President, Custom Entertainment Solutions, Inc.
President, GDC Group Inc. ON-Demand Engineering and Prototyping
Owner, Janet Gray Dance Studios, LLC.

Via previous editions of our emailed e-news, mechanical engineering alumni were invited to campus for an alumni social in their honor. At the inaugural October 3, 2019 social, Josh Gray BS’00, was recognized as the ME Alum of the Year for 2019. Nominations were received from alumni and voted on by the department External Advisory Board.

Attendees learnded that since seeing the animatronic Abraham Lincoln in Disneyland as a boy, Josh Gray wanted to learn everything about making incredible “living” mechanical creations. He debated between a mechanical engineering degree or an art degree. In the end, it turned out both fields were important to Gray’s career success.

In the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah, Gray focused as much as possible on machining, kinematic design, and 3D CAD. “The most important class for me,” said Gray, “was mechatronics, which provided a challenging collaborative project that merged mechanical theory with electrical engineering and computer science. I was guided by the class teaching assistant, learning not just theory but why it matters and how to apply it to solve real mechatronics problems.

Josh Gray visiting the Mechanical Engineering DARC Lab during the annual Alumni Social on October 3rd

“During the school year, I focused on learning engineering theory, but my summers were spent gaining real-world expertise in FX studios in New York City and Los Angeles,” he said. “In these studios, I learned from the most experienced people in the animatronics business. After graduating from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, I was accepted at the prestigious Stan Winston Studios to work on [the movie] ‘A.I., Artificial Intelligence.’ After amazing experiences on-set under the direction of Steven Spielberg, I realized film animatronics were unfortunately becoming a dying art to be replaced with digital effects.”

Now back in Utah, thanks to his versatile mechanical engineering degree, Gray transitioned easily to the 3D CAD and CAE software industry and joined multiple international engineering software companies. During this transition, still passionate about animatronics, he started his own animatronic company, Custom Entertainment Solutions. He worked after regular business hours to create animatronics, robotics, and special effects for customers. By 2009, he became fully self-employed. Gray continued to run his animatronics company, but also started a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) consulting company with clients such as Sierra Nevada Corporation, Phillips, Northrop Grumman Corporation, and more.

In addition to being a small-business owner and working countless hours to complete custom orders, Gray sets aside time to promote engineering and STEM through various outreach efforts. He created an ‘Animatronic Team’ through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake. He teaches teens about machines, mechanisms, and how to create simple animatronics. He also teaches them the art of sculpting and transferring visions from paper to 3D works of art.

Last year Gray inherited his mother’s 42-year-old business, Janet Gray Dance Studios. He has taken this opportunity to promote STEM to all the dancers in the studio. He meets every one of the students (and parents), and offers free tutoring for any student struggling in science and math. Recently, he worked with some of them to repair a microwave antenna on a drone. The students learned basic mechanical/electrical troubleshooting, basic soldering, and the use of different adhesives. Increasing opportunities for women and girls to succeed in STEM is important for Gray and he makes sure the dancers in the studio know their potential.

Gray is not just a diverse engineer, an entrepreneur or a tutor. He is passionate about educating and promoting STEM to the next generation of engineers and pushing the equality of engineering opportunity to girls/women. He is a good steward of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. His work emphasizes that engineering is not just about good design but also about passion, creativity, and giving back to the community. It is our pleasure to recognize Josh Gray as the 2019 Alum of the Year for the Department of Mechanical Engineering.