2010: the year animation oozed out of the entertainment nische and contributed to society!
George's father would be proud!
Some good friends mine stuck through four years of engineering curriculum mostly because their parents (mostly fathers) had concrete expectations of their children (mostly sons) contributing to society. Of course, we suspected that the well-paid pillar-of-society stereotype of the job might have had something to do with it. So, after switching majors from engineering to art (later landing in animation after countless detours), its an ironic twist of fate that I now occupy myself with how animation technologies are spilling over the edges of entertainment and making an impact on how we will live, learn and think.
Of course, this is a very film-centric formulation. The truth is that this is nothing new, but you have to look beyond the art and film oriented forums and festivals to see it. Computer graphics, animation and simulations are driving the way we learn.
Animation and the informational press release
For many years, science releases left the public domain largely untouched. Only an institution such as Nasa had the budget, resources and political need to create visualizations illustrating their ventures and hopeful successes. In the meantime, outreach has become a central aspect of science. Despite the declining budget tendencies, individual scientists or institutions are commiting resources to get their science out there, and in a way that is understood. That often includes animation.
The above is from National Public Radio, and so is rather a nstitutional journalistic effort, so it's a great example of how science can look when it gets a bit of graphic love. Many indy journalists deserve a plug while I'm at it: Phil Plait, Ed Yong and Brian Switek.
Increasingly, scientists are doing their PR and outreach themselves - often at pure personal expense. The following recommendations reveals my interest in paleology: Darren Naish, Bruce Lyndon Cunningham, Andy Farke and svpow. Imagine what these guys would be putting out there if they weere collaborating with an aniamitor.
Over at Brown University, students are driven to create outreach materials which are published via vimeo podcasts at their blog CreatureCast. Above is an example by junior student Casey Dunn. There is incredible variety, humor and dramaturgic elements to some of these films that push these films beyond dry instructional briefs into personal stories. Imagine that! Animation has become such a valuable communicational format that biology students are required to spend time learning it.
What happens? Why?Phet is an interactive simulation environment which uses java and flash to create real-time simulations. As the Phet team states, these apps "enables students to make connections between real-life phenomena and the underlying science, deepening their understanding and appreciation of the physical world."
Sometimes these feel like games (Lunar lander, Projectile Motion), sometimes they feel like explanatory snippets (John Travoltage) and sometimes they feel like homework (states of matter, alpha decay). Usually, they would have profited from some media savvy graphics artist but ultimately they are a wonderful glimpse at the power of interactive simulations for transferring knowledge. This power is multiplied by the community of educators which build and share curriculum around these apps, rating and improving them for specific age groups and content. This is a model for the future, not least because our children's ability to learn is being sculpted by the time they spend within an interactive environment (Ruben, Dana Foundation). For better or worse, the ability to learn passively (ie the traditional classroom situation) is not being nurtured, while the imagination runs wild when you think of what would be possible if the talents involved in entertainment titles took focus on serious educational gaming.
iPad, flash and the the future of publishing
The main reason why 2010 will be remembered as the year that launched animation's overflow into educational formats is the iPad, and the realization of what will be possible with an interactive book that isn't constrained to page-turning. Interactive books mean interactive illustrations, and that means that you can let readers play with the concepts instead of grappling with the words. Once you get them fascinated, they'll click on the vocabulary all by themselves. And there is no one better suited to exploring what an interactive illustration can be than animators who are familiar with real-time interaction and visual story-telling.
It's been a good year for animation, and it's surely only the beginning.