3-D Animation & Special Effects

Cross-listed in Computer Science and Media Studies:

CS 446
MDST 375


New! Check out the FINAL VIDEOS!!

Go check out 405: The Movie, a short film done by two guys in their spare time on their home computers. In this course, you will work in teams to produce films like this (or better!).


Upcoming deadlines
  • Sun 16 Dec: Project 3 "The making of" documentary

Past events:

  • Wed 5 Sept: Guest lecture by Prof Dave Brogan (Computer Science): 
    The basics of computer animation
  • Wed-Fri 19-21 Sept: Field trip to theatre/guest lectures by Prof Lee Kennedy (Drama):
    Lighting for digital media
  • Fri 28 Sept: Guest lecture by Jason Kehler:
    A brief tutorial on Adobe Premiere 
  • Mon 1 Oct: Guest lecture by Rob Walker: 
    Cinematography basics
  • Wed 3 Oct: Guest lecture by Fernando Catta-Preta:
    Animating characters in Maya
  • Mon 22 Oct: Guest lecture by Prof Kirk Martini (Architecture):
    Physical modeling in interactive animation: 
    are particle systems good for more than games?
  • Wed 14 Nov: Guest lecture by Prof Johanna Drucker (Media Studies):
    Visual conventions for representing space

Instructor: David Luebke

Description: This interdisciplinary course will bring together students and concepts from computer science, architecture, digital media, music, and the visual and performing arts. Working in small teams that span these disciplines, students will propose, storyboard, film, animate, and edit short video segments incorporating three-dimensional computer generated visual effects.  The course will culminate in a public presentation of student videos on HooVision (that huge videoboard in Scott Stadium).  

Location and Time: Class meetings: MEC 215 10-10:50 MWF.  Class attendance is mandatory.

Here is a schedule for lab/studio times and locations:

We will periodically schedule guest lectures, breakout sessions, and field trips at other times.  

Handouts: I will try to post any handouts distributed in class here.

Grades: Check your grades thus far.  Remember that all group members get the same grade for group projects, with no exceptions and no negotiating.

Documentation: Electronic documentation for some of the programs we will be using during the class. Note: a password may be required to view this documentation.

E-mail: The class e-mail list is cs446-1@toolkit.virginia.edu.  Any student can send mail to the list and you are encouraged to use it as a way to communicate what you learn, to ask for help on a particular topic, etc.  All e-mail is logged here for future reference.

Storage: Digital video takes up a lot of space, especially uncompressed.  You are encouraged to use the CD burners on the MEC machines to keep your work on CD-RWs (no burning in Olsson 001, sorry).  We have also arranged for space on the ITC courses server.  Log onto this just as you log onto home directory service, but for "server" enter

Then navigate to the cs\446_luebke directory.  Within this space are directories for each group and a directory for common files.  Of course, transferring hundreds of megabytes over the network is slow, and doing so too often is frowned upon by network administrators, so try to use CD-RWs whenever possible.

Texts: There are no formal texts for this class, but the following books are recommended and will be available at the bookstore:

Format: Lectures will cover topics ranging from lighting and composition to the use of particle systems to simulate wind and fire.  Some of this material is important to everybody in the course; some matters only to a subset of students.  Therefore class will consist, in roughly equal portions, of

The concepts of studio and critique will carry over into the evaluation and grading. Student projects will be presented for public review and discussion when complete, with invited guests from outside the class contributing to the critique. These evaluations will be a significant factor in the final grades.  

Ultimately, this is a project course, and projects take time.  Students should expect a fairly large time commitment and have flexible work hours, since all work will be done in coordination with other team members.  The payoff, however, should be well worth the time spent.

Requirements:  There are no formal prerequisites; enrollment in this course is by consent of instructor only.  To enroll you must demonstrate a relevant skill by submitting a portfolio of sorts.  For example:

There are two important points to note here.  First, there is no "idea person" skill; everyone brings ideas and everyone participates in the hands-on creation of the projects.  Second, the course requires students with real talent in a particular field, not jack-of-all-trades students with mediocre talent in many fields.  If you have multiple relevant skills, great!  Mention them all, but pick your strongest interest or talent and go with that for your application.  Some students have expressed concern about the level of expertise required.  Don't be intimidated by the word "portfolio"; your goal is just to demonstrate for me that you can program, or draw, or compose music, or make models, or create storyboards, or whatever.

Inspiration: This class was very much inspired by Building Virtual Worlds, a class at Carnegie Mellon taught by Randy Pausch, and Digital Video Special Effects, taught at Georgia Tech by Irfan Essa.  Check out both courses and you too will be inspired by what a small group of students can do with creativity and the right tools.

A project in Building Virtual Worlds.  Guess who?

A course project in Digital Video Special Effects.