Trident Technical College
"There were times when I wanted to challenge myself and just really nerd out, and [my instructor] gave me the freedom to do that."
Meet Jeremy Solomon, a recent graduate of Trident Technical College’s Animation program, General Manager at Plumb Pro+ in Goose Creek, father to 10-year-old son Shelby, car enthusiast, and childhood fan of the Power Rangers.
You took what some might say is an unusual path. You earned a bachelor’s degree and then went back to a technical college to get an associate degree.
After high school, I started at Clemson for engineering and ended up in computer science, but I came out of college right when the economy tanked in 2008. I had always dreamed of going to animation school, but looking at another 3 or 4 years of that after doing 4 1/2 years of bachelor's work was just… no! There was no money there. All those jobs were gone.
So I got married, worked at a good-paying job, had a kid.
I was one of the top ten sales reps for AT&T in the entire country. I was making a good living. Had decent benefits. They sent me on free trips and gave me all kinds of free gadgets. But I didn’t love what I was doing. I didn’t even really like what I was doing. I was just good at it.
Then in 2020, animation called me back.
The “normal” next step would have been to get a master’s degree. I was living in Charleston at the time, and I called up one of my former advisors from Clemson – who was also one of the college’s Animation faculty – and his response was not what I expected.
He said, “Have you thought about going to Trident? Do you realize that the professors that teach Animation at our extension program in Charleston are professors from Trident? Plus, our program costs have skyrocketed because of the pandemic. And honestly, our program is designed for you to be in-person on the Clemson campus – not virtually while also working full-time.”
That wasn’t possible for me because I’m the sole breadwinner for my family. So Trident was the choice that made sense.
A lot of people give me a hard time and ask, “Why did you get an associate degree when you already have a bachelor’s degree?” But the difference now is that a lot of companies don’t necessarily care about the degree. They want to know what you know. And the fastest and most financially beneficial way to do that is through a technical college.
Tell us about a favorite class or project from the Animation program.
My favorite was one of the early ones. It was a modeling class. We had to make a bipedal robot. Everybody else wanted to make a person running or something like that. But I asked my instructor, “Dude, can I make a dinosaur or dragon or something?” And he said yeah.
Now I'm almost 40 years old – about the same age as my instructor for this class. I told him I was thinking of putting a spin on it and making the cybernetic T. Rex from Power Rangers, which were so popular when we were kids. And he encouraged me to do it. So I built it, and it looked almost identical to the original.
Then near the end of the program, I had a 97 or 98 in the class, and I asked him, “What would it take for me get a 100?” I wanted to see if I could do it. And he said, “Make the dinosaur blow fire like a dragon.” And I asked him, “How do I do that?” He said, “You figure it out. That’s how you get the 100.”
I was up for the challenge. It took a bunch of research because this was still an early class and we hadn’t learned any of those special effects yet. But it was a challenge that hooked me. In my first real 3D Modeling class, I made that thing blow fire!
Still, I felt like something was missing. So my instructor suggested that I put the dinosaur to music. He started throwing out suggestions, and then I said, “I have an idea.” I made it so that, when the video ends, the dinosaur walks out to the song “Fireball” by Pit Bull, and when Pit Bull says, “Fireball,” the dinosaur shoots the fireball. My instructor thought it was frickin’ awesome!
I love that your instructor gave you that creative freedom without lowering the academic expectations of the assignment. You actually had that experience more than once, correct?
Yes. There were other times when I wanted to challenge myself and just really nerd out, and he gave me the freedom to do that. When we had to build a room, I instead built the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon. When we had to build a video game, I went with a racing game rather than the more common first-person shooter game.
That one was really special to me. My son Shelby’s absolute favorite movie in the whole world is Cars. I wanted to build a replica of Lightning McQueen that you could drive. Unfortunately, the system broke as I was trying to finish it. But I was still able to build a driving game and hide a little Lightning McQueen, as an Easter egg, when you turn one of the corners. My son thinks that’s the coolest thing ever. He will sit on his computer now and just play the video game I made because he thinks it’s fun.
So your interest in animation is more than just professional. It’s personal too.
Yeah. Even when my son was a baby, I would play video games while he was sleeping on my chest. And as he grew, we’ve done stuff like that together. When I went through the Animation program, he was always asking questions: How do you do that? How does that work? So I would teach him some of the things I was learning.
But he also taught me. He loves Minecraft, so when our instructor asked if we knew Minecraft, I was able to go home and ask my son to show me how to do this or that with Minecraft. So he was teaching me too. That back and forth was really fun throughout the whole program.
But it’s more than that too. When I was working at AT&T, I was able to support my family. But I wasn’t able to look at my kid every night and say, “Daddy’s making a difference.” I didn’t feel like I could tell him to follow his dreams when I didn’t even enjoy what I was doing.
So you went and got your degree in Animation. You changed jobs and have now advanced to the number two position at Plumb Pro+ – a $9 million company – doing everything from HR to marketing to management. And it sounds like you may have a pretty cool opportunity to make a difference and set a great example for your son in the coming months. Tell us about that.
Yeah, so my son’s name is Shelby. He’s named after Caroll Shelby, the car designer and racecar driver. My wife and I wanted him to have the name of someone he could admire as he grew up, and Caroll Shelby was inspiring and creative and grateful and generous and all these good things. Besides being a car nut, he also set up the Caroll Shelby Foundation, which provides medical assistance for kids with cancer.
Well, the Foundation is setting up a car show in South Carolina in December, and all the proceeds will go to the Caroll Shelby Foundation to support these kids. The regional coordinator came to me and asked if I would make a teaser video. Usually a teaser video uses footage from previous events to encourage interest in the upcoming event. But this will be a first-time event. So a bunch of people got together and volunteered their time and money and went to Darlington Dragstrip so that we could create some promotional footage for this event.
It was really cool to be a part of that. I love anything that benefits kids, and it was all for such a good cause. There may be other opportunities like this with the Foundation in the future – to do photography and videography at events or create content for social media. I’m interested to see where this may go.