New animation club for all students

By in Culture

ASHLEIGH MATTERN
Editor-in-Chief

A digital cartoon by Smith using the Blender software.
screenshot of a digital cartoon by Jeff Smith using the Blender software
Jeff Smith is hoping to bring a little bit of Hollywood to the University of Saskatchewan.

The manager of the U of S Digital Research Centre and ex-special effects inventor has started a digital animation club for students with the goal of producing a professional-quality 3D film.

Smith — who worked on Aladdin, The Lion King, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 — is aiming for the students to create a three-minute film. It may not sound like much, but he says they can expect it to take six months to create a professional-quality film.

“Short subject is the only one we can really hope to tackle, at least in the short term,” he explained. “There’s a fair bit of training to teach people the elements they find most interesting. If someone wants to get involved in painting digital background, we have to get them up to the point where they can [do that].”

The Fine Arts and Humanities Digital Research Centre was created five years ago with the goal of encouraging the use of new technologies in multidisciplinary research. Smith cites digital humanities, an emerging field of research, as an example of some of the work they’re doing.

Smith explains that the humanities are starting to use computers “as more than just word processors.” The results are interesting projects like Peter Stoicheff’s project to reorganize all the passages in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury into chronological order, or Peter Robinson’s project to annotate literary documents using social networking techniques.

With the animation project, Smith said he’s hoping to bridge the gap in the university community between “the technical people and the humanities people.”

“This is a fun environment where we can bring people from all disciplines in,” he said. “We think by doing that in a relaxed atmosphere, we’ll start talking more about various projects people are working on which will create organic relationships happening across disciplines.”

Right now, Smith estimates the group only has about half a dozen people, and they’re meeting rather informally until more people get involved. They’re obviously looking for computer science students to help with the technical side and fine arts students who will have skills with drawing and visual representation, but they’re also looking for musicians to write the score, writers to develop a script, drama students to design lighting and sets (“Even in computer animation there’s lighting and sets,” Smith explained), and commerce students to help market the film.

“Every discipline is required to do a decent animated film.”

He also insists that no experience is necessary to get involved.

The tools they’re using to make the film are all public domain and available on all major platforms, so students don’t have to buy expensive programs if they want to work on the project on their own time. They’re using Blender for their 3D modelling animations, Inkscape for their graphic design tool, GIMP as their Photoshop clone, and Audacity for audio editing.

Smith pointed out that not only will students learn about animation, they’ll also get exposure to video processing, audio processing and graphic design tools.

“It’s so difficult for students to get a sense of what the practical applications of what their skill sets are,” said Smith. “Even if you don’t go on to a career in animation, learning how all these media tools function [is valuable]…. Whether it’s in a marketing department, or software design capacity, or working as an executive, these skills are quite usable.”

The Digital Research Centre animation club meets Thursdays at 3 p.m. in Arts 145. The DRC office is also open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. For more info, email jeff.smith@usask.ca.