Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's up with CS 286, Animating Fast?

Pre-registration for spring courses is now well underway at Hampshire. I was hoping I could spend January focusing on the syllabus for my new class, Animating Fast, but the pre-reg flood of questions has forced me to begin sooner.

This post offers information for potential students of Animating Fast that I fear was either missing from (or ambiguous in) the posted course description:
The tools and techniques of three-dimensional computer graphics (CG) have supposedly ushered in a new era of animated filmmaking. However, computer animation remains prohibitively slow (and therefore expensive) compared to its real-world counterparts of film and video. As a result, instead of seeing an incredible variety of CG features, the last decade has provided essentially only two types: the high-budget visual effects blockbuster and the high-budget children's movie. Why? Is it really impossible to make computer animated films quickly and cheaply? In addition to answering these questions, this course seeks to identify, develop, and use tools and techniques that provide order-of-magnitude efficiency gains in computer animation. Topics covered will include machinima, various forms of performance and motion capture, interactive digital sculpting, machine-assisted proceduralism, and others. Prerequisite: one or more courses in computer animation, computer science, and/or electrical engineering. This course satisfies Division I distribution requirements. PRJ, EXP


The course WILL focus on 3D computer animation. That is, we won't be studying 2D cel animation, Flash animation, claymation, etc., except for how they might inform our investigations into doing 3d computer animation more efficiently.


My goal for this course is to assemble a group of focused, motivated students who share a common interest in "debugging" the current practices of the computer animation industry. In fact, the techniques I teach in my own animation curriculum are exactly those that we will put under the microscope.

This is not the class for a student looking to learn more about computer animation. It is expected that if you come to the class as a student of computer animation, you will have substantial animation production experience behind you. In other words, you will already be a mature computer animator. You will have a fairly solid generalist's understanding of production, and you will know how and why it is "hard."

I am also teaching Computer Animation II this spring. Many students are seeking to take both Animation II and Animating Fast. Except for very few exceptions, I think that being enrolled in both courses is a mistake. Take Animation II first (and/or come talk with me about your case in particular).

The class will involve a substantial amount of group work and will rely on engaged discussions (that's why it's happening in the afternoon). If you are not comfortable participating in discussions, this is probably not the right class for you.

I will not be lecturing about the topics I list in the description, instead, we will build our reading list as we go based on the results of our conversations and investigations.

Some of you caught on to my use of "machinima" in the description. I'll tell you now, this will not be a machinima production course. Yes we may study some of the ideas and practices of machinima, but it will likely end there.

I seek to mix engineers and artists together. If you don't have a strong track record of working well with others, this isn't the class for you.

If you come to the class from the engineering side, it would be great if you also had some background in computer graphics and/or animation. If not, then it's even more important for you to be a very competent and independent programmer who can comfortably work with new languages and systems as necessary.


The jumping off point for the class is the aforementioned collection of animated features for kids and visual effects blockbusters. We will use our knowledge of them, along with other films we unearth, to define the visual and narrative space of the medium as it stands today. We will then use our understanding of the industry pipeline to identify all the places where we could increase efficiency within that space. Finally, we will collaboratively and creatively innovate to directly address some of the inefficiencies.

For me, the most exciting part of this class lies in the previous sentence. I want artists and engineers to be putting their heads together in the service of something that would seem impossible given the time and/or resources we have available. For example, "animate 60 seconds of a naturalistic 3D character (with lip sync) in one evening." Yikes, right!? Yes. WHY does this seem like an impossibility to many of you? WHAT makes it currently impossible (or not)? Could we do this if we were to throw away our existing 3D production pipeline and make a new one? That might be exactly what we have to do.


I think you can't make an informed decision about this class unless you know what we're going to do and what will be expected of you. Hence this missive.

More people signed up than I thought would sign up, and I honestly don't see the qualities I write about here in everyone who did sign up. This course will fail if people walk in expecting to be spoon-fed information, it will fail if people expect to work in their own little holes, it will fail if people don't come in energized to explore, discuss, identify, experiment, collaborate, create, and solve.

Please consider all the above and re-assess your participation in the class. Anyone interested in discussing their possible enrollment with me is encouraged to do so! The sooner the better.


Jeremy Brown said...

This class sounds awesome! Coincidentally, I've been thinking about these topics recently. I feel like where I work suffers greatly from an inefficient pipe-line that is systemic in the fundamental way we organize our pipeline.

It'd also be interesting to explore the human pipeline too... how the producer/director/artist interact, for instance. i'm having a hard time with that at the moment too. =)

Anyway, reading about this and those two epec coursed wit adam and brian makes me wish i were still in school!

Chris Perry said...

JB: Any chance you could come out for a class in early 2009 when we're starting up? I think that it will increase our chances of identifying juicy efficiency gains if we learn about how others in the industry approach their work. Your recent experiences would be very informative.

Class will be once a week on Thursday afternoons, and we start on Jan 29. You're welcome anytime, of course!