Course Missive

Course Missive

Staff
TAs
Hours and Location
Introduction
Course Content Overview
Prerequisites and CS curriculum
Aims
Objectives
Textbooks
Recommended DVDs and online courses
Assignments
Time Commitment
Attendance, Class Participation, and Classroom Policies
Assessment and Late Policies
Collaboration
Inclusivity
Health
Software
Computers
Finally

Staff

Instructor: Prof. Barbara Meier
CIT 401; office hours by appointment, just email me to work out a time
barbara_meier@brown.edu


TAs

HTA: Kenji Endo
TA: Max Urbany
Tech TA: Ben Sheeran

TA Email: cs1250tas@lists.brown.edu


Hours and Location

Class: W, F 12-1:50 in CIT 316, some classes held in MS lab, CIT 167.

TA hours, some special sessions, in MS lab: see syllabus for hours


Introduction

This course will introduce students to the 3D computer animation production pipeline which includes script/story writing, production planning, creating geometric models and their surface properties, designing motion, staging and lighting the action, compositing rendered images with 2D effects, and editing them into a short finished film. The first two thirds of the course will lead students through a series of exercises that build on each other to learn basic skills in the use of 2D and 3D animation tools. The remainder of the course focuses on group projects that will result in a short finished animation. At each step student work will be evaluated visually for expressiveness, technical correctness, and aesthetic qualities.


Course Content Overview

Learning 3d production: about 8-10 weeks

  • Do tutorials and learn 3D techniques in modeling, shading, lighting, effects, and motion
  • Propose a group final project with detailed story and visuals
Final Project: 3-4 weeks

  • Create a short film in a group of 2-4 students
Class time will be spent in lecture, in-class projects, discussion, watching films, demonstration, and critique of student work. The critique is essential for students to learn the iterative cycle of visually evaluating work in progress, determining possible improvements, and then implementing those improvements. For many assignments, work will be critiqued more than once so that students get the opportunity to improve their work and get feedback on the results. By looking at other students’ work, they are able to practice critical evaluation more often and with more distance than they can with their own work.


Prerequisites and CS curriculum

There are no absolute prerequisites for this course, but computer competence and experience in some related area is required. Related areas include computer graphics, visual arts or MCM production courses, some RISD courses, or production experience in a related area such as computer graphics, filmmaking, video production, animation, digital imaging, or photography. The course is limited to 20 students and instructor permission is required. Students will have to demonstrate prior experience before being given permission to register. If the course is over subscribed, preference will be given by seniority and to more experienced students, but some spots will be reserved for motivated juniors and possibly sophomores.

The Computer Science Department is committed to multi-disciplinary study and welcomes students who would like a taste of computing as well as those who are interested in the full course meal. This course is open to CS concentrators, non-concentrators, RISD students, and graduate students. CS students who have taken CS123 or CS224 will find this course to be a creative application of the graphics algorithms explored in those courses.


Aims

These aims are broad goals for this course, while objectives are the concrete measures by which the aims are realized.

Our aims are that by the end this course you will:

  (1) learn and use the production pipeline to create your own animated film
  (2) see animation as an artistic and personal expression both in what you view in others' work and in what you create
  (3) develop your critical eye so that you can improve your work


Objectives

To achieve the aims above, students will be able to do the following by the end of the semester:

  • Model simple objects using polygons or subdivision surfaces
  • Create shaders to depict simple surface types
  • Light a simple scene with key and fill lights to create a desired dramatic effect
  • Understand basic animation controls
  • Create a simple but polished animated film through the production pipeline from concept to finished movie with sound.
  • Collaborate with other students on preproduction tasks and coordinate individual efforts during a production
  • Visually and technically analyze a work in progress, both orally and written, for your own and other students’ work
  • Develop problem-solving techniques for improving one’s work
  • Begin to develop a relationship to the medium of animation both through expression in one’s work and viewing of other student’s and professional work
  • For CS concentrators and technical folks: apply computer science technical knowledge and skills to a creative endeavor.
  • For more artistic and less technical folks: get a good foundation of technical knowledge to facilitate artistic expression.


Textbooks

Required Texts

This is available at the Brown Bookstore or your other favorite bookseller.

Digital Lighting and Rendering by Jeremy Birn, 3rd ed. ISBN 978-0321928986.

Recommended Texts

These books are recommended for those with stronger interest in particular areas:

After Effects Apprentice, 4th ed. by Chris and Trish Meyer ISBN 978-1138643086. Some of the chapters in this book have been turned into lynda.com video tutorials, so you might be able to use those instead of buying the book. The book is helpful for looking up specific techniques, which is not possible with video tutorials.
Advanced Maya Texturing and Lighting by Lee Lanier, 3rd ed. 978-1118983522.
Maya Python for Games and Film by Mechtley and Trowbridge, 2012. ISBN 978-0123785787.

Some class material will be taken from these sources, and others to be announced:

Cinefex, a journal of visual effects, published quarterly (available in Rock)
Steven Katz, Film Directing Shot by Shot, Michael Wiese Productions, 1991
Eadweard Muybridge, Animals in Motion, Dover, 1957.
Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion, Dover, 1989.
Richard Yot, Light for Visual Artists: Understanding & Using Light in Art & Design, Laurence King Publishing, 2011.
Mike Wellins, Storytelling for Animation, 2005.
Ed Hooks, Acting for Animators, 2003.
Charles Solomon, The History of Animation, Wings Books, 1994.
Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life
Richard Williams, The Animator's Survival Kit, Faber and Faber Ltd, 2001.
George Maestri, Digital Character Animation 3, New Riders, 2006.
Kate Alexander et al., Ideas for the Animated Short, Focal Press, 2008.
The Art of <fill in your favorite Pixar, Disney, Sony, Dreamworks animated feature>
Nancy Beiman, Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animated Features and Shorts, Focal Press, 2007.


Online resources

Many Maya training resources are online for free or subscription.You are welcome to view these on your own. Beware of random free tutorials you find online; the quality of these has high variance! Brown provides campus-wide access to tutorials on Lynda.com and some will be pointed out at the relevant time. Go to here to get started.


Assignments

This course has garnered a reputation for taking a lot of time and being fast-paced, but we would like to help you contain the time spent on this course to a reasonable amount. Animation is a time intensive process, but not all of the time requires hard thinking; some is just going through steps you’ve already figured out how to do.

Students taking this course have widely varying backgrounds; therefore, they may choose, within bounds, the level of complexity for their projects, both technically and aesthetically. As long as the lower bound has been met, projects will not be penalized for being “simple,” but they should be polished. Students should consider what they want to get out of the course, their strengths, and their other commitments when choosing projects. The choice of projects is the most controllable key to keeping your time commitment within your budget. While each assignment is relatively simple, the complexity and vagaries of production software end up eating your time. We will try to eliminate as much wheel-spinning as possible, but going down dead ends and contending with the software are part of the production process. Students should plan accordingly and start assignments promptly. The final project, in particular, can be quite time-consuming and students should plan for this when choosing their course load.

Most assignments have two components: the product of the assignment and a written progress report and evaluation. Both must be turned in by 8am on the day they are due. The evaluation is a paragraph in which you discuss the challenges you faced, both technical and aesthetic, and how you approached and solved them or worked around them. For some assignments, there are specific questions or areas that you are asked to discuss. You should include ideas for how your work can be improved. Assignments turned in without a meaningful evaluation are marked down 1/3 of a letter grade.

You are encouraged to start early and work steadily on every assignment. This will allow you to make several iterations on your project. Getting away from your project is as important as working on it. The time away helps in two ways: it can help you think of a different approach to solving a problem and it can help you view your work with a fresh eye so that you can find ways to improve it. Many assignments are intended to be work in progress and should be handed in on time so that you may receive the benefit of the critical evaluation. In addition, some assignments build on the previous ones; staying on schedule is essential. There may be a production assignment and a preproduction assignment due close to each other or we may post the next assignment before the current one is due. We recognize this can add to general confusion, but it can also work to your advantage because looking around the corner to the next task can often help you do a better job on the current task. You may also find that your lab time can be made more efficient when you are working on two things at once. For example, you can work on the next tutorial if you are stuck on the current problem. Finally, please note that other classes often use the MS lab in the evenings for sections, so you will need to plan your time there accordingly.

The due dates can be found on the course calendar. They are to be completed individually except for the final project which will be done in groups of two to four students.


Time Commitment

There are two 2-hour mandatory class meetings per week and one 30-minute conference with the professor outside class time. There are six 1-2 week projects in this course in addition to the final project. Each project covers a phase of the production pipeline and seeks to introduce students to the creative and technical processes of that phase. Each project also requires the completion of several guided tutorials that introduce students to the details of using the software to achieve the project goals. The time required to complete the tutorials and projects varies widely varies, but most students report 10-20 hours per week. The final project may require significantly more time, 20-30 hours/week in the 2-3 weeks after the Thanksgiving break.

Attendance, Class Participation, and Classroom Policies

This is a studio/seminar course. The success of the class depends on your participation in discussions, projects, and critiques; therefore attendance is mandatory. You must email me before class if you have a legitimate conflict or are sick in order to be excused. Students who have more than two unexcused absences class may not pass.

The class participation grade will be based on participation in discussions, critiques, in-class exercises, and presentations. Coming to class, but having your head stuck in your laptop is not okay. Plan on being an active participant in class. Please note that it is a large part of the grade, and can raise or lower the final grade significantly.

Students are asked to refrain from distracting behavior in the classroom such as cell phone use/ringing, texting, playing games, social networking, email, chatting, and making out (yes, it has happened). If you use a laptop, be sure to dim it while we are watching films.

Since our class meets during lunch, you may eat in the classroom. It is a small room, so be courteous. On some days we will meet in the MS lab. You may not eat lunch during class on those days because no food is allowed in the lab. These days will be announced in advance. Please clean up after yourself and throw away food trash in the kitchen. The classroom trash is not emptied every day.


Assessment and Late Policies

The following is an approximate breakdown of the contributions of the course components:

Tutorials: 5%
Assignments: 35%
Participation in Class Discussion, in-class Projects, and Critique: 20%
Final Project: 40%

Each project will be graded by the professor using a rubric that shows how well the design and technical criteria for that project have been met. The rubric will be available when the assignment is handed out. Most projects include one or more guided tutorials in addition to a standalone project. Tutorials are graded by undergraduate TAs on a five point scale. In real-life production, following your supervisor’s artistic and technical direction is key to getting projects done to a successful level within a time budget. Accordingly, we place emphasis on following the directions of assignments in this course. If you want to explore an alternate path or otherwise “show us your stuff,” do the regular assignment first and then play to your heart’s content. We love to see what you can do.

To receive a passing grade in this course, students must:
  1. Participate in class critiques and discussions on a regular basis. I expect you to come to all classes having prepared assignments for critique and/or to have read and considered reading assignments carefully.
  2. Complete all assignments and the final project.
  3. Submit a written evaluation for all assignments and the final project.

Assignments must be handed in by 2am on their due dates. In-progress works are not graded, but if work is not presented on a critique day or is handed in after 10am, the assignment will be marked down 1 letter grade. Late in-progress assignments (turned in from 2:01am to 10am) are marked down 1/2 letter grade. In progress assignments may not be handed in late. Assignments are marked down 1/3 letter grade for each 24-hour period late up to one full letter grade.

For final versions of assignments, students have three “free” late days. These will be applied for maximum benefit in calculating final grades, but will not show up in grades for individual assignments. Free late days do not apply to final projects or tutorials. Late final projects will only be accepted with a dean’s or doctor’s note.

Extensions on an assignment will only be given for valid medical or personal emergencies, and must be supported with a note from Health Services, your doctor, or a dean. The free late days should cover an occasional concurrent deadline or short illness. Occasionally, there may be opportunities to earn more free late days.

In this course you will be learning new skills. Some would argue that letter grades are not appropriate during this process. You are welcome to take the class S/NC, but the same passing grade requirements apply. All final grades are assigned by the professor.


Collaboration

In the real world of production, nearly all work is collaborative and there is almost always more than one way to achieve the same goal. In this course, we encourage students to discuss approaches with each other on assignments in which each student will be pursuing a different project (e.g. a different object to model or a different scene to light). For assignments in which all students are working on the same project, more care should be taken not to share strategies. Students may also find they are stuck not knowing how to proceed with the software. In this case, it is best to see a TA. If TAs are not available soon, then asking another student for direction is okay. However, one student may not “drive” the software for another student. Students need to acquire a basic level of competence at each production task in order to complete the final project. Students may critique each other’s work outside of class, but students whose work is being critiqued should figure out how to improve their own work.

Students may not do assignments using software that duplicates the functionality of AfterEffects or Maya, and then import the results into AfterEffects or Maya. Students may not use third party solutions to any assignment with the exception of sound material, images, or movie clips that are incorporated into a larger piece. This includes downloads from the web and scripts, recipes, etc. from any outside source whether they are published or not. Students may not hand in tutorial solutions found on book CD/DVDs or any other source. You are welcome to use tutorials to learn a technique, but you may not hand in the results of a tutorial as an assignment. For further information, please refer to Brown’s Academic Code. If you are not sure about something, see me or TAs before proceeding.


Inclusivity

Creating an inclusive educational environment that embraces diversity is a matter of utmost importance. We want to ensure that all students feel welcome and capable of excellency inside and outside class despite differences in race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical or cognitive abilities, economic background, military experience, political ideology, and many other dimensions. You are encouraged to discuss any issues of inclusivity or the lack of it with the staff at any time during the course. You may also contact the CS Department’s Diversity Coordinator (Laura_Dobler@brown.edu) if desired. While we aim to do our best, please remember we aren’t perfect. Feel free to mention or send a quick email to say, “I felt weird when….” to help our community create the best learning environment possible.


Health

CS125 students will be spending most of their course work time using computers. Check here and here for best practices to safeguard your health and well-being. We want you to work hard, but not suffer to a detrimental level. Students who would like consideration for disabilities should register with SEAS.


Software

We will be using Autodesk Maya 2017 Update 4, Arnold 5, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Premier Pro for class assignments. Students may use their own computers or the Mac Minis in the MS Lab, CIT 167. CS125 students have priority over most other students using the lab since these computers are the only ones with installed software. The lab is also used for some class sections, so students should plan their work time around thee. Brown offers free versions of the Adobe software for students. All Maya assignments must be turned in using the course handin script cs125_handin from a terminal window on the CS dept file system in formats that will load into Maya 2017, unless specifically stated otherwise. TAs are available to help students set up their accounts for handing in assignments. Maya is free for student use and can be downloaded here. It is worth spending the effort to get the correct version of Maya and Arnold now. Note that it takes longer than the usual 2 minutes to download and install so don't wait to the last minute. If you plan on using a laptop, you will find it much easier to use Maya if you use an external 3-button mouse (two buttons and a clickable scroll wheel).


Computers

If you haven't taken a CS course before, then you should read the computing policies on the CS web page. If you have problems with your account, see the consultants in the Sun Lab - the other room with computers on the first floor of the CIT. They can fix the problem or pass the problem on to someone who can. CS dept computers are backed up automatically and you can (usually) recover lost files. See a consultant or this page for help.

You will be given a disk space quota for the semester for cs125. In addition to the file space in your regular account, you will be given extra space in /course/cs125_students/<yourlogin> where <yourlogin> is, surprise!, your cs login. Although our course gets more space than any other CS course, it will not be enough. It is highly recommended you use an external drive or cloud space (8GB will probably be enough space) to store past assignments. It is recommended that you keep your most current work on the CS file system, because we can't make accommodations for lost data on your own hardware. Final project groups are given additional common space for project files. Running out of disk space will not be accepted as a valid excuse for late or missing assignments.


Finally

Making animation is fun, but it takes a lot of time to do great work. Pixar animators typically animate about 10 seconds in a 40-50 hour work week. That does not include designing, modeling, shading, lighting, or compositing. You will not have the luxury of spending that much time, and your work will not look as polished at this stage. But don’t be discouraged – you are in the beginning of learning this great art medium. Expect the software to make you insane at times. Just choose your projects wisely and stay on top of the assignments. You can do this!