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Jonathan Lee stood by the large prints of Ein Liz, a female action figure he'd spent the better part of a year creating. The Art Center College of Design senior hoped his pieces would catch the eye of one of the hundreds of possible employers who would inspect students' work during the annual graduation show last week.

The 25-year-old admitted to feeling nervous but tried to temper his expectations as representatives from Disney and Google approached his display. He plans to send resumes later.

"But who knows?" Lee said, standing a little taller as the recruiters drew near.

Lee and the four other departing entertainment design majors have spent the last several weeks poring over their final work with one another and their professor, often debating such minutiae as the size of borders or the proper shading.

"I'm too tired to be nervous," said Assaf Horowitz, a 28-year-old from Tel Aviv.

The seniors were mentored by Tim Flattery, a veteran art designer who has worked on at least 75 films, including the latest "Captain America." The show preparation is so demanding that Flattery turned down a movie offer to concentrate on his graduating students.

When he was an art student, Flattery cold-called a designer who worked on "Star Wars." He agreed to look at Flattery's work. Impressed, he gave Flattery his first break.

"It was incredibly fortuitous that [the designer] picked up the phone, but at the same time I had the portfolio ready," Flattery said. "The same thing can happen to them," he said, referring to his students, "but every little thing matters."

Media representatives said that in a sea of work, small details often catch their attention.

Jonathan Wu, creative director at Marina del Rey's multi-disciplinary Mirada Studios who has worked on films and music videos, remembers being intrigued by the fleeting image of an aerodynamic spaceship in an Art Center graduate's short film several years ago.

"It was just a couple of seconds long, but it was so different than what was normally being done" that Wu wanted to know more about the graduate. He eventually hired him.

Casey Butler, creative affairs coordinator for Jim Henson Co., said recruiters often come to graduation exhibits looking to fill a specific role, say, a designer who draws females well and could work on a show targeting girls. "You're always hoping for that perfect match," he said.

Many Art Center students get jobs before graduation, but the end-of-the-year show still gives them a chance to build their contacts for future jobs. "We're always building our talent database," Butler said.

Flattery, 50, has worked on a diverse group of films, including "Saving Private Ryan," "Solaris" and "Transformers." He said he wasn't considering teaching when an Art Center administrator approached him several years ago. But he said he thought he might be able to take on the new challenge, partially because the nature of his job had changed.

Before the Internet, designers generally had to go to the studio to consult with directors and other executives. But Flattery had been able to work from home, emailing his work to producers and talking over Skype to make revisions.

"It became a lot more flexible," he said. "And I decided I was at the point where I wanted to leave a legacy, so I took the job."

The entertainment design program at Pasadena's Art Center is highly rigorous; only five out of the original 17 members of this year's class are scheduled to receive their diploma this spring. "I only graduate people who are ready," Flattery said.

Some seniors said Flattery had helped bring a fresh, critical eye to images they had spent months working on.

"It's all about studying with a person who has such an impressive resume," Horowitz said.

While his students stood nervously in front of their art Thursday, looking a little like wallflowers hoping someone would ask them to dance, Flattery played the part of matchmaker. He shook hands with recruiters as they walked through the door and steered them toward his pupils.

"Hey, Jonathan," he said, guiding a group toward Lee's exhibit. "These guys are from Pixar."

jason.song@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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