Alumni Spotlight: TyRuben Ellingson

Art alum TyRuben Ellingson (M.F.A. '88) discusses how he blended his interest in film and his artistic skillset in his creative journey as a special effects artist and conceptual designer.

Art alum TyRuben Ellingson (M.F.A. '88) discusses his creative journey as a special effects artist and conceptual designer.
Art alum TyRuben Ellingson (M.F.A. '88) is a special effects artist and conceptual designer for film.

TyRuben Ellingson (M.F.A. ’88) is this week’s featured alum in our new Alumni Spotlight series for the This Week at Meadows e-newsletter. Each week, a different Meadows alum will be highlighted for their accomplishments post-graduation.



Though TyRuben Ellingson graduated Meadows with a master's degree in painting, his career has largely been focused on the film industry where he was able to translate his artistic skills into the creation of special effects, and eventually into featured concept designs, for movies on the big screen.


It was Ellingson’s viewing of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey that originally ignited his interest in film and left him with many questions about the process: how the movie was created, who designed the spaceships, what was happening with the apemen at the movie's beginning, and most crucially, what did it all signify? This film and the spark it created in Ellingson stayed at the forefront of his mind as he continued his artistic educational journey. Thanks to his father, a university art professor, Ellingson grew up in an open-minded household that valued visual creativity and expression, without putting rigid limits on what was or was not considered “art.” Having these values allowed him to freely explore his creative side in a variety of ways and even as he was working towards his M.F.A. in painting, he felt supported by the faculty in making "experimental films" as part of his research.


"In retrospect, I believe my success in Hollywood was a result of viewing creativity as a fluid evolving skill that could, regardless of how it was nurtured, be used to achieve a wide array of results," explains Ellingson. "There's a temptation to become complacent, especially as your career progresses and daily deliverables mount, however, it's crucial to constantly seek fresh inspiration and broaden your horizons."


This open-minded approach to art and creativity led Ellingson to the visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas. While at ILM, he contributed to the creation of ground-breaking special effects in films such as Jurassic Park, Star Wars: A New Hope (1997 Special Edition), The Flintstones, Casper and Disclosure. After leaving ILM to become a freelance designer, he collaborated with numerous successful directors, including Guillermo Del Toro on Mimic, Blade 2, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim; Neill Blomkamp on Elysium and Chappie; and served as lead vehicle designer for James Cameron’s Avatar.


After cementing his role in the film industry, Ellingson followed in his father’s footsteps and became an associate professor and program director at Virginia Commonwealth University’s art school. During his tenure, he has taken inspiration not only from his own upbringing, but also his time at Meadows. He credits the late professor Dan Wingren with orchestrating weekly seminars for graduate students to exchange ideas and engage in stimulating discussions. For Ellingson, these seminars compounded the importance of maintaining an open mind and exploring the realm of the possible as artists. He views this mindset as a cornerstone of his educational philosophy and strives to carry it into his classroom daily. Ultimately, Ellingson hopes to instill a sense of wonder and determination in his students to encourage them to dream as big as possible and actively pursue their goals.


"You'll often find that you're never entirely ready for the next big opportunity that comes your way, but embrace it with a resounding ‘yes’ regardless," says Ellingson. "Life's too short for hesitation – embrace your journey and make every moment count."


Learn more about Meadows' Division of Art here.