Skip to main content

NCSA Welcomes Jeff Carpenter to the Center Stage!

An image of Jeff in an archer costume, holding a bow and arrow, posing as if ready to shoot.

Jeff showing his intense archery skills at Jubilee Olde English Faire

Let’s all give a big round of applause to NCSA’s very own Jeff Carpenter! When Jeff started working at NCSA in 1995 as an academic hourly, little did he know he was settling in for a decades-long career at the Center. Jeff is a member of the award-winning Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) team. AVL takes research and creates a visual story, using images and movies to help communicate what the words, figures and diagrams in a research paper reveal. Through AVL’s work, viewers have seen the birth of our planet, the effects of climate change and how plants get energy from light. Jeff has been an integral part of that team and was a natural fit for the Center when he joined. Take it away, Jeff!

What is your title and team?

I am a Research Visualization Designer in the Advanced Visualization Lab

Six members of the AVIL team sit facing the camera as if watching a show - they're all wearing 3D glasses.
Jeff with the old AVL team

What do you do at NCSA?

I collaborate with scientists, researchers and NCSA/AVL colleagues to tell science stories with the goal of making the research done at NCSA and the university understandable to a wider audience. Building on my background in television and theatre, I focus on the art/design side of the production pipeline, including 2D and 3D visualization, media design, video production, editing and compositing. My work with AVL has been seen in documentaries, planetariums and theatrical venues around the world, with permanent exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Why NCSA? What attracted you in terms of what you can bring?

A black and white image of Jeff's workspace. There are several monitors displaying AVL projects.
Jeff’s workspace at NCSA

I started working at NCSA as an academic hourly in 1995. Just prior to coming to NCSA, I was directing television news for the local NBC affiliate. I had a few friends working in the film industry in Los Angeles trying to convince me to go out there, and I had been offered a spot at a professional makeup school affiliated with Universal Studios. I had always been interested in practical effects and monster makeup, so that was very attractive. But I also saw that things were turning towards CGI, and as a local (Mahomet native), NCSA seemed like a good place to get experience while I figured out the next steps. I was hired full-time in 1997. Even through many reorganizations and various job titles and responsibilities, the work was always interesting, and I enjoyed what I was doing, so I stuck around.

Where did you work before here?

Jeff in his Welsh archer gear at a Renaissance faire
Jeff in his Welsh archer gear at a Renaissance faire

I had a paper route when I was 12, worked at the U of I ice rink at 15, was a dishwasher at 16, diner cook at 17, and various odd jobs as landscaper, laborer and carpenter.

After college, I worked as a director at WICD-15, the local NBC affiliate, doing 6 PM and 10 PM newscasts. I was a producer/director at Prairie Production Group and WILL-TV for their pledge drives. I also did some freelance work for various sports networks, but I’m not much of a sports fan, so that didn’t last very long.

What inspires you?

Jeff's wife, Jenny, is dressed like a character from the movie Hocus Pocus. Jeff is wearing elaborate zombie makeup and an outfit from the early 1800s.
Jeff in costume with his wife, Homecoming Dance 1693

I know it sounds like something I’m supposed to say, but my wife is amazing. I wouldn’t have done half of the things I’ve done without her encouragement. My colleagues in AVL are so talented, collaborative, and damn fine human beings. They help me step up my game, and together, we’ve made some great stuff. I am inspired by people who are passionate about what they do, and NCSA is full of those kinds of people. Other than that, I find peace and inspiration in nature. If I ever need to get my head right, I will find a spot along the Sangamon River, lean back against a tree and watch its gentle current until whatever was troubling me floats away with it.

What are a few items on your bucket list?

Jeff playing drums with the band Cody and the Gateway Drugs. Keith Norton from NCSA event services is on upright bass
Jeff playing drums with the band Cody and the Gateway Drugs. Keith Norton from NCSA event services is on upright bass

I have been fortunate to have been able to accomplish several things that could have been on a bucket list, like skydiving, ziplining, recording an album, seeing my kids grow into decent adults and being excited about their journey. Other opportunities just sort of happened while I was doing other stuff, like swimming under the Mayan ruins of Tulum in the Yucatan, sleeping in a tipi and participating in a traditional sweat lodge while working on a few construction projects on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. This summer, I performed with the Tons of Fun Band at Milwaukee Summerfest on the same bill as Mountain Goats & Fleet Foxes.  So what’s left? Top of my list is to visit Iceland and visit as many of the locations written about in the Eddas, particularly Thingvellir and Snorri Sturluson’s home and museum, hopefully seeing the aurora while lounging in a hot spring somewhere; I haven’t been whitewater rafting yet, and I’d like to spend more time traveling. I want to visit the ancestral homelands in Annandale, Scotland and Spandet, Denmark.

What are you binging now?

Jeff is dressed like Animal from the Muppets.
Jeff in an Animal costume

I keep saying that my goal in life is to not have a favorite TV show. I’m failing miserably at that. There is so much good content out there with stuff like Ted Lasso, Wednesday, and Love Death + Robots. Recently, I was watching a rock doc series featuring Sir Peter Jackson, about one of the greatest bands ever. No, not the Beatles; I mean the other greatest band ever, The Electric Mayhem, on Disney+.

Back to top