October 22, 2007

Students mold pixels in new modeling class

Rachel Clarke and John Clevenger combine art and technology in their new 3-D modeling course. Rachel Clarke and John Clevenger combine art and technology in their new 3-D modeling course.

At first they might seem like very different disciplines: science and art. But two University professors have found success mixing the diverse pursuits into one class that’s attracting students with divergent interests and backgrounds.

Rachel Clarke, associate professor of art, and John Clevenger, professor of computer science, pooled their efforts to create Computer 3-D Modeling. Cross listed as Art 142 and Computer Science 126, the class is envisioned by the professors as the beginning of a larger effort.

“This is the first course we’re planning. The next will focus on 3-D animation,” says Clarke, who teaches the new course.

The idea partially grew out of Clevenger’s computer gaming course. To build a 3-D game, you have to do 3-D modeling, and that requires an overlap of computer programming and art aesthetics, Clevenger says.

In addition, Clarke, who teaches electronic art classes, wanted to expand the digital media offerings in that curriculum, which currently includes imaging, 2-D animation, interactivity and video art. Animation, 3-D modeling and virtual reality are at the forefront of digital media culture, “so it represents a natural evolution of the curriculum,” Clarke says.

Hammering together an overlapping program was a challenge for the two professors. “We’re not only working in two different departments with different education backgrounds, but our departments are in different colleges at the University,” Clevenger says.

Students learn the basics in the new course, taking a computer-generated basic object, such as a cube or sphere, and forming it through modeling techniques to create fully three-dimensional objects on the screen. The object is then illuminated with virtual lights and textured for realism. As an example, a table lamp created through the process can be viewed from below to see the bulb and switch within the lampshade.

The class has attracted about 20 students representing not only art and computer science, but also engineering, graphics design and biology. “There are so many applications,” Clarke says.

While art and technology might once have been two exclusive disciplines, Clevenger notes they are mixing quite often now, particularly in the entertainment field. Pixar, the animation studio that produced Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., among others, has applied artists and computer scientists working together on projects, Clevenger says. “They’re not experts in each other’s field, but they understand how to talk to each other.”

For more information on the new course, contact Clarke at rclarke@csus.edu or Clevenger at clevenger@csus.edu. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.