The Animator 

Profiled in UVA Today, Atthar Mirza (BSArch '17) discusses how his UVA education prepared him for the workforce. 

When he came to the University of Virginia, Atthar Mirza knew that he loved making movies, coding websites and creating intricate models. He did not know if he could roll all of those interests into one college degree.

Until, that is, he discovered the design-thinking concentration in UVA’s School of Architecture. The concentration encourages students to think like product designers, analyzing how design and technology can help solve problems in a huge range of fields.

Mirza soon immersed himself in everything from coding and webpage design to 3-D printing and virtual reality technology. One of his projects – a virtual reality experience that let people in Charlottesville put themselves in the shoes of migrants and refugees in Europe – was featured at the Virginia Film Festival. 

“I was able to focus on all of the skills that I wanted to use in a job one day,” he said.

That day arrived quickly. Just a few weeks after graduating in May 2017, Mirza started working as an animation fellow at The Atlantic, the prominent Washington, D.C.-based publication that covers everything from politics to fashion.

He works directly with The Atlantic’s video team on web development and animations like the one below – his current favorite – shedding new light on the creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” more than 500 years ago. Mirza had a lot of responsibility on the project. He designed the animations, adapted the script and even narrated it himself.


His work is indicative of traditional media companies’ growing interest in new media technologies, such as animation, augmented reality and virtual reality. For example, the New York Times debuted augmented reality coverage of the Winter Olympics, projecting lifelike images of the athletes into viewers’ living rooms through the New York Times app.

Such projects – being undertaken at The Atlantic and across the media world – energize Mirza.

“I get to do something different and challenging every day. Every project, every pitch is a new undertaking,” Mirza said. “I really do feel lucky to be here, to get to work with such incredibly talented people.”

Fellowships like Mirza’s are very competitive. The fellows, all recent graduates, are paid and work full-time. They participate in the program for one year, learning about many different aspects of the media company. Some stay on at The Atlantic, while others go on to different positions in media, technology and other fields.

“I was so proud to see Atthar go off to The Atlantic,” Elgin Cleckley, an assistant professor of architecture and design thinking, said. “We have a running joke that we are all just waiting to see Atthar get his Oscar one day – he is just that kind of student. He epitomizes what we want to help students do in the design-thinking program: obtain the skills they need to find their own way and voice in the design world.”

Mirza found out about the fellowship through a UVA career fair, where he met one of the coordinators. He applied shortly after and, to his surprise and delight, got the offer.