As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” This is a lesson the students in Cogswell College’s Digital Art & Animation program learned recently. When borrowing animation rigs for classes outgrew its usefulness, students were tasked with creating 3D animatable rigs for 12 original digital characters. They called this Project Avatarah. Assistant Professor Jonali Bhattacharyya and her students have now made these rigs, available free to the public, through open source.
We reached out to Bhattacharyya to find out more about Cogswell, her classes, how she helps prepare her students for the real world and how Project Avatarah came about.
Can you tell us a bit about your job?
I teach character animation — from introductory to advanced level — quadruped animation, game animation and animation portfolio. If I had to describe teaching in one word, that word would be “rewarding.” It’s a really great feeling to see our students have successful careers. In training the next-generation of animators I use my industry animation background and my experience as a zoologist to guide them in techniques, skills and preparing demo reels.
What do students learn within the program?
Digital Art and Animation at Cogswell College offers three major concentration areas: 3D Animation, Entertainment Design, and 3D Modeling. The coursework bridges traditional and digital arts classes and includes components of theory, production, and general education. Digital Arts and Animation project classes provide many opportunities for collaborations with other programs at Cogswell, including Digital Audio Technology and Digital Arts Engineering. The Portfolio classes provide a format for bringing together all of the elements of the concept-to-delivery pipeline as students collaborate on multidisciplinary teams to complete real-world projects.
What’s your background, and how do you use your past experience as a working animator in your teaching?
I have been teaching animation for over six years. Before that I worked as a zoologist, then an animator in games (Secret Level/Sega, Factor 5). I worked mostly on platform games, including such titles as Iron Man, Golden Axe and Marvel Ultimate Alliance II. After working on game animation, I felt inspired to help the next generation of animators and give back to the animation community. I felt I had a lot to offer, and I didn’t want to regret that later in life.
I started by teaching as an adjunct professor. Initially I wasn’t sure if I’d even like teaching, but like I said, it’s very rewarding, and once I got into teaching there was no turning back. My perspective in teaching is very practical, and up-to date with the industry. I give importance to traditional fine art skills as much as animating in Maya. For me, being an animator is all about dedication to the craft, and that comes with patience, perseverance and love for animation, and that is what I want to build in my students.
What inspired Project Avatarah?
Project Avatarah was born based on a need our students had. Until now, Cogswell College didn’t own any original 3D characters, and to teach our rigging and animation classes we had to borrow rigs from other outlets. With Project Avatarah we created a set of 12 rigs, covering all our animation and rigging classes. Our characters were designed, modeled, textured and rigged in-house.
Students from across disciplines were chosen to work on this project based on their expertise and they in turn got to use these characters for their graduation portfolio. Today, our classes benefit from having a variety of rigs that cover the needs of our class assignments and difficulty level. We created characters from quadrupeds to bipeds to primitives, all designed to fulfill the needs of our curriculum. The main goal of Project Avatarah is to have our students graduate with work that has its own identity.
And you are now making these available for the general public?
There are plenty free rigs out there, but not many meet the quality that we offer. Our rigs are free, built to professional quality, created under supervision of our faculty with industry background. We recently released one of our characters to the general public, Cogswell’ the Dragon. Cogswell is available to download from our website.
In the near future we plan to release more rigs to the public — this isn’t a project that only benefits Cogswell students, this is for all animators, students and professionals alike, who need good quality rigs for their portfolio.
Based in Silicon Valley, California, Cogswell College offers a curriculum fusing Digital Art, Engineering and Entrepreneurship. Past students of the school have worked on the films Frozen, Life of Pi, The Boxtrolls and The Avengers, and the videogames Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Halo 4 and Battlefield Hardline.