A Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Computer Animation Course the course, the results and lessons learned from our experience.
David S.Ebert Dan Bailey University of Maryland Baltimore County Abstract Animation has always required a close collaboration between artists and scientists, poets and engineers. Current trends in computer animation have made successful and effective teamwork a necessity.To address these issues, we have d e v e l o p e d an i n t e r d i s c i p l i n a r y computer animation course for artists and scientists that focuses on team w o r k and contemporary issues in computer animation. A key component of this course is the use of collaborative teams that provide practical e x p e r i e n c e and cross-mixing of student expertise. Another key component is groupbased education: the students learn from each other, as well as the instructors. Student teams produce a professional animation that extends the capabilities of a commercial animation package. They gain experience in and exposure to the state-of-the-art research in computer animation and rendering, the complete animation process and the artistic aspects and aesthetics of computer animation. We describe our approach to teaching this course, the curriculum and structure of
Computer animation has always required a close c o l l a b o r a t i o n between artists and c o m p u t e r scientists. However, traditional educational approaches to computer animation isolate artists and computer scientists from each other. Traditional courses fail to teach students the important interdisciplinary nature of c o m p u t e r animation and fail to provide practical interdisciplinary collaborative w o r k experience to students. We have developed an interdisciplinary c o m p u t e r animation course that focuses on contempor a r y issues in c o m p u t e r a n i m a t i o n and requires the skills of animators and programmers working in teams. The goals of this course are: • Develop students' teamwork and effective group dynamic skills. • Increase the technical graphics and animat i o n k n o w l e d g e of c o m p u t e r science students. • Increase the animation skills and knowledge of advanced c o m p u t e r animation techniques of art students. • Introduce art students t o the technical aspects of rendering and animation, and expose t h e m t o research issues in computer animation. • Introduce computer science students to traditional and computer animation techniques. • Introduce a r t students t o the creative potential of writing procedural shaders, models and animation expressions. • Provide practical animation production experience, using and extending commercial animation software. • Provide a collaborative learning environment where students will learn from each other, as well as the course instructors. A key aspect of this course is that students gain experience in participating in interdisciplinary teams.Teams of four to five visual arts and c o m p u t e r science students w o r k together to produce animations that utilize
each member's skills and interests, in a manner similar to commercial animation environments. The computer animation industry requires employees t o w o r k in teams on large projects.Traditional educational environments do not teach skills to make students successful in such environments. Computer animation environments pose a further challenge: teams are composed of members from quite disjoint backgrounds.We have structured this course to help students learn how to communicate, work and even thrive in this environment.
Background and Motivation Animation's history, from its origins in the 1880s to contemporary time, is a continuous line of technological inventions that have allowed animators the ability t o achieve higher quality effects w i t h g r e a t e r ease: B r a y / H u r d p a t e n t e d cels, the Fleischer Brothers invented and patented rotoscoping, Disney developed the multi-plane camera and the list goes on . A t the heart of each of these developments has been the successful synthesis of artistic and scientific talents. A t times, these skills have come together in the unique individual. Normally, however, they have been the result of creative collaborations, especially in today's highly technical computer animation arena. Equally as important, large scale animation production has always required large teams of variously talented individuals. The Warner Brothers animators of the 1930s through 1950s arguably produced some of the most successful cartoons of this century and historians n o t e t h a t effective c o l l a b o r a t i o n between its directors, animators, writers, technicians, artists and musicians was one of the prime reasons for its success . Both of these issues point to the fact that a successful and c o n t e m p o r a r y animation curriculum should not only be interdisciplinary, but also encourage students to develop effective team skills. Schools, universities and institutions are usually divided into departments to better serve student needs. Crossing the boundaries
between areas and departments has always been difficult. A particular school may not be reluctant to develop interdisciplinary courses, but usually mechanisms and incentives to do so are not in place. Thus, many schools are slow to address the industry trend to teach and encourage effective teamwork and collaboration between animators and computer scientists. Currendy, many animation, special effects and computer graphics houses are creating their own in-house workshops and programs for addressing these issues. O u r Pedagogical A p p r o a c h Our pedagogical approach to this course has t w o key themes: interdisciplinary work and collaborative education.This is true even in the instruction and design of the course, which is team taught by a visual arts faculty member and a computer science faculty member. Host of our lectures are designed to have sections that both faculty members present, highlighting the technical c o m p u t e r graphics aspects and the art/animation aspects of the material. In every aspect of the course, we encourage students to collaborate and help each other. Initial assignments, described below, are designed to have segments that are easy and segments that are difficult f o r students from each background, thus encouraging students t~ begin interacting with their counterparts. As mentioned above, we are presenting material in the course that extends the backgrounds of both types of students, while making t h e m f a m i l i a r w i t h (and even extending) the state-of-the-art in computer animation. Computer science students lead the discussion o f c o m p u t e r a n i m a t i o n research papers, helping the art students understand the new material. Conversely, art students present profiles and critiques of c o m p u t e r animators and animation techniques that expand the computer science students' appreciation of computer animation as art. Curriculum The curriculum for the course was developed with three concerns in mind: • Introduce mathematical expressions and scripting to the art/animation students as well as introduce the computer science students to basic animation concepts and the animation software (Maya). This was accomplished as individual projects and tutorials that students completed within the first two weeks of class. • Present the basic aspects of effective collaboration between individuals and create an environment that encourages strong teamw o r k . This was accomplished through presentations, discussions, examples and
two initial assignments that "broke the ice'" and encouraged the teams to utilize the skills of individual team members. • Present both the computer science and art concepts of 3D computer animation. The course was always taught collaboraUvely by the two instructors. Topics were presented as lectures/demonstrations w i t h each instructor presenting material. We structured the course to include the following material: • Group dynamics and collaborative teams. • Basic mathematics for computer graphics and animation. • C o m p u t e r science basics of rendering, shading, anti-aliasing and procedural techniques. • Phocorealistic rendering techniques and tricks using a c o m m e r c i a l a n i m a t i o n package. • Scene composition, camera angles, basics of set lighting and cinematography. • Animation basics: timing, keyt'raming, hierarchical animation, interpolation and motion paths. • Kinematics and inverse kinematics. • O b j e c t d e f o r m a t i o n , soft objects and blending (free-form deformations, lattices, blended surfaces). • Dynamics, physics-based animation and inverse dynamics. • Behavioral animation: particle systems, crowds, flocks and emergent behavior. • Procedural animation and intelligent characters. • Animating natural phenomena. We have chosen to use a text for the class  that is intended to teach computer animat i o n t o artists, and r e c o m m e n d several computer science oriented animation books as supplemental material (e.g., ). G r o u p Dynamics and C o l l a b o r a t i v e Work Traditional education stresses the performance of i n d i v i d u a l w o r k . T r a d i t i o n a l l y , students are not given the skills t o w o r k effectively in collaborative teams. We have explored several methods for teaching effective teamwork skills. We present the basic concepts of effective collaborative w o r k and emphasize this by leading a class discussion relating individual experiences in group work, highlighting both good and bad experiences. Students are given basic background material on teamwork and "groups versus true teams" Students are given a worksheet to help evaluate the effectiveness of each of their team meetings and to help identify problems as early as possible. A n o t h e r i m p o r t a n t aspect o f effective student teamwork is close interaction of the teams and the instructors. This allows the
instructors to serve as observers and help identify team problems early and then w o r k with the reams to correct these problems. Our experience shows that meeting every 10-14 days with individual teams is effective in improving the performance of the teams. Another technique that aids the creation of effective teams is to a l l o w the teams to change after an initial a~signmentThis option allows the students to have more control over the team composition. In our experience, we have not had any teams change during this '~ree-agency" period; however, this opportunity has encouraged teams to evaluate t h e i r effectiveness and discuss and resolve problems early in the class. Structure and I m p l e m e n t a t i o n We have s t r u c t u r e d this course to take advantage of a classroom equipped with SGI workstations for interactive instruction and demonstrations, and the open architecture and procedural flexibility of the Maya software package from AliaslWavefront I. The course is 15 weeks in length and the students start working in teams (four to five students) during the second week of the class. The students may propose the composition of their team, with the restriction that each team must consist of at least two art students and two computer science students. The students have an icebreaker team project to perform in weeks three to five of the class: create a 10-second animation to be c o m p o s i t e d w i t h the blue-screen filmed sequence of a student performing for 10 seconds. After this initial icebreaker project, we allow the teams to be revised to accommodate any p o o r group dynamics that are discovered. We also have some initial assignments that expose artists to working with vectors, angles and simple i l l u m i n a t i o n , expose c o m p u t e r scientists to key-frame animation, and both to the procedural, extensible aspects of the Maya modeling, animation and rendering package. To expose students to the power of procedural shading techniques [I], the flexibility of the HEL scripting language and the challenge of p h o t o r e a l i s t i c image g e n e r a t i o n , the students' second major project is to generate a photorealistic image/animation with the f o l l o w i n g specification: it must contain a specific type of light and a specific object element chosen at random. Some example lighting types used in Spring 1999 included sunset light, light from a lava lamp, light from a neon sign and light from a candle flame. Some example object elements included a cup of cappuccino with froth, icy or snowy patches on a s i d e w a l k and fur. We also r e q u i r e students to create a GUI for the artists to use in creating the final image/animation.
Figure I: Sampleblue-screenimage.
Figure 2: Example final animationstill by CSmARTAIIstars.
Students were given three weeks to complete this assignment. The main component of the course is a 12week team project to produce an interesting, professional a n i m a t i o n t h a t includes extending the Maya package to implement a new animation capability. Regardless of the technical and graphic effects that are achieved, a successful animation is only as good as its story, premise or content. Students must also consider the subject matter of the project and choose an appropriate structure and format. Early in the semester each team is required to "pitch" their animation to the instructors and the entire class in a professional presentation with storyboards, charts and slides. This project also requires a presentation of progress to the class after five weeks of work and a final presentation of results to the class.These are graded on the presentation, the artistic merit and the technical merit of the work.
Initial Results We have offered this course twice. It has been very successful and educational for the students and instructors. The students were very enthused about the class and gained valuable experience in computer animation, as well as working in teams. Most of the teams worked successfully together and, to
Figure 3a: Examplepizza creation GUI.
our surprise, each team decided t o name itself. The team dynamics varied widely and also changed greatly from the beginning of the semester to the end. One of the teams that worked the best during the semester started out with very poor group dynamics between the artists and computer scientists. By the end of the semester, they learned how to communicate effectively, to appreciate each other's skills and w o r k as a team. Only one team (10 percent) suffered significantly from group dynamics, including one team member dropping the class.
Blue-screen Project Our icebreaker team project required each team t o w o r k t o g e t h e r learning h o w t o composite live-action video (10 seconds of a student using exercise e q u i p m e n t ) w i t h computer-generated effects for a 10-second animation. They were required to generate both c o m p u t e r graphics f o r e g r o u n d and background elements.This assignment proved to be successful in providing teams with an initial quick, low-risk and fun project that encouraged creative c o l l a b o r a t i o n . An example still of the blue-screen video is shown in Figure I.An example still from this project is shown in Figure 2. Script and Rendering Assignment
Figure 3b: Examplefinal renderedimageof pizza illuminated by a TV by Digital Macabre.
This assignment was presented in two parts and encouraged teams to divide areas of labor, schedule tasks and augment the existing software, Maya. The first part emphasized the computer science students' skills by requiring each team to use Maya's Embedded Language (MEL) to create a script and GUI that allowed an animator t o create pizzas. The script needed to be able to create different types of crust and different amounts of toppings. An example GUI can be seen in Figure 3a. The second part of the assignment emphasized the animator's skills by requiring each team to create a photo-realistic image and/or animation of the pizza in a given setting with a specific type of light source. These settings and light sources were chosen randomly by the teams and they included: • Romantic dinner by candle light. • Picnic under forest canopy. • Late nightTV dinner by television set. • Pizza oven with flames. An image s h o w i n g a p h o t o r e a l i s t i c rendering of a pizza illuminated by a television can be see in Figure 3b.
Semester Animation Project The semester animation projects contained a wide variety of technical and artistic styles. Below are summaries of a few team projects: • The Autonomous Chicken Farm by The A Team. This team explored the practical application of behavioral animation by developing procedurally animated "Creat u r e s " which are c o n t r o l l e d by a customized user interface in Maya. The example "Creatures" chosen were chickens with controllable personality attributes of hunger, beauty and aggression (based on the seven deadly sins).The final product of this p r o j e c t was an e x t e n s i o n of Maya f o r creating autonomous "smart" creatures and controlling their movement.This generated input for the inverse-kinematic controls and expressions that the animators used for controlling the motion of the creatures. A short demonstration of the Maya extension was also produced. See Figure 4. • Expressive Avatar:An Expression Driven Emotive Artificial Intelligence by Digital Macabre. This project created a plug-in which uses facial morph targets and an IK skeleton to enable a character to react to an environment.The plug-in enables a character t o react to the environment in a random scene based on programmable personality characteristics, creating an intelligent animated character with personality. The team also p r o d u c e d a c o m p u t e r animated short film, integrating both technical and artistic elements that demonstrated the expressive facial animation of their character reacting to typical events in
a hospital waiting r o o m . T h e character's head was m o d e l e d f r o m scanned photographs of a student, which were also used to generate the texture maps for the head. See Figure 5. • (;elegant ]ammin" by The Beasts. This project produced an animated s h o r t in which character movem e n t s (blendshapes, j o i n t s and lattices) o f a d r o p o f gel w e r e driven by sound file i n f o r m a t i o n (wav file).A graphical user interface was c r e a t e d t o c o n t r o l w h i c h dance movements were driven by Figure 5: A ~11from ExpressiveAvatar by Digital Macabre show/ng particular sound data. See Figure 6. Figure 4: A ~11 fromTheAutonomausChicken Farm by responsive facial an/mat/onto a character'senv/ranment • Midnight Music by t h e P r i m a r y the A-team showingbehavioralproceduralanimation of Elephants. The goal of this project art/culatedskeletons. was t o create a pipeline between a format of music and an animation program students than a traditional computer animamost i m p o r t a n t aspect of teaching a teamtion course. Students not only learn from the t o allow any artist t o use music t o drive based course is helping students w o r k effectheir characters. For the animation demontively in teams. Interactive class discussions, instructors but they learn even more from stration of this plug-in, several toys were their team members, especially from those frequent meetings with individual teams and animated t o different musical segments.The from the "other side" of computer animation. effective role models are very beneficial. We animation of each toy automatically adapts From our experience, we believe that an believe that our collaborative teaching to the different musical segments based on interdisciplinary computer animation course approach t o the course p r o v i d e d a good the dance style created for their type of toy. provides b o t h types of students w i t h an example t o the class of the strength and increased appreciation of, and an improved An example still from this project can be effectiveness of interdisciplinary collaborative seen in Figure 7. ability to communicate with, the other w o r k . O u r experience has also shown that Many teams completed their projects, but a community. Students also gain valuable expeb o t h t h e a r t i s t i c and c o m p u t e r science rience in working in collaborative teams and f e w did not. T w o teams c o n t i n u e d t h e i r aspects of computer animation can be effecan increased sense of the history and stateprojects the following semester by working tively taught in a semester course. Finally, our independently with the instructors. of-the-arc of computer animation. experience has shown that this collaborative, We would like t o thank the student teams interdisciplinary approach to teaching Evaluat/on o f Collaborative Teams computer animation provides more benefit t o w h o helped us develop and i m p r o v e this To evaluate the effectiveness of the teams, each student filled out a questionnaire at the end of the class. Students were asked t o evaluate the amount of w o r k they contributed t o each p r o j e c t , w h i c h aspects of t h e t e a m worked well, which aspects of the team didn't w o r k well and what would have helped the team w o r k better. Comparing chose evaluation forms showed that the teams w o r k e d very well together. Even the team with the w o r s t performance agreed as t o cause of t h e i r team's w e a k p e r f o r m a n c e . All t e a m members realized that more frequent team meetings and better communication among team members would have made their team stronger.
Conclusions W e have developed a successful interdisciplinary course to teach computer animation t o c o m p u t e r scientists and artists based on i n t e r d i s c i p l i n a r y c o l l a b o r a t i v e w o r k . This approach for education is very powerful and rewarding;, however, it does require a significant amount of effort in teaching not only computer animation, but teaching successful team w o r k and group dynamic techniques. W e have taught this course t w i c e w i t h improving results. From our experience, the
Fllure & A ~11 from the GelegantJammin'bythe Beas~ showingseveral of the Rel charactedsdance post~ons.
Figure 7".A still from MidnightMusicby the PrimaryElephantsdemonstratinga toy penguindancingto music. course: • The A-Team:Tracy Corder, Will Gee, Mike Keesey,Joe Romano. • Analog Blacksmiths: Chris Esposito, Mary Levy, Phadke Pratik, Evan Williamson, Damion Wilson. • Beasts: Kim Harrington, Mike Madison, Chris Morris, Brian Resurreccion, Shawn Wood. • CSmART AIIstars: Ava Collins, Alex Eller, Jason Lubawski, Marlin Rowley, Christian Valiente. • Day 8: D r e w Cobleigh, Kris Kuhn, J McBride, Divyesh Shukla. • Digital Macabre:Jeremy Dobrzanski, Dennis Moellers, Dov H o r o w i t z , Mike Sharp, Stephan Sherman. • Primary Elephants:Andy Cedilnik, Jodi Kravetzker, Sushama Prasad,Aaron Weidele. • Screaming Nixons: Eun Baek, Jon Feibelman, Costas Kleopa, Vlad Korolev, Steve Matuszek. • Wookie Pimps: Michelle Hunt, Steve Jacobs, Chris Slingluff, Joy Saunders. References I. Ebert, D., F. Musgrave, D. Peachey, P. Perlin, S. Worley. Texturing and Modeling: A ProceduralApproach, second edition, AP Professional, 1998. 2. Maltin, Leonard. Of Mice and Men, McGraw-Hill, 1980. 3. O'Rourke, Michael. Principles of ThreeDimensional Computer Animation, revised edition, W.W. Norton and Company, 1998. 4. Watt, Alan and Mark Watt. Advanced Anima-
tion and Rendering Techniques, Theory and
Practice, Addison-Wesley, 1992. I Some of this software was made available through a generous grant from AliaslWavefront, Inc.