Distinguished Alumni: Chris Martin creates visual effects for Hollywood hits

In 2009 the final battle between superheroes and intergalactic spaceships ensued. Two battles had already occurred, and the intergalactic forces had won twice. Yet, in the final stand in Hollywood, superheroes – and a Jayhawk—prevailed.


At the Emmy awards that year, “Heroes,” the popular TV drama about everyday people with superpowers, defeated the sci-fi show “Battlestar Galactica” in Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series. The series had missed out on the honor to “Battlestar Galactica” the previous two years. Chris Martin, a graduate of the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, accepted the award as Digital Compositing Supervisor for “Heroes.”

Martin, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in film in 2003, has had a lot of success as a young Hollywood professional. He won that Emmy at only age 28 and in 2013 was named one of the College’s Distinguished Alumni. Martin has worked on many popular series including “The Walking Dead,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Office” and “24.”

The future’s bright for the young Hollywood professional, too. He’s working on TV pilots for major networks, developing virtual productions, working on developing a high-concept stylized cable show, contributing content for online distribution including YouTube and Netflix, and helping his company expand into new markets globally.

The road to Hollywood

Perhaps Martin’s road to success seems short – few achieve an Emmy at 28 – but his journey spanned the country, full of experiences that guided him to Hollywood.

Martin grew up in Rochester, NY, and said that he was enamored with visual storytelling since childhood. Martin said as early as middle school he had a photography class where students learned about taking photos and developing film.

In high school Martin took his first video class and developed an interest specifically in video and film. Martin made his first video in that class, with tape-to-tape linear editing.

“I even did my very first visual effect on a Video Toaster, which you current students have never heard of that and never will. That’s good,” Martin joked.

Martin continued his interest in film when he and his family moved to Prairie Village, Kan., where he finished high school. Although he was close to KU, he wasn’t really considering it for an education in film, instead considering schools on the coasts.

That changed after he was actively recruited by the school. During a campus visit, Martin met with Chuck Berg, professor of film and media studies, who was department chair at the time.

“I just remember being so shocked at how cool this place was,” Martin said. “Especially Professor Berg was just such a cool guy that it really just took that one day going to campus, seeing the program, and I think I came away from that afternoon knowing I was ready to become a Jayhawk.”

Martin made the most of his time at KU. He studied film and Japanese, studying abroad for a semester in Japan. He worked for KU Info and the KU Libraries, making films in collaboration with the libraries. He was also an active student in the Honors Program.

During Martin’s senior year, “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America,” a film directed by associate professor Kevin Willmott, made it to the Sundance Film Festival. Martin and several other students who had worked on the film had the opportunity to travel to Utah to attend the festival, which Martin said was “the single most influential experience that really reaffirmed to me that I wanted to make movies for a living.”

The Walking Dead
Martin has worked on visual effects for several popular TV shows, including the AMC series “The Walking Dead.”

Martin said even now his experiences in the College help him professionally. Studying abroad gave him international experience, which his current employer, Stargate Studios, highly values as it expands into international markets.

“I think my liberal arts background at KU, and particularly the diverse set of experiences I got, has really done a lot to make me a more analytical thinker, given me better problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills,” Martin said. “And I also think done a lot to really make me a more creative person and a more creative artist.”

A West Coast family

Martin took that ambition from his education at KU to Hollywood to carve out his spot in the film industry. His career since graduation has taken off, and he credits some of his success to the Jayhawks who helped him along the way.

After moving to LA, he used his KU film connections to get into the industry. Several of these connections came from his involvement with KU Film Works, a film-making club on campus that Martin made several films with while at KU.

Martin is an active member of Hollywood Hawks, a group of Jayhawks in the entertainment industry that brings together alumni in Hollywood. He used his network to gain a foothold in the area and jumpstart his career and continues to connect with other alumni.

“Those guys that came before me really enabled me to come out here and feel empowered and to be successful. And, if nothing else, just became great friends to me,” Martin said. “But for what those guys did for me, I think it’s really rewarding to pay that forward to the next generation.”

Giving back, looking forward

And Martin has paid it forward. In 2009 he and another film alum created new awards to reward KU film students’ accomplishments and raise awareness of their respective fields within the film industry. The Chris Martin Visual Effects Award has been awarded to three students. The award has gone beyond mere recognition – two of the three winners now work with Martin at Stargate Studios.

“Not only is it really rewarding to me to support the department, but I’m actually benefitting professionally,” Martin said.

In creating these opportunities for students, Martin said, he looks back on the support he got when he received a scholarship through KU. He recalled getting letters from donors and being thankful that these people he’d never met before were making his education possible.

“Those who had come before me are doing so much for me,” he said. “It makes so much sense [for me] to do that for the future generations as well.”