3D Animation + Visual Effects CURRICULUM

Specializations

To reflect the nature of the 3D industry, students have the opportunity, during their year at VFS,  to focus on one of the following areas of specialization. 

  • Animation
  • Modelling
  • Visual Effects

Term 1 Courses

This course provides students with tools to work as effective members of project teams. The course focuses on three key areas: team building, effective professional communication skills, and time management. It also addresses conflict resolution techniques to ensure that personal, working, and creative conflicts do not derail successful relationships.
 

It’s often said that you can’t know where you are going until you know where you’ve been and this is especially true for the ever changing animation industry. In this course, you will develop an understanding of animation in its historical context. Discover the pioneers, innovators, adapters, and the followers of animation as they explored the limits of this evolving art form. Examine the major events in animation to understand how trends, technological advancements as well as stylistic and cultural developments affect the industry. Lessons include lectures and the examination of milestone cartoons followed by discussions.

This class focuses on the process of shot design as a team experience. Building on a solid foundation of research, this class teaches students how to work within a brief to create designs for characters, props, and locations. Students gain first-hand experience of how to visualize, communicate an idea, and create design documents.

This course provides students with the principles and techniques of illumination using Maya and MentalRay. The course emphasises the use of light to create the illusion of shape and depth within a 2D medium. Students analyze techniques used by Renaissance artists, and see how those same techniques are used today in computer graphics. Students also explore different lighting scenarios for different times of day, as well as interior illumination with varying sources of illumination.

In this course, students learn fundamental tools and techniques for prop modelling in Autodesk Maya, and examine the process of how to create models for a variety of applications. Students learn the importance of matching reference, and how to leverage reference to convey story ideas and contexts. Students also learn hard surface modelling techniques and how to model accurately (and to scale). A full production style “pipeline” is applied to each model, taking the reference from design to proxy, and on to the final model. In later modelling courses, students will further explore areas of production using the models created in this course. Students’ projects are evaluated through a series of modelling exercises and assignments culminating in one large final project, a still life.
 

This course demonstrates the interaction of light on surfaces in the real world and how to recreate this phenomenon in a CG environment. The creation of realistic surface shaders, in combination with effective texturing techniques, allows for the creation of high-quality, inorganic-surfaced models.

Character rigging is an elaborate process that requires extensive knowledge of the basic operations of Maya. These two workshop-style classes look into the nature of Maya’s Node network and the attributes that connect them. The classes elaborate on the ideas of Grouping, Parenting, and ways to create further connections between nodes in Maya.
 

The principles of animation are universal, no matter what media is used to create it. In this course, students learn the principles of classical animation that serve as a foundation for creating animation in any media. Students gain a firm understanding of the principles of motion and the animation process, and animate using industry-standard techniques.

This course covers the basic principles of animation, and provides students with the basic understanding of timing. Students learn the fundamentals of weight and its direct relation to timing. They also learn to animate basic bouncing, wave motion, and a simple jump. Students are introduced to the animation toolsets in Motionbuilder, Maya, and XSI.

This course introduces students to the fundamental skills used in the Visual Effects (VFX) industry. Students learn basic compositing and how the VFX field integrates computer graphics and 3D components with live action plates. Visual Effects 1 includes comprehensive practical exercises which simulate current industry pipelines. Students have access to experienced mentorship for discussion and feedback.

Term 2 Courses

Storyboarding is the art of working out story problems and determining which camera angles give the most impact to a scene. It is a visual format of the story idea and serves as a "blueprint" throughout the animation and/or film process. Students express their ideas visually using proper film terminology, labelling, and presentation. They study basic storytelling principles, and learn to illustrate camera angles through drawing, composition, and perspective in order to create a mood in a scene or emotion in a character. Students use storyboards as a tool to further develop an idea and as a comprehensive communication device in teamwork.

In Life Drawing 1 students are introduced to the principles of Life Drawing by exploring the observation of the human form. Study focuses on the principles of movement, weight, balance, shape, and anatomy through gesture drawing, long form poses, and humans in motion. The practice of observation and application is the foundation from which students apply these principles. Study in shading, shadow, foreshortening, and action analysis further allow students to explore the importance of observing the human form and anatomy.

Design 2 focuses on colour theory, as well as introducing students to the different streams and the pitching/design process for demo reel production. The colour component consists of four classes with a classically trained colour artist. Students create a colour concept for designs to be used in their Term 2 modelling class. The demo reel component consists of three lectures that introduce students to the modelling, animation, and visual effects streams. Examples of past student work are discussed, along with an industry overview of the different disciplines. The pitching process is also covered in this class to prepare students for their Term 3 project pitch.

This course expands on the principles and techniques of illumination using Maya and MentalRay, with an emphasis on using light to create mood. Students gain an understanding of how to simulate indirect illumination, as well as how to separate a render into different layers, to be composited back together in Nuke. Students are exposed to different lighting scenarios and light a complex animated shot.

This course covers the fundamental tools and techniques of character and hard body modelling within XSI and Maya. Students examine the process of creating various characters and learn the importance of line flow for deformation and shape. Students study modelling tools, including lattice deformation, enveloping objects, character rigs, point pulling, and expressions. These tools are applied to a series of modelling exercises and assignments, culminating in a free-form walk, to prepare students for the advanced modelling course and industry production.

This course outlines techniques to surface organic models effectively. From the application of shaders to techniques for applying textures efficiently, students develop industry-accepted practices for surfacing characters and organic surfaces.

Rigging a character is time consuming, and requires thoughtful planning. Students work through the process of rigging a proxy character. Emphasis is on creating a solid skeletal structure, including position, freezing and orienting joints, and building on top of this. Students are introduced to MEL scripting, Maya plugin, and script installation to show the power of these aspects. The end result is the creation of a proxy rig that students use for their Term 2 animation exercises and assignments, and a Term 3 project.

Students learn how to cycle animation in Maya, and use various skills and functions to view their Silhouette (“7” key), arcs (Tracking markers), and line of action (Paint overs). Students begin to analyze the effect that outside weight can have on a character, and how they can use it to create the illusion of life.

The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with the core skills used in the Visual Effects (VFX) industry. Students continue to gain practical experience through editing, compositing, and VFX, integrating computer graphics and 3D components with live action plates. Visual Effects 2 includes comprehensive practical exercises that simulate current industry pipelines. Students have access to experienced mentorship for discussion and feedback.

Term 3 Courses

This course prepares students for the production component of their studies. Students are guided through the different stages of pre-production for their specific project, and apply concepts learned in Terms 1 and 2 directly to their projects. Students are expected to research, explore, and iterate on their projects ending with a comprehensive pre-production package which consists of: Animatic, Designs, and Research.

This course builds upon the principles and techniques of illumination using Maya and MentalRay, with an emphasis on using light to create visual interest or focus. Students closely examine the MentalRay render engine to gain an understanding of the render equation and the importance of a linear workflow. Students continue to expand their understanding of colour and how to effectively use it as part of lighting solutions.

This course introduces students to the workflows and tools required to properly surface a character. From the skin to the clothing, students explore the shaders, unwraps, and textures needed to create high detail and realistic-looking character surfaces.

Students examine some of the more intricate ideas and techniques involved with the character set-up process. Students begin by looking at constraints to see the ways they can create inter-object relationships, and how to start the process of setting up faces using blend shapes and facial controls. At the end of this term, students have a solid bipedal rig that they can use for their short film.

The Compositing Digital course introduces students to the fundamentals and benefits of compositing and Key Frame animation. Students use Adobe After Effects to composite different types of shots, and are encouraged to explore the more advanced tools. The course covers layering, masking, track matting, and effects (colour, distortion, simulations, as well as other advanced techniques).

Required Courses for Animation Stream

In Animation 3, students go through all of the steps involved in creating an animated sequence for a short film. Students work in groups to find a 10- to 15-second piece of dialogue to use for a short animated piece. Students go through thumbnailing the shots, blocking, posing, splining, and then polishing the shots.

Students focus on the principles of movement, weight, balance, shape, and anatomy through gesture drawing, long form poses, and humans in motion. The practice of observation and application is the foundation from which students practice these principles. Study in costume, props, and action analysis further allows students to explore the importance of observing the human form and anatomy.

Required Courses for Modelling Stream

In this course, students explore Z-Brush fundamentals with a focus on how to work with imported geometry and environments. Students start with sculpting, building specific environment assets, and exploring the tools used to damage and retopologize a model. The term ends with a look at the model output process as students take their final into Maya for mapping, including vector displacement, 32bit displacement, normal maps, and rendering.

This course is designed to teach students how to move their ideas from a 2D state (i.e. drawing) to a 3D state (i.e. sculpture). This skill is useful for all facets of film and television. All ideas begin as sketches and blueprints that have to be realized by a sculptor. Students learn the secrets of transferring 2D images into 3D by using graphs and grids. They build armatures to size and scale, learn the techniques of blocking with Super Sculpy, and are taught the uses and functions of the traditional tools.

Required Courses for Visual Effects Stream

The Advanced Visual Effects course includes comprehensive practical exercises that simulate a current industry pipeline. This includes planning, production, and effects production of a complete Visual Effects shot. Students have access to experienced mentorship for discussion and feedback.

In this course, students undergo a seven-week process to create a high quality 3D matte painting. Students are provided with weekly feedback and demonstrations of each stage of production, starting with reference gathering and basic thumbnail sketches, and building towards a highly detailed, photo-realistic visualization of their concept. The final art is integrated into Maya.

Term 4 Courses

Presentations are a critical part of the learning process and simulate ‘dailies’ in a studio environment. Students present their project development to their classmates and a full team of staff. Feedback is given to the overall story and technical development of the project. Goals are identified to the student so that they understand what part of their project needs work and where the immediate priorities lie.

This course provides a window into the workings of an industry studio. Students respond to constructive critique, provide input on the work of their peers, and modify their activities to achieve final project goals. The focus is on commitment, professionalism, preparedness, and the ability to communicate effectively with Industry Mentors and peers.

Required Courses for Animation Stream

Students work on one individual assignment designed to build their knowledge and understanding of shot workflow, body mechanics, action analysis (the practice of observation and application), and performance. Students create a foundation of research before beginning the assignment including shooting video reference and creating thumbnail sketches. Emphasis is placed on blocking and posing, before splining and polishing their shots.

In Advanced Animation, students expand their knowledge of the animation principles with advanced levels of application. Students work on multiple in-class exercises designed to build their understanding, proficiency, workflow speed, and critical artistic eye for mechanics of motion, timing, and staging. The mechanics of quadruped motion is also discussed and applied.

Final Project Development 1 is the pre-production element for student short films. Final Project Development requires students to finalize their short film stories, create a 3D animatic from a storyboard, model proxy character(s) and/or model final characters, rig using the re-use rig, create face shapes and a facial control panel, and have a final posed animatic that has been approved (for cameras and story line).

Required Courses for Modelling Stream

Advanced Modelling 1 gives students a look at modelling through the eyes of a production studio. The course introduces students to scheduling and planning, efficiencies in the modelling process, and working with more complex 3D environment assets. A strong emphasis is put on using more efficient modelling, shading, and render processes. Students develop a realistic view of scheduling build and render time, and how to manage even the most complex 3D scenes in an efficient manner.

This course gives students a solid foundation for building character models in ZBrush. With an emphasis on anatomy sculpting, students explore character model proportions and anatomical forms. Students explore essential tools for character generation in Z-Brush, and the process of refining the anatomy of a model. Students study the process of retopologization and apply it to their own models. This course also looks at the relation of UV’s and Z-Brush.

This course gives students the experience of the modelling process from design to production. By the end of the term, students are expected to have completed an environment model. This course consists of a weekly review of modelling stream students’ projects, as well as a monthly review based on the original concept development completed, and approved, in Term 3.

Required Courses for Visual Effects Stream

This course introduces students to the fundamentals of node-based compositing using Nuke software. In addition to Node Based Compositing, topics include colour correction, keying, tracking, rotoscoping, temporal operations, and rig & marker removal. In this course, students apply key compositing skills to their final visual effects projects.

Students gain hands-on experience with the techniques and execution of Visual Effects, as pertaining to the film industry, and the workflow and structure of computer graphics to Live action plate integration. Exercises that simulate a current industry pipeline include planning, production, and effects production of a complete Visual Effects shot. Students have access to experienced mentorship for discussion and feedback. This course continues to Term 6.

Final Project Development 1 is the Pre-Production element for student short films. Final Project Development requires students to finalize their short film stories, create a 3D animatic from a storyboard, produce final, and rigged CG character(s) and/or models, As in the studio environment, students are expected to hit the deadlines set by the Final Project Development schedule. Asset management and approval are guided by the mentor.

Term 5 Courses

With the continued support of Industry Mentors, students gain new insights into the components of the production pipeline. Working in the studio, students further expand their awareness of individual creative and technical strengths. They rapidly assimilate input, provide feedback to their peers, and adapt approaches to produce the best possible final project that is aligned with their own specific career goal.

Required Courses for Animation Stream

In this course, students expand on the principles and theory presented in Advanced Animation and Acting for Animators 1 to create an authentic character dialogue performance. Students work on a single assignment that is designed to build their understanding of action analysis (the practice of observation and application), facial animation techniques, and acting for animation theory. Students create a foundation of research before beginning each assignment including shooting video reference and developing thumbnail sketches. Emphasis is placed on blocking and posing, before splining and polishing their shots.

The primary focus of the Animation Workshop is to review work in progress animation from student short films in a ‘dailies-style’ setting. Students use this forum to comment on, and constructively criticize, each other’s work. Students learn which questions to ask themselves during the animation process – and this is the key to becoming a good animator. Students are shown solutions to animation problems, and are asked to execute improvements to their work based on that day’s assessment. Students must submit shots for review prior to the start of each class.

Students are required to start production of their final projects. Students complete a production schedule that outlines how many seconds per week they are required to animate to finish the majority of their production during the 8 weeks of Term 5. Students plan their strategies taking into account shot difficulty, re-uses, and any changes based on critique that may be required. Students participate in dailies at the start of every lab period, receiving critique and suggestions of their work while learning to make comments of their own in regards to other animators’ work. This is a process of improving the animator’s ability to gauge what is working or not working in the animated expression of weight, timing, motivation, shot continuity, creative acting choices, line flow, contrast, and staging.
 

Required Courses for Modelling Stream

This course continues with the models started in Digital Sculpting 1. Students take their character proxies and flesh out the details. Various tools and techniques for using Z-Brush to add details, and organize layers for sculpting, are applied. As they refine their character models, students look at posing and sculpting detail in pose, from cloth to subtle muscle deformation.

Advanced Modelling 2 covers the creation of production-ready character models. Topics covered include advanced subsurface scatter shading techniques, cloth construction/simulation, and character portrait lighting. The tools and techniques covered allow students to create efficient, photo-realistic characters, and give students the tools to showcase the model artistically and effectively.

By the end of the term, students are expected to have completed a character model. This course consists of a weekly review of modelling stream students’ projects, as well as a monthly review based on the original concept development completed, and approved, in Term 3. The weekly reviews are supervised lab periods where student work is reviewed one-to-one with an instructor in order to improve the overall quality of the work, inspire the student, and keep them on track with their goals and overall objectives.

Required Courses for Visual Effects Stream

This course is continuation of study from Term 4. This course introduces students to the fundamentals of node-based compositing using “Nuke” software. In addition to Node Based Compositing topics include Colour Correction, Keying, Tracking, Rotoscoping, Temporal Operations, and Rig & Marker Removal. In this course students apply key compositing skills to their final visual effects projects.

In this course, students are taught colour space, and how to manipulate and correct colour in photographic plates. By the end of the course, students understand advanced shading and rendering techniques, are able to create advanced, multi-layer composites in a node-based compositing package, can generate particle, explosive and liquid effects, and understand—and are able to write and edit—CG programming scripts.

In this course, students are required to start production on their final projects. Students finalize their short film stories, create a first pass integration from a 3D animatic, using final rigged CG character(s) and/or models. As in the studio environment, students are expected to meet the deadlines in the Final Project Development schedule. Asset management and approval are guided by the mentor.

Term 6 Courses

Students complete tasks, refine work, and produce a professional portfolio to show future employers. With the guidance of Industry Mentors, students expand project management skills and develop a greater understanding of what it takes to complete a major production cycle.

Required Courses for Animation Stream

Final Project Development 3 is the post-production element of student short films. As in any post-production work, students in Term 6 tweak and continue to finalize the animation in shots; working on the final lighting and look, as well as the final renders and compositing. Animators are expected to plan carefully and consult with their mentor on the best way to fully actualize their films in the time remaining. This phase of the production is very self-directed. Students should be extremely pro-active in acquiring the feedback they need to improve their quality of work. Dailies are a major component of the animation process, and shots should be animated with the highest production quality in mind. The mentor can offer final approval for shots.

Required Courses for Modelling Stream

By the end of the term, students are expected to have organized their work, rendered it, cleaned up the settings, and prepared a final cut. Students are also expected to have completed building another model.
This course consists of a weekly review of modelling stream students’ projects, as well as a monthly review based on the original concept development completed, and approved, in Term 3. The weekly reviews are supervised lab periods where student work is reviewed one-to-one with an instructor in order to improve the overall quality of the work, inspire the student, and keep them on track with their goals and overall objectives.

Required Courses for Visual Effects Stream

This course covers the finishing stages of Production where all elements of student short films are completed. The elements should consist of Props, CG models, and Actors, if required. Final live action plates are acquired and students complete the final Colour Correction. Final Project Development requires students to finalize their short film stories, to turn a loose-timed 3D animatic (Soft Lock), and to finalize the hard-lock of their demo reels. Asset management and approval are guided by the mentor.

Additional Sessions (non-credit)

This class reviews employment resources available to the students, and provides practical tips on résumé preparation and interview skills. A list of local, national, and international studios is provided along with résumé guidelines.