Computer Graphics for Film Production

Cross-listed in Computer Science and Media Studies:

CS 440
MDST 375

This course was previously offered as CS 446: 3D Animation & Special Effects.  Check out the FINAL VIDEOS from that course.

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 & events
  • Tuesday 9 November: Project 3 checkpoint 1:  storyboards + script, production schedule, story reel,
    live-action raw footage
  • Tuesday 16 November: Guest lecture by Judith Thomas, Madelyn Wessel: Digital Media & Copyright.
  • Tuesday 23 November: Project 3 checkpoint 2:  models + audio finished, animation well underway, end-to-end rough render
  • Tuesday 7 December: Project 3 final checkpoint: render, post-production, final video
  • Thursday 9 December: Project 3 in-class viewing and presentation, juried review, discussion
  • Wednesday, 15 December (Finals Week): Director's Cut, Grand Debut, and The Making Of

Instructor: David Luebke

Description: This interdisciplinary course will bring together students and concepts from computer science, architecture, media studies, music, and the visual and performing arts. Working in small teams that span these disciplines, and using state-of-the-art production software, 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; last time this was held on HooVision (that huge videoboard in Scott Stadium).  

Forum: Use the course forum to post questions & answers, tips & tricks, rants & raves, etc.  Tell folks about a useful tutorial you found, pitch your idea for the next production, brainstorm about others' ideas.  Students are expected to check the forum at least once a day, and your participation on the forum will count towards the general grading criterion of "class participation".

Syllabus: Download the syllabus.

Details: Please note that attendance is mandatory; anything else would be unfair to your teammates.

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

Room Schedule: Here is the schedule for Wilson 306; I will inquire as to whether the room is really being used during all these time slots.  We are allowed to use the room any time not reserved for another class or special event. 

Format: Lectures will cover topics ranging from lighting and composition, to appreciation and criticism of the animated short, 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 large time commitment and have flexible work hours, since all work will be done in coordination with other team members.  The payoff, however, will 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.  Twenty-five students will be admitted to the course (this number is dictated by the number of computers and software licenses available to the class).

Tools: Our primary platform will be the Macintosh computers in Wilson 306.  We will be using Maya by Alias|Wavefront for modeling and animation, Renderman by Pixar for rendering, Final Cut and  Shake by Apple for video editing.  Note that these software packages, which cost many thousands of dollars, are the same tools used in professional studios!  They are high-end production-grade tools and the learning curve can be quite steep.  But the opportunity to use and the challenge of mastering these packages, which have been generously donated by their respective creators, is part of what makes this course so special.

Applying: Students who wish to take the class should fill out and submit an application survey by Friday 16 April, and follow this up with their portfolio by Friday 21 May.  Admission decisions will be announced by e-mail within two weeks.

I have intentionally created an application process lasting well beyond the registration period for next semester.  This was done to level the playing field, e.g. by allowing students who don't maintain a running portfolio time to assemble one, or by allowing students who wish to do 3D modeling, but have little experience, time to learn Maya.  Unfortunately, however, the timing requires you to register for classes without knowing whether you will be admitted into this course.  I recommend that you register for another course that you plan to drop if you are admitted, and include a signed drop-add form to this effect with your application that I will sign and turn in if you are admitted.

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, as well as 3D Animation & Special Effects, the previous incarnation of this course, 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.