This month we’re spotlighting the Computer Animation program, focusing on the courses that make up the backbone of the curriculum that students learn across its 21 months.
In the Computer Animation degree program, Methods of Design is the third traditional art course students take. By the time they come to this class, students have already worked with the more basics art elements, such as value, color, texture, shape, and form.
In Methods of Design, Course Director Chad Pollpeter expounds on more advanced art principles, such as unity, movement, contrast, and emphasis, and students begin to learn to combine all the elements together. He also teaches students to think like professional artists – and part of that process involves pushing them out of their comfort zone. He does this through a series of projects.
One class project, in which students carve designs out of cardboard, forces them to think about positive and negative space.
“As an artist, I’m constantly playing with the difference between positive and negative space to create a composition,” says Pollpeter. In fact, a recent trend in character design involves artists creating simple silhouettes to play with a character’s contours, and sketching silhouettes is something students do in another project.
“They kind of look at that interplay between the positive and the negative space around it. The more interplay you have, a lot of times, you can create more interesting characters or character designs,” he says.
Learning to be fast and flexible and approach a subject from different points of view is also an important lesson art students must learn, says Pollpeter.
“A big part of what I try to talk to them about in this class is just this whole pre-production process,” says Pollpeter. For example, if an art director at an animation studio asks an artist for 12 stingray designs by the next day, the artist can’t spend eight hours working on one perfect design. The studio is asking for choices, says Pollpeter. “It’s better to give them a bunch of quick doodles,” he points out.
To help students learn flexibility, another project requires students to choose an everyday object, but one with an interesting form, and portray it in unique ways. Students are required to produce a certain number of sketches and composition studies prior to completing a final piece that might show the object with an unusual angle, emphasis, movement, or color scheme.
“It becomes a lot about composition,” says Pollpeter. “When they go into games or they go into the movie industry, especially with animated films, that’s what you’re doing is you’re storytelling, and you’re trying to accentuate these certain moods and these certain feelings.”
By the time the students get to the last week, they have an option of doing character design, environment design, or storyboarding, depending on whether they want to pursue modeling, compositing, or animation, respectively.
“If you have the basic skill sets of how to make composition and how to manipulate that positive and negative space, then it doesn’t matter what you’re working on, it’s just a matter of taking that information and applying it – whether it’s a car, or a spaceship, or hot air balloon, or a tree,” says Pollpeter.
“It’s all just rearranging elements depending on what kind of story you’re trying to portray.”