A Strong Vocabulary is a Requisite for Animators
Ron Lewis, a visual effects and animation instructor at the University of Saint Francis (USF), three years there come this January, showed this writer a still life scene of a wine glass, a pumpkin, a loaf of bread, etc., that was entirely computer generated.
“Everything you see was built, starting off with some kind of -- and here come the words -- a primitive, which is a basic shape,” in the form of a sphere, a cone, or a box. The loaf of bread takes about two hours to be formed from a box, with all of the requisite personality.
The board was modeled with polygon primitives. The pumpkin however was created using NURBS (Non Uniform Rational B Splines) modeling; a version of this was used in the first Jurassic Park flick back in 1994; NURBS was used to create the pumpkin. It’s best used for prop modeling, not for creating Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. Things, not people.
Lewis teaches his students not to start with the details, but form the shape then whittle down then detail it. When Michelangelo created his masterpiece sculpture David, Lewis reminded this writer, the shape of the body came first.
But “the first thing I discussed with my class,” Lewis said, “like any other industry, there is a particular industry nomenclature they need to follow.” Words, phrases, and turns of phrases are to be learned, for industry advancement and client communication.
Lewis spends the first few days unraveling his students’ preconceived assumptions about words they thought they knew. “I thought it was called something else,” Lewis said, as he recalled what his students expressed initially.
But it’s through research where language and words transform his students into amateur linguists, to a degree. For one project, Lewis tasked his students to model a realistic-looking sandwich, nothing cartoony. After watching some videos about how bread is baked, the class field-tripped down to Indiana Mexican Bakery shop at 1419 North Wells Street to take notes and ask questions in person.
Photographs were taken and terminology was learned; they were taught how to score bread. Scoring is the word for cutting, but you shouldn’t say cutting to a baker. Scoring allows for the bread to expand during baking. “Each scoring has some particular purpose; one is to help the bread bake better, but also for beauty.” A true understanding of the words leads to more informed animation. The last thing you want is to be called out by a “true aficionado on inaccuracies,” Lewis said.