July 28, 2008
BYU Professor Gives Animated Lessons
By Elizabeth Stuart Deseret News
PROVO -- Since Socrates first sat down with Plato, the study of philosophy has been about the same: analyze, discuss, write papers.
But, lately, a philosophy class at Brigham Young University has gotten a little more animated. Literally.
BYU professor Dennis Packard uses 3-D animation software to teach his students film philosophy.
"I'm very much interested in teaching film theory and criticism in a way that's closely related to practice," he said. "Using animation to block out scenes integrates theory and practice."
There are two film philosophy classes at BYU. In the first class, students learn the theory behind good scriptwriting. They then are required to write their own script. During the second class, which Packard teaches, students choose the best script from the previous semester and animate it. Eventually, Packard hopes to use the storyboards created in class to help students produce live-action films.
"We want these kids to understand film theory so well, they could walk out of class and make a movie -- a good movie," Packard said. "A lot of the films you see coming out of film schools are bad. The reason they're bad is because (students) haven't been taught about film in a way that translates into action."
At BYU, students study the work of experienced filmmakers and dissect the way the cinematography contributes to the overall theme of the movie. They then are asked to demonstrate the concepts they learn, using an animation software program that was originally designed for video games, Antics 3D. The software supplies students with pre-made people and objects, so setting a scene is fast and easy. The characters are preprogrammed to interact with their surroundings.
"It wasn't like, 'Here, this is what the philosophy is; write a paper about it,"' said Christopher Fryer, who completed the class winter semester. "We had to actually use the philosophy we learned to create something."
Fryer learned, among other things, how to indicate a change of focus in the story line by changing the way a shot is set up. He now knows how to use cinematography to develop characters and support an overall theme, he said.
"I can look at a film and really understand what the filmmaker was trying to get across," Fryer said. "I'm able to identify what he's doing, and I can do it myself."
In past years, Packard taught the same philosophy concepts using traditional storyboarding. Students had to draw each camera-angle change by hand. It wasn't as effective, he said, because it didn't allow students to experiment with the movement of the different characters.
When Adelaide Olguin, a 19-year-old senior studying philosophy, took the class last year, she and her classmates were required to demonstrate the theories they learned in class using live-action cameras.
"Instead of just sitting down at the computer, we had to find actors, find a location and get everyone together at the same time," said Olguin, who was Packard's teacher's aide last semester. "We couldn't pay the actors -- it was just a school project -- and we'd have to film for eight hours at a time. It was almost impossible to get people to do it."
Using animation to learn film theory is "genius," Olguin said.
"We study philosophy because we want to understand reality," she said. "Using this software, we can create that reality."
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