ATEC Students Shine Bright with 3-D Animated Film ‘FrightLite’
Faculty Who Worked on 'Narnia,' 'Jimmy Neutron' Teach Essential Skills to Succeed at Professional Studios
From concept to completion, the process of making a two-and-half minute computer animated film can take an entire academic year, as a group of Arts and Technology (ATEC) students at UT Dallas recently learned.
In a new, two-semester course, undergraduate and graduate students in the ATEC program worked as a multidisciplinary team to create FrightLite, a short film about a boy who grapples to overcome his fear of monsters.
“Everything in this animation is made from nothing. It took multiple teams, simultaneously working on different aspects of the project, from beginning to end. It takes a lot of time,” said associate professor Todd Fechter, who taught the course with assistant professor Eric Farrar.
Fechter’s professional experience includes working on the television series The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius on Nickelodeon, and Farrar has worked on the films Night at the Museum and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
“This course truly helps prepare students for careers in their respective industries – they become problem solvers, weighing their solutions versus the total benefit of the team. The course is really about allowing students to develop a skill set in an environment that allows them to experiment.”
“This course truly helps prepare students for careers in their respective industries – they become problem solvers, weighing their solutions versus the total benefit of the team,” Farrar said. “The course is really about allowing students to develop a skill set in an environment that allows them to experiment.”
Among the 25 students who worked on the project was Greg Slagel BA’13, who served as a project coordinator.
Edith O’Donnell ATEC
“The course provided a very exciting production experience. As the project coordinator, I had to stay up-to-date on everything going on in the project. If an animator added a single frame to their animation, that's 1/24th of a second, then the lighting team needed to know about it so that they didn't miss that extra frame,” Slagel said. “I also learned how to keep a team organized. For example, I made a map of everyone’s class schedules so team members could better arrange meetings.”
The process of creating the animation started with crude drawings and sketches, and, eventually, the early concepts and storyboards were created into 3-D images. From there, the students designed scenes, complete with sets and camera movements.
This character model by Vincent Lo, an ATEC graduate student, shows some of the development stages of the animated protagonist of FrightLite.
“Despite all the technical challenges of creating the animation, the most difficult part of the project is making sure the story works – to ensure that the audience is engaged and can follow the story,” Fechter said.
A new cohort of students is beginning yearlong projects this semester, but this time they are housed in the new Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building. Dr. Thomas Linehan, who holds the Arts and Humanities Distinguished Chair and is director of the ATEC program, hopes the new space will inspire even greater creativity.
“ATEC’s animation faculty have our students working at professional studio level by the time they graduate. The students experience a complete animation production pipeline in their structured courses,” Linehan said. “Our faculty members have animation industry experience and they apply rigorous quality standards as they evaluate our students’ work. The new Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building is carefully designed to support the achievement of these high standards and to facilitate successful collaborations.”
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