October 7, 2008

Computer Animation Offered ; St. Pius Art Class Teaches Students Growing Technique of Creating Movies

By Jack King Journal Staff Writer

On his computer screen St. Pius sophomore David Lopez has drawn an animated mushroom, rather like the dancing mushrooms in Walt Disney's 1940's cartoon movie "Fantasia." Then, with the press of a key, Lopez's mushroom morphs into a Japanese samurai wearing a widebrimmed straw hat and a long sword across his back.

Next, Lopez superimposes his samurai on a rising sun pattern, like the one on the Japanese war flag in World War II movies, except that Lopez distorts the pattern so now his mushroom samurai is trudging down long red and white pathways toward a tiny red point in the distance.

Lopez is playing, but it's play with a purpose. He's studying computer animation in a course taught by Jack Davidson at St. Pius X High School.

When Disney's artists created dancing mushrooms almost 70 years ago, they did so by drawing still pictures on dozens of celluloid pages, or "cels." But, Lopez and his fellow students are learning to use a computer program called Adobe Flash that uses "paths" controlled by algebraic equations and a process called "tweening," to do the same thing -- create the illusion of movement on the screen.

Davidson has nine students in the computer animation class and 20 each in two computer art classes, where students learn to use programs like Photoshop and Freehand to create still images, and Serif's Impact Plus, which is able to create a still image that can be pasted into an animation program, enabling it to "turn" as if it were a three-dimensional object.

St. Pius has offered the courses for five years. Davidson has been teaching them for three.

Many of his students merely take the courses for computer or art credits, Davidson said. But, some hope to make careers using the technology. Lopez said he'd like to create animated films or digital games someday, and Chani Addy, a sophomore in one of Davidson's computer art classes, said she might like to be an architect.

Already, today, Davidson said, architects can use computer programs to design a building, then take clients on virtual-reality tours before it is ever built. And, publishing companies have created digital textbooks in which, for example, readers can call up a moving image of the solar system, he said.

For his students, cell phones and Blackberries are second nature, but the world into which they will mature will be even more dominated by digital images, Davidson said.

In the near future, those literate in the technology will be able to free themselves from dependence on television and movie production companies and distribute their own programs through a variety of media, an independent network of cell phones, Blackberries, the Internet and as-yet-unforeseen devices, he said.

Danielle Lucero, a sophomore in Davidson's animation class, said YouTube already has examples of such guerrilla programming. She cited "The Girl Effect," a posting that uses flashes of digital art and graffitilike captions to argue that social and economic change can come about when young women are allowed to participate fully in their societies.

"It's a way of sending messages, but since it's animated it gets your attention more quickly," said her classmate Sarah Spesock .

Students can use the technologies they learn in his classes to pursue interests in fine arts, graphic design, Web design or architecture, Davidson said. He added, though, that he'd like to find more opportunities for them to develop their skills beyond his courses.

"Central New Mexico Community College has some fine digital art classes, but I'm not familiar with any other places. You always want to tie the classroom to the larger world and I'd certainly like to get in touch with the professional community," he said.

(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.