Computer animation show premiers at Dartmouth

by Matt Hill | 4/3/06 5:00am

Ever since the release of "Toy Story" 11 years ago, moviegoers en masse have seemed to show a distinct preference for 3-D animation over traditional hand-drawn animation.

When Woody and Buzz first hit the screen, Disney's creative renaissance that began with 1989's "The Little Mermaid" was already on the wane. Following the roaring success of the previous year's "The Lion King," 1995's "Pocahontas" was in general a critical and commercial thud, while the Disney films in its wake, such as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Hercules," seemed increasingly distant from the level of quality the House of Mouse had previously achieved.

But "Toy Story" -- which was released in 1995 by Pixar, a subsidiary of Walt Disney -- gave birth to a whole new era of animated moviemaking, such as the cleverly satirical "Shrek," the charming and heartfelt "Finding Nemo" and, less fortunately, cinematic mistakes like "Shark Tale."

Colleges and universities around the country have begun to develop programs for students aspiring to be the next John Lasseter or Andrew Stanton, and Dartmouth is prominently among them.

Tonight's premiere screening of original 3-D computer animation created by Dartmouth students is a testament not only to the myriad creative possibilities inherent in the burgeoning medium, but also to the wealth of artistic ingenuity among Dartmouth's student body.

The screening, which many students will be delighted to hear is free, will essentially be a compilation of student work, including homework assignments and final projects, from the fall and winter computer animation classes -- Computer Sciences 3 and 13 -- taught by professor Lorie Loeb.

The event was put together mainly by Loeb and her two teaching assistants, Luke Wachter '06 and Alex Steinberg '07.

"This is the first time a big screening like this has ever been assembled," said Wachter. "I think in part the motivation is to get the message out about computer animation at Dartmouth. And the screening is definitely a good way to do that." Wachter went on to explain that in the next couple of years, Loeb is determined to implement a digital arts minor, and has been working diligently at eliciting support for the idea.

Elizabeth Sigler '08 is among the students whose work comprises a key component of that effort.

"A few students and I who have taken a few classes with her and want to continue in the field of computer animation are really hoping that the school will pass the digital arts minor," Sigler said. "If the minor gets passed, and with the start of these screenings of our work, I think the word will get out to the student body about these classes and they will be pretty popular. Most of the students I know didn't even know that these kinds of classes are even offered, and they were really interested once I explained or showed them the work I do."

"We all had a great experience and learned a tremendous amount from professor Loeb," added Michael Simoni '08, who will be showing two of his works at the screening.

The student animators all seem to have derived exhaustion, inspiration and satisfaction in equal parts from their exceptional work, fondly recalling end-of-term all-nighters highlighted by broken models, endless tinkering with lighting and storyboards, and late-night Chinese food brought by Loeb.

"It might sound a bit miserable to some people, but it's probably one of my favorite parts of the class; you end up bonding with the class and it's a lot of fun," said Sigler. "When your model breaks or something like that, the whole class is there to help you fix it -- or at least sympathize with you."

Every second and every frame that audiences will witness at the screening tonight represents an enormous amount of work, from storyboarding and lighting to camera adjustments, film editing, sound editing and, perhaps most of all, modeling the entire set and background.

Despite all the hard work and dedication the craft requires, Wachter said that he's extremely impressed by how much the students have improved over the term. "I've really enjoyed helping them out," he said.

"These projects represent unbelievable amounts of blood, sweat, tears, Red Bull, all-nighters and creative genius," said Rebeckah Groves '06, who will be hosting the show. "The show represents so much hard work from really talented animators, and we would appreciate it if you would support us by coming to see what we were doing all those nights that we didn't come home from the computer lab."

The free screening begins tonight at 7 p.m. at Filene Auditorium.

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