Animation class brings Centre facts to life
RELEASED: Jan. 25, 2007
Dr. Michael Bradshaw’s computer animation class used facts about Centre College for one of its movies.
DANVILLE, KY—It may not have quite the commercial appeal of such recent blockbusters as Happy Feet, Over the Hedge, or Shrek, but a list of facts about Centre College has never been more entertaining, thanks to a computer animation class at Centre.
Each of the 27 students in CSC 111 Principles of Computer Animation was given a single fact, such as "Centre College was founded in 1819," to make a figure named Ludwig speak, complete with appropriate gestures. The instructor, Michael Bradshaw, visiting professor of computer science and mathematics, then stitched the individual animations together into a very short movie that elicited many laughs when it was first screened.
"We got to use our own voices to animate [the] character, so it was like we were animating ourselves," says Justin Moore '08, an economics major from Versailles, Ky., of the assignment.
Some students chose to personalize the stock character, the strange blue Ludwig, by turning it a different color or giving it an unusual accent—or both. For a fact about the high percentage of Centre students who study abroad, Erin Menard '09 of La Grange, Ky., made Ludwig pink and gave it a British accent.
Bradshaw notes that while he could have just given each student a random sentence from a textbook, he thought it would be nice to have them produce something that might actually be useful. The result is a three-minute movie featuring some of the facts about Centre often used in admission tours.
The facts project was only one assignment in the three-week CentreTerm class held in January. Others included a game of catch across two computer screens (an early exercise) and making a music video (the grande finale). Students learned the basics of animation, from how to storyboard a movie to how to place and manipulate digital actors in a succession of frames then combined to make a movie.
Although students used a free, open source program, Blender 3D, which automatically filled in some of the frames, they still found their projects challenging.
"The hardest thing about this class was making all of the little details in a movie, like the eyes moving or facial features come to life," says Laith Sweis '09, a biology major from Shepherdsville, Ky. "On my last project I have a character do numerous back flips and swings."
The class gave more than one student a new appreciation for how people move.
"We focused so much on making the animation lifelike, that I notice things I didn't before, like the way people swing their arms when they walk," Menard says (of the pink Ludwig). She expects that her newly observant eye will give her an edge in her art classes.
Bradshaw says that he most hopes his students leave with a appreciation of the art animation requires.
"Too many people think that the computer does all the work," he says. "While it does reduce some of the tedious work, it requires that the operator understand the science of motion. In many ways, it's like using a word processor. If you don't know how to write, the word processor will not make it much better."
Some computer science majors, such as Zach Brooks '07, took the class because they thought it would be useful to their future careers.
"I'd really like to do 3D animation stuff," says Brooks, of Owensboro, Ky., who has also taken a class in computer graphics. "I'm a computer science major, and it seems like some level of graphics are involved almost everywhere in computer programming."
But since the class did not require previous experience in computer science or animation, participants came from a wide variety of majors, including art, economics and foreign languages.
Math majors Mandy Smith '08 of New Carlisle, Ohio, and Leah Campbell '09 of Tullahoma, Tenn., signed up because they thought it sounded like fun. "Neither of us had animated before," Smith says, "And it seemed like an opportunity we wouldn't usually be offered."It was a lot of fun to show our final work," she adds. "It's very rewarding to watch people laugh or gasp at the emotions you've created. I think the whole class enjoyed watching the short movies and marveling at how far we had all come as a class. We went from learning how to make a ball bounce to making a room full of people laugh along with actual characters interacting with their environments."
To watch the student movie of animated facts about Centre, click here.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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