Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How Pixar Makes a Movie

On Pixar's site at
they explain the steps involved in making a digital animated film.
(Click on the title bar "How Pixar Makes a Movie" above to see a slide show)

Each step in the process suggests a lesson that could be done with students to help them be more aware, knowledgeable, and skilled in looking at and making animation. Some steps are beyond the technical capabilities of resources available to most schools but the consumer technologies have gotten so good that knowledgeable students could do every aspect of the process.

Each of the steps could be a lesson in itself:

Creating and pitching an idea for an animated film
Writing a Treatment
Draw the storyboards
Record the voices
Make the rough drawings
Design the characters
Sculpt models of the characters (physically or digitally)
Create the sets
Design the surfaces, textures, lighting and shading for the shots

Just like in real-life, groups of students could work on different scenes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Design Advantage

What happens when design exceeds human capabilities? This is an interesting question about whether a double-amputee with prosthetic lower legs has an advantage over able-bodied runners. These are the kinds of questions that will increasingly face us as the separation between humans and machines continues to blur. (See Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology")

Last week, Oscar Pistorius, a South African Paralympics runner, was granted the chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of competing in the Olympics by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), in Lausanne, Switzerland. The court upheld the appeal filed by Pistorius against the decision made on January 14 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that banned the "blade runner" from competing against able-bodied athletes. The CAS ruled that the IAAF did not provide "sufficient evidence of any metabolic advantage . . . [or sufficient evidence] that the biomechanical effects of using this particular prosthetic device gives Oscar Pistorius an advantage over other athletes not using the device."

Pistorius is a double amputee who competes on J-shaped, carbon-fiber, Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetics made by the Icelandic company Össur. After Pistorius performed well in an international able-bodied event in 2007, suspicion arose among members of the IAAF that his Cheetah prosthetics may give him an unfair advantage. Immediately, the institution placed a ban on using "technical devices," such as wheels and springs, in competition, and it decided to individually review Pistorius's case.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Toy Design Challenge

Sally Ride Science ( sponsors a national toy design challenge called TOYchallenge for 5th-8th graders.
The TOYchallenge is a chance for teams of imaginative kids to create a new toy or game.
Toys are a great way to learn about science, engineering, and the design process! As girls and boys create a toy or game, they experience engineering as a fun, creative, collaborative process, relevant to everyday life.
TOYchallenge follows the Nationals Standards.

Kids grow through engaging in TOYchallenge in many other ways, too: from developing a sense of teamwork, to becoming familiar with the engineering design process and building self-confidence.

Each TOYchallenge team needs an adult coach to support the team as they work together to brainstorm, research, design, and test their creation. The coach is not there to tell the kids what to do, but to support and guide a team from brainstorming to building and exhibiting a working prototype (and we give the coaches lots of advice and support, too).

The competition results in a lot of "self-learning" - students learn things that they need to know on their own, skills that they don't always learn in school. When they form their own plans and come to their own conclusions, students not only retain what they've learned better, but they also feel more empowered, motivated and fulfilled. They learn skills they will use for the rest of their lives, whatever they choose to do as a career: imagination and collaboration skills are as important as engineering ideas.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Immersive Learning Environments

Immersive Environments, to many people, mean virtual worlds like Sim City or Second Life but it can also mean themed environments like Universal Studios or the San Diego Zoo and real-world immersions like white-water rafting or a trip to Europe.

The future of education is in Immersive Learning Environments that will be a combination of real-world experiences (apprenticeships/field trips/service learning, etc.), simulated, themed experiences (children's museums, Exploratorium, interactive museums, etc.) and virtual experiences (flight simulators, Sim City, Grand Theft Auto IV, etc.)

Currently, most immersive learning environments exist outside of schools.
In the future, schools will become combinations of themed environments, virtual worlds, and hands-on, project-based learning environments in which students are immersed in learning.

This will require more than architectural innovation to include immersive and themed environment expertise so that the interior environment of the school becomes part of the instructional program. No longer, dreary halls and lockers, the students will learn from the environments in schools the way they do in museums, theme parks, and educational video games.

Above is an image of Universal Studio's Harry Potter immersive environment scheduled to open in Orlando, FL in 2009. Schools of the future will feature immersive learning environments and experiences drawn from the world of virtual, themed, and real-world experiential learning.

Electric Cars Become a Reality

The Tesla electric sports car (left) has opened its flagship store in Westwood (LA), CA and Chevrolet is within years of offering its electric car, the Volt (right). After infamously scuttling the electric car movement that could have arrived a decade earlier, (as documented in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?"), General Motors is trying to respond to the development of the independent Silicon Valley Tesla Motor company's high end sports car.

The Tesla was developed because it was clear that the American auto and oil industry alliance would not allow the electric car to be developed within the industry without the pressure from the same minds who brought us the computer revolution.

The electric car, among other technical advances, is part of a growing transformation of transportation design attempting to address issues of pollution, rising oil and gas prices, traffic congestion, and a variety of other unintended problems related to the development of the internal combustion engine automobile. This is an historic moment that will become part of the history of design.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Art Direction for Iron Man

Check out this interview with Aaron McBride, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Art Director for the recently released IronMan movie. ILM is only one of several special effects companies hired to do aspects of the film.

Art Direction is one of several categories of design for films for which people can receive Academy Awards. Art Directors for movies often have a background in design areas like product design or architecture.

If you look at the credits for films today you will see long lists of names of people who are professional designers required to make films today. (Spoiler: Stay to the end of the credits for IronMan for a little treat).