camera for production of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, her love for the saga began a long time ago …
When did your interest in technology start?
It started really, really early, even though we didn’t have a computer until I was a junior in high school. When I was seven or eight, I became interested in computers and would read the ads in the back of magazines. Just the whole idea of computers being able to execute ideas fascinated me.
What’s the best part of your job?
One of the most awesome and one of the most challenging parts of my job is this place is full of extraordinarily talented people — the best artists you can find, the best technologists you can find. We don’t always agree on everything, but ideally we come up with something that’s better than we’d do on our own.
Have you always been a Star Wars fan?
I had Star Wars sheets on my bed as a kid. I wore what were probably boy clothes with C–3PO — he was my favorite — on them. It was a part of my childhood. So many of us are here at ILM in part because of that love.
What’s it like to work at a place known for employing a high number of women, especially in leadership positions?
I feel really lucky to be able to work with a bunch of women at the top. But there are still times when I’m the only woman in a meeting. I try to do a lot of outreach, a lot of presentations, a lot of standing in front of people to let them see I’m out there.
What from your time at UW–Madison has been the most helpful?
The [computer sciences] program is full of fantastic professors who were really motivating. They helped me make connections, so by the time I was out of grad school, I already knew a lot of people.
Is it hard to escape into movies, knowing as much as you do about what goes into making them?
If you’ve watched a shot many times, it’s hard to divorce yourself from it. But with work that others have done, most of the time I’m able to separate myself and enjoy the story. I do notice things, though. There’s always that kind of balance.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Katie Vaughn ’03
Published in the Summer 2018 issue