Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.5, August 1997

Digital Animation Programs: Three School Profiles

Sheridan College, California Institute of the Arts, The University of Southern California

Everyone knows the digital animator is currently a hot commodity. Here is how these three established schools are meeting the challenge of the new media age. Whether through the acquisition of grants, software and hardware or key faculty appointments, Universities and Art Schools are aggressively preparing students for the ever-changing future.

Sheridan College: School Of Animation And Design

by Robin King
Directors: Robin G. King and Scott Turner

Next year, Sheridan College will celebrate thirty years of classical and computer animation training and education. Known internationally for the quality and contribution of its graduates to the professional field, Sheridan has concentrated on educating animators in the fundamental skills which ensure high quality film and television productions.
Students at Sheridan College learning to use Silicon Graphics equipment.

A Long Tradition
The Classical Animation Program was started at Sheridan in 1967. During the 1970s, the curriculum was developed by a number of internationally-acclaimed faculty including Bill Mathews, a Disney animator. He helped to develop the classical style at Sheridan in the 1970s and has just retired from Disney. Many faculty return from the "real world" on a regular basis, as do graduates. Their experience and skill enriches the programs.

In 1980, Robin King started the Computer Animation Program which is a graduate level, eight month program and the first of its kind in Canada. This program has pioneered the development of teaching methods for artists, designers and animators using computer technology for animation and graphics production. Because of the program's early start and the high quality of the graduates, many now have senior positions in animation companies around the world. In addition to reinforcing the critical skills of traditional animation, students are well grounded in character design, motion and animation dynamics, and creative concept development.

Sheridan has graduated several students who have either won or been nominated for Academy Awards. In 1984, classical animation graduate John Minnis made a graduating film called Charade for which he later won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. Another graduate, Steve Williams, who developed computer animation techniques for Jurassic Park and Terminator 2, was nominated for his work on The Mask in the Special Effects category in June 1995. Steve's first co-production, Spawn, is about to be released this month.

Another senior character animation supervisor, James Strauss, was nominated this year for Dragonheart in which he and eleven other Sheridan grads breathed magic into the voice of Sean Connery as Draco, the Dragon. ILM employs over thirty Sheridan graduates who have worked on films such as Casper, Jumanji, Coo, Contact, Disclosure, Hook, Hunt for Red October, Forrest Gump, Star Trek (First Contact), Star Wars, Twister and the recent hit Men in Black. ILM has Sheridan grads among its animation staff in both film, television commercials and Lucas Interactive divisions.

Many other graduates can be found at other animation companies such as Disney Feature Animation, Disney Television, Pixar, Warner Bros., Fox, Pacific Data Images, Dreamworks, Sony Imageworks, Mainframe and other companies as far afield as Hawaii, Hong Kong and Singapore. This year they have commanded starting salaries averaging over $75,000 US with the top graduates being offered six figures!

A New Centre
This spring, The Ontario Government announced a funds-matching grant of $12 million to Sheridan for a new Centre for Animation, Design and Emerging Technologies. The College is now in the process of designing and developing a $24 million centre which will advance animation, design and media technologies and production. It will have both educational and research and development capability, and will be equipped for broad band, interactive communications and production. Private sector support and partnerships will form a significant support environment for this new venture.

Sheridan offers its three year classical program in two forms, three seven month "years," or over three summers in its International program. The Computer program consists of either one eight month period starting in September or a full-fees International program ($16,000) which starts in January and runs until August.

Currently, Sheridan has over 2,400 applicants each year for 110 places in its Classical Animation Program and about 600 applicants for the 30 places in its Computer Animation Program (applicants to the program must have at least three years post secondary experience to apply, although no computer experience is required). This year a new major, Technical Direction, will be offered to exceptionally experienced students within the Computer Animation Program and will deal with motion analysis, advanced production, special effects and high-end production techniques.

Robin G. King, Director of the School of Animation and Design has been designing and developing creative educational programs in the arts and technology for over 25 years. He has lectured extensively around the world in aspects of creativity, computer graphics and emerging technologies. He will also be a Panelist at SIGGRAPH in August discussing the relationship between education and business.

The California Institute of the Arts

by Michael Scroggins

The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is a four-year, fully accredited institution. The school includes all of the visual and performing arts within six schools: Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater.

A computer generated image by CalArts' student, Albert Agazarian.A computer generated image by CalArts' student, Albert Agazarian.

The CalArts Computer Animation Lab was founded in 1983 by the Dean of the School of Film/Video, the late Ed Emshwiller. The Lab began with a single Cubicomp system but soon grew to include an SGI IRIS 3130 with Wavefront Technologies software. Today the department is comprised of a full suite of tools including 15 SGI Indigo2 IMPACT workstations running Softimage/3D Extreme, Pixar Renderman, and Alias/Wavefront Power Animator and Composer.

A Mixing of Schools
The Lab is a major resource for educating students from throughout CalArts in the art of computer graphic animation. It functions as both a teaching and production facility. The majority of students working in the Lab come from the School of Film/Video's Experimental Animation and Character Animation Programs and the curriculum reflects the specific needs of those disciplines; yet it is general enough to serve students working within the wide range of theory and practice found in other CalArts programs. The primary mission of the lab is not simply technical training, but the application of that training to art making. Students are expected to initiate, develop, and produce independent projects as a major aspect of their education.

A separate Computer Animation Program has not been established at CalArts since students are able to apply the extensive knowledge gained in their core programs to the particular concepts, tools, and techniques learned through the Computer Animation Lab curriculum.

Faculty and Alumni
Faculty teaching advanced courses in the Lab are drawn from working professionals and include artists such as Kevin Geiger, John Goodman, and Greg Griffith.

Kevin Geiger received his BFA degree in Painting and Sculpture from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1989 and pursued graduate studies in Computer Graphics and Animation at the Ohio State University's Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. His work in electronic media has appeared in the following settings: The VIPER `94 International Film and Video Festival, the MuestraI International de Video de Cadiz, Prix ars Electronica `94 & `95, Videonale, and SIGGRAPH `94 & `95. Kevin worked as a CGI Technical Director for Boss Film Studios where he created computer-generated creature effects for the movie Species. He is currently employed as a CGI Animator for Walt Disney Feature Animation where he is working on Dino.

John Goodman received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has been working in the field of computer animation and design for over seven years. He is currently working at Rhythm & Hues Studios where his projects have included commercial work for Samsung Intl., Nippon Telephone/Telegraph, and Fox Entertainment, as well as game development for the Sony/Playstation.

Greg Griffith received a BFA from CalArts in 1990 and has been a member of the Computer Generated Imagery group at Walt Disney Feature Animation for over six years. He has contributed to such Disney moments as the ballroom sequence in Beauty and the Beast and the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King. In addition, his credits include The Rescuers Down Under, Aladdin and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

There are more successful CalArts animation program graduates working in a broad range of filmmaking than could ever be listed here. Among the well known Character Animation Program alumni are John Lasseter and Pete Docter, who collaborated in the making of Toy Story, and Tim Burton, director of Mars Attacks, Batman, and Batman Returns, all of which incorporated computer animation. The well known Experimental Animation Program alumni are: Henry Selick, who most recently directed James And The Giant Peach, which utilized computer graphic imagery, Larry Cuba, who made the classic abstract computer animated film Calculated Movements; and Christine Panushka, who recently directed the creation of the internationally acclaimed website, Absolut Panushka, which provides a broad overview of experimental animation.

The CalArts Computer Animation Lab has been supported by generous donations from SGI, Softimage, Pixar, Rhythm & Hues, RFX, ILM, The Ahmanson Foundation, The Roy Disney Family Foundation, The Norton Family Foundation, The Jones Foundation, and Twentieth Century Fox.

Michael Scroggins has been a CalArts faculty member since 1978 and Director of the Computer Animation Labs since 1995. His animation works have been widely exhibited internationally including screenings at the Centre George Pompidou (Paris), Union of Filmmakers (Moscow), Seibu Ginza (Tokyo), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles).

The University of Southern California

by Dr. Richard Weinberg

The USC School of Cinema-Television has created a new division to educate graduate students and conduct research in the expanding and broadly defined fields of animation and digital arts. The Division of Animation and Digital Arts is at the cutting edge of animation and new media, exploring what is still to be imagined and producing work that expands the frontiers of the art of animation.

The computer lab at USC.The computer lab at USC.

The Division of Animation and Digital Arts offers an undergraduate Minor as well as a Master of Fine Arts Degree (MFA) in Film, Video, and Computer Animation. The MFA program explores the history and theory of the artform while emphasizing hands-on production of original creative work using traditional and contemporary media. While embracing traditional forms, the program strongly encourages innovation and experimentation and emphasizes imagination, creativity, and critical thinking.

The recently revised curriculum offers a wide range of courses taught by internationally acclaimed artists. During the first two years of the program, courses include film, video and computer animation history, theory and production techniques, experimental, character and computer animation, critical studies, life drawing and creative writing. The MFA degree program culminates in the third year with Directed Research and a Thesis project, wherein the student demonstrates mastery of the art of animation through the creation of an ambitious, original project.

Extensive Facilities
The facilities of the Division are extensive, with approximately 1 computer per student. Hardware includes Silicon Graphics O2s, Macintosh, Sun and Intel workstations, a Solitaire Cine II film recorder, and video and film editing systems. Software includes Alias/Wavefront, Softimage, Pixibox and many other packages. The School recently became the first university in the world to host a Quantel Domino workstation for 35mm film digital compositing and special effects. These facilities, when combined with the School's extensive departments of film, television and sound production provide an extremely broad range of capabilities for professional quality artistic exploration.

The School of Cinema-Television, located in downtown Los Angeles, is in close proximity to many of the leading studios and the major art museums of Southern California. This provides students with a wide range of opportunities for exposure to the industry and contemporary fine arts, including internships and employment.

The Faculty
Full-time faculty of the USC Division of Animation and Digital Arts include:
Mar Elepano - Basic Motion Picture Techniques for Animators, Animation Production II, Directed Studies

Mar Elepano has been teaching at the USC School of Cinema/Television in the MFA in Animation Program since 1993. He also serves as the administrative assistant and production supervisor for the program. He has been involved with Visual Communications, Inc., a Los Angeles based Asian-American community media arts group, since 1986 doing media workshops. From 1988-94, he was an artist-in residence at different Los Angeles high schools creating media pieces with young people. He also did similar workshops at the California Institution for Men in Chino from 1992-94. His film, Winter, has been exhibited at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival.

Christine Panushka - Introduction to Film, Video, and Computer Animation, History of Animation, Expanded Animation, and Animation Production III

Christine Panushka is a filmmaker/animator whose awards include Grand Prize, Aspen FilmFest 1986 for Night-time Fears and Fantasies: A Bed-time Tale for a Young Girl and a Golden GateAward (Best of Category, Non-narrative) at the San Francisco International Film Festival 1985 for The Sum of Them. Her works have been screened internationally at such festivals as Hiroshima `85; First Japanese International Film Festival; International Animated Film Festival, Stuttgart, Germany; Lucca 16, Milan; and Toronto `84, Canadian International Animation Festival. An accomplished printmaker and visual artist, she brings to her teaching and her art an innovative point of view cited by critics as "completely original and capable of affecting both cerebral and sensual complexities" and placing her "in the front rank of contemporary animation." Currently, Panushka is working as a freelance animator as well as producing three of her own films. She received her MFA from CalArts.

Vibeke Sorensen - Animation Department Seminar, Contemporary Topics in Animation, Directed Studies, Master Class, Master's Thesis

Vibeke Sorensen is Professor and Chair of the Division of Animation and Digital Arts. She is widely known as an innovative artist working with video, film, computer graphics and animation systems. Her work has received many honors and has been shown internationally on television, in galleries, museums, and live performance. In 1989, she received a National Science Foundation grant with Dr. Lynn Teneyck, SDSC/UCSD computational biologist, for research in Interactive Stereoscopic Animation. They created an interactive video animation system, and Sorensen produced MAYA, a stereoscopic computer-animated work that has been exhibited internationally. Panini Stickers, a recent, neo-Dadaist work made in collaboration with Professors Ed Harkins and Phil Larson of UCSD's Dept. of Music, combines live action and computer backgrounds. It was exhibited at the ACM/SIGGRAPH '95 Electronic Theatre, on Television Espanola (Madrid), in the Kwenju Biennale in Seoul, S. Korea, and ISEA96 in Rotterdam, Holland. She is currently a Sr. Fellow at the San Diego Supercomputer Center as well as a Zumberge Fellow at USC. Her current research in new technologies in the arts is supported by the Annenberg Center at USC and the Intel Corporation.

Richard Weinberg, Ph.D. - Founder and Director, USC Computer Animation Laboratory, Directed Research, Directed Studies

Richard Weinberg founded the USC Computer Animation Laboratory in 1985, and is a Research Associate Professor in the School of Cinema-Television. His career has included working for Control Data, NASA, Lockheed, Cray Research and co-chairing SIGGRAPH '84 prior to joining the faculty at USC. His interests include scientific visualization, animation systems and Japan. He has published in varied disciplines such as neurosurgery visualization, graphics hardware design, space shuttle simulation and content production. Dr. Weinberg is involved extensively with corporate relations and technology acquisition at USC.

Contact Information: Division of Animation and Digital Arts School of Cinema-Television University of Southern California University Park, Los Angeles 90089-2211 (213) 740-3985

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