[-empyre-] CG and all things fuzzy

Paul Ward pward at aucb.ac.uk
Tue Feb 16 01:37:12 EST 2010

The AUCB Animation programme is modeled on "the industry" in the sense that animators work in teams and not everyone gets to make their own film. It's a 3-year degree: first years focus on fundamental animation skills (LOTS of life drawing, walk cycles, sack drops, flag waves, and other exercises that get them thinking about the key principles . . . the 'anticipation' I noted in my post of a few days ago). The idea is to make the students focus on their drawing skills, but think about how these can be 'translated' or applied (or recontextualised) in an animation production context. Someone could be brilliant at drawing, but not be able to *apply* their skill in an animation context.We had a visit from Joanna Quinn a week or so back and she talked through some of her films, showing some elements in slow-mo. In some scenes, it was just keyframes (no in-betweens), in others, the in-between drawings were kinetic squiggles, rather than recognisable things - this manifests itself on the screen as some of the best animation (based in observation) you are likely to see. One of Joanna's points was that the students should loosen up on the in-betweens and concentrate on how to instil the movements from A to B to C . . . 
The second years, having done this first year of fundamentals, move on to work as 'junior animators' on the third year films for that particular year. They are assigned roles - or seek out roles that suit their specific skills - and work on the films. During the second year, the 2nd year students work towards 'pitching' their own idea - these ideas are voted on and a slate of them move forward to become the final year productions for the following year. (Hope this is making some sense!) In other words, not everyone gets to make their own film, as not all pitched ideas can be successful (for instance, we had over 30 pitches last year - we have 12 films being made this year). This means that those who are unsuccessful in the pitches are recruited as 3rd years to work on one of the productions . . . each film has a team of 2nd and 3rd years, therefore. Every student, as well as doing specific units to do with Animation theory and history, Professional Development and so on, is expected to document and evidence what they are working on via Learning Agreements for each practice-based unit - because a student might be Directing a production, or working on character animation, or doing the layouts, or any number of other duties, we measure their achievement against a yardstick that they have set (with academic staff agreement of course). We do not assess the final productions as artefacts; we assess each person's *contribution* to it - and it is in the teamwork production ethos that the distinctive character of the degree resides. Ultimately this means our graduates are strong team players with a knowledge of a range of animation production skills, as well as the ability to theorise and contextualise their work and the work of others 
In this respect, the AUCB course is atypical of UK art school animation courses, where the individual filmmaker is the model. The focus here is on individual learning in a group/team context
In terms of the place of computers/CG in all this - there is a 'strand' that runs through the course where students are taught Maya (and those doing 2D animation are taught how to use Toon Boom, those doing stop motion use Stop Motion Pro). As the model described suggests, the requirements of specific productions will depend on what the director and his/her team see as necessary . . . often, we have productions that use a mix of techniques, fuse 2D and 3D (which takes us into the realm of so-called "2.5D") or maybe use CG for certain effects work in what is otherwise a "straighforwardly" stop motion or 2D drawn production 
Whilst on this point, I'd add that the AUCB's near-neighbours, Bournemouth University (completely separate institutions) houses the National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA). Their courses are differently-inflected to ours - whilst they do life drawing and key principles of animation, the degrees they award are much more CG-specific (as the name NCCA suggests). They are, in effect, training Technical Directors (TDs) for the film and games industry, rather than more fully-rounded animators (which is not to suggest that the courses aren't good, nor that they don't have some very talented students). This is yet another potential strand to this debate - what do we mean by 'animation', how do we teach it, for what purpose etc? Once we understand this, we can then look and see that, actually, someone else is doing something very different from what you are doing, but calling it 'animation', or they are doing something very similar to what you are doing, but calling it 'X' . . . Certainly, as well, the research that takes place at the NCCA can be very high-end CG research, more akin to computer science and modeling, working out how to make a specific piece of software do something . . . the AUCB approach is, I guess, more 'holistic' in that the CG is not seen as an end in itself (for want of a better term), but as a tool to be used in the service of something else
One of the problems with technology is how it is perceived - it is either a 'magic bullet'/panacea ("we'd make better films if we had a software upgrade!" "Erm, in all likelihood, no you wouldn't") or it is some kind of threat to an imagined pre-lapsarian past, where people made films differently/better. I'm not suggesting anyone in on this discussion falls into either of these camps, but these, it seems to me, are the simple 'lay' positions - either technology is foregrounded as 'the answer' (even by people who aren't even sure of the question!) or it is seen as 'the problem'. As ever, the truth lies somewhere in between, and the complex histories of how technologies emerge and the uses to which they are put, needs to be carefully mapped. I've recently heard of a UK institution, well-known for Animation, which now has no light boxes or facilities for students to draw - it has, in effect, put all its eggs in the computer basket. As Suzanne points out, such moves (and the institution in question is by no means alone, of course, in having to 'rationalise' its resources and delivery) are part of the context of cuts to education. The way in which animation and other arts are taught is also increasingly seen in terms of what we call in the UK 'knowledge transfer', and this is linked strongly to 'enterprise' (as opposed to, say, 'research'), having a direct application for what you are teaching, and an 'impact' that can be measured. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these things, even in education - why would we *not* want to make 'an impact'?! - but the strings are pulled by people other than academics and expert practitioners, and 'impact' therefore becomes an index of relatively very short-term and often economic factors, rather than (as one might expect from arts like animation) long-term and far-reaching - and very hard to measure - factors.
I think I've gone off the point a little here, if indeed I was ever on it . . . 
I am sure there are some other points from other posts that I wanted to respond to, but I'll leave it there for now and send another post!


From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au on behalf of Simon Biggs
Sent: Sat 13/02/2010 09:58
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] CG and all things fuzzy

At eca we have a well established and regarded animation department, a pretty typical model of a UK art school animation department. There are a couple of antique computers in the studio's that the students can play about with. Most animation is undertaken using stop motion, clay-mation and drawing. Whereas once the material would have been recorded to film, frame by frame, and after that to video, these days they record direct to hard-drive and finish the work off in Final Cut Pro, editing rushes, synching sound, etc. This latter stage of production is not regarded as where the highest level skills are to be found. Walking around the animation studio's it is clear that the key skill that is held higher than any other is drawing. After that, it is motion and how that can be suggested in individual drawings and in tweening. Characterisation is the sought after outcome. But this is a certain type of animation, dominated by models found on TV, in the cinema and more and more in computer games. There are other models of animation (such as that practiced by Larry Cuba, for one).



Simon Biggs

s.biggs at eca.ac.uk  simon at littlepig.org.uk  Skype: simonbiggsuk  http:// <http:///> www.littlepig.org.uk/
Research Professor  edinburgh college of art  http:// <http:///> www.eca.ac.uk/
Creative Interdisciplinary Research into CoLlaborative Environments  http:// <http:///> www.eca.ac.uk/circle/
Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice  http:// <http:///> www.elmcip.net/


From: Renate Ferro <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 2010 23:37:32 -0500 (EST)
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] CG and all things fuzzy

Dear Paul and Suzanne,

Can you both talk about how CG fits into your animation programs?  At
Cornell, Computer Graphics and 3D animation is taught by Computing
faculty.  It is in the art department where students, particularly
recently, have been creating stop action, frame by frame, roto-scoping,
drawing based and a medley of other fuzzies. Whether working  from
photography based or original drawing. their novel, quirky rendering
styles, interdisciplinary interests and criticality make their work fresh
and innovative.

How does it work in the UK?


Renate Ferro
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Art
Cornell University, Tjaden Hall
Ithaca, NY  14853

Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
Website:  http://www.renateferro.net <http://www.renateferro.net/> 

Co-moderator of _empyre soft skinned space

Art Editor, diacritics

empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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