The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

Animation in a Digital World: Digital Design Students Gain Networking and Professional Development Experience

Animation in a Digital World

Animation has come a long way in the past 80 years. When Walt Disney started production on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1934, more than 300 animators, artists, inkers and painters had to hand draw the 1.5 million cells that make up the film. But when Disney animators sat down more than 75 years later to work on “Frozen,” the pencils and watercolors on their desks had been replaced by a suite of sophisticated computer graphics technologies.

Animation (along with many other art forms like illustration and video game design) has become very high-tech. A degree program in Penn State School of Visual Arts' (SoVA) — the Interdisciplinary Digital Studio — is devoted to teaching students the technical and creative skills they need to succeed in the field.

But one group of senior undergraduate students wanted a way to go a step further in practicing their networking skills and getting more professional development. Thus, the Computer Graphics Club was born.

“We wanted to create a club that would allow us to have fun while also boosting our professional skills,” said Megan Koren, the club’s president. “Some clubs focus more on being social, but we wanted to spend more time developing our technology and networking skills.”

Although the students are all working toward the same degree, their specific interests — and the technology needed to practice them — vary. Koren says she’s most interested in designing and creating 3-D virtual characters, ideally for a gaming company someday. To bring her characters to life, she uses programs like Autodesk Maya and Pixologic ZBrush.

The other students use different programs according to their interests. Koren says she knows students who use Photoshop for digital painting, Illustrator for character design, and Unity for platform videogames.

Because they also wanted to practice networking and learn more about the professional side of digital design, the members decided one of their first big goals would be going to the Association of Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques conference, better known simply as “SIGGRAPH.”

SIGGRAPH, which took place on Aug. 9–13 in Los Angeles, brings together tens of thousands of computer graphics professionals every year, offering exhibits, poster sessions, demonstrations and opportunities to rub elbows with industry experts. The club members volunteered to help staff the event — which had them explaining displays, checking badges and enforcing the event’s no photography rule — which gave them free admission.

While the students learned about the latest technologies, they also got the chance to network and gain insight into the creative processes of industry leaders.

Now that the conference is over, the students are hard at work on their senior year. And as they prepare for life after Penn State, they already have big ideas about what they eventually want to do.

No matter what interests students most, the Interdisciplinary Digital Studio and the Computer Graphics Club are making sure students have the tools needed to thrive in the industry. And be sure to scan the credits of big animated films in a few years — you just might see some familiar names.

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Text courtesy of Katie Jacobs Bohn, Penn State IT