December 09, 2007

Animation, Pivot and Maya

Over the past few months I have been volunteering in my son's gradeschool class to teach art and animation using computers. The class has several computers in the room and the school has a good computer lab with lots of equipment, and of course most of the kids have a computer at home - quite a change from when I was growing up.

Before I started, I did a little research into available programs for art, sound and animation. There aren't a lot of solid applications freely available, but here are the ones that I found to be interesting:

  • ArtRage - beautiful digital oil painting

  • Pivot - stick figure animation (very addictive)

  • Scratch - visual programming of sprites from MIT (essentially visual logo)

  • Microsoft Movie Maker - simple track-based video and audio compositing

I found one sound effects generator but haven't found the perfect sound effects program appropriate for these kids. Yesterday I found Reaper, a full featured audio track and effects program - it looks wicked cool, but complicated for gradeschoolers.

The kids have amazed me by picking it all up really quickly. Several of the kids already knew about the Pivot cell animation program, and others have already made stop motion animation with Legos, digital cameras and Microsoft Movie Maker. Normally I would have expected the boys to be the ones more into working with the computer, but in this class everybody is very excited and has been diving in. All the kids are trying their hand at different skills - some are more comfortable creating a background painting in ArtRage, but still make a go of animation in Pivot. Others quickly grabbed some background photos off the Web and brought them into and faded them out to make a good background.

The teacher has told me that she has to shoo them out during recess because they'd rather work on their animations than play outside! Makes me feel so proud...

Right now I have them working on a project in teams of two. To explain why working in teams is a good thing to learn, I told them of time I visited Pixar and learned how they used teams - an 'artist' and an 'engineer'. They got a kick out of my describing walking the halls and looking at pencil sketches of a cowboy and a spaceman - I thought the movie idea was great but didn't know if it would have mass appeal. I still regret not having the gumption to ask for one of those sketches - I was so in awe of meeting Ed Catmull at the time, it was hard to speak! I'm sure I made a fool out of myself...

Recently I've thought about introducing the class to 3D graphics, but it can be very time consuming to create the models and I haven't found a good animation program for use with pre-existing models. I did recently download the personal edition of Maya, and maybe there's something in there but I'm guessing it'll be too much for the kids.

December 07, 2007

Edgeio shutting down

Looks like Edgeio is shutting down. That's too bad, I liked the idea of supporting decentralized listings of offers. I suppose being a centralized aggregator wasn't the way to go.

Good quotes from Michael Arrington's (a co-founder) comments:

# Andrew
December 7th, 2007 at 12:31 am
what exactly did you spend 5 million dollars on?

# Michael Arrington
December 7th, 2007 at 12:32 am
Andrew - parties, scotch, hookers, blow. you know, the usual.