Computer Animation: Art Science and Criticism


Vassar College, Fall 2014

Syllabus / Course Wiki

Instructors: Tom Ellman Harry Roseman
Class Meetings: Tuesdays & Thursdays 3:10pm–5:10pm, MC Sci Vis Lab
Course Wiki:


An interdisciplinary course in Computer Animation aimed at students with previous experience in Computer Science, Studio Art or Media Studies, and film, but not necessarily more than one of these areas. This course introduces students to mathematical and computational principles and techniques used to describe the shape, shading, texture and motion of three-dimensional figures in Computer Animation. It introduces students to artistic principles and techniques used in drawing, painting, sculpture and film as they are translated into the context of Computer Animation. It encourages students to critically examine Computer Animation as a medium of communication. Finally, the course exposes students to issues that arise when people from different scholarly cultures attempt to collaborate on a project of mutual interest. The course is structured as a series of animation projects interleaved with screenings and classroom discussions. Screenings give students a context to consider their work in relation to film and film animation as well as contemporary computer animation. Students will carry out their projects using a state-of-the-art modeling and animation software system called “Maya”. In classroom discussions students will critically evaluate their project work, and reflect on the process of interdisciplinary collaboration itself.

Textbook and Readings:

Preparation of Work:

Log in to a computer in the Science Visualization Lab using your user name and password for the Academic domain. Start Maya. Invoke the menu command Files-Project-New. Click the “Browse” button and browse in the dialogue box to find and select the desktop. Type in the name of the project (e.g., Lasseter-John-Lab1, Lasseter-John-Studio1 or Lasseter-John-Project1). Click “UseDefaults” and “Accept” at the bottom of the dialogue box. Now carry out your project. Save your scene files often using numbered file names like scene01.mb, scene02.mb, etc. At the end of each work session, save your project folder in your personal folder on the CIS server.

Submission of Work:

Grading Policy:

We expect students to attend all classes and to actively participate in class discussions. Unexcused absences will result in grade penalties. Classes will start on time at 3:10PM. We reserve the right to consider a student “absent” if he/she is repeatedly late for class. Assignments are due 12 noon on the due date specified in the assignment document. Student work will be screened only if a rendered, compressed animation file is submitted by this deadline on the screening date. We will accept late assignments, but only until the start of the following class meeting, and we will impose 10% lateness penalty. Final grades will be determined roughly in accordance with the following formula: Projects: 50%; Studios: 10%; Class Participation 15%; Final Project: 25%

Students with disabilities:

Academic accommodations are available for students with disabilities who are registered with the Office of Disability and Support Services. Students in need of disability accommodations should schedule an appointment with Professor Ellman early in the semester to discuss any accommodations for this course which have been approved by the Office of Disability and Support Services, as indicated in your DSS accommodation letter.