UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES
School of Arts & Architecture
Department of Design Media Arts
TOPICS IN VIDEO/ANIMATION
DIGITAL VESSEL: DESIGNING AVATARS
Winter 2021 | Remote | Tuesdays and Thursdays 2–4:50 pm PST
Professor Jenna Caravello
Office Hour: Friday 12–1 pm PST (can be available on Thursdays after class as well.)
T.A. Isaac Ruder
Office Hour: Wednesday 12–1 pm PST
In this course, each student will design, rig, and animate an avatar as part of a larger conversation about digital bodies. We will explore the history and contemporary culture of avatars in games, artworks, and online communities, and examine the ways digital bodies engage class, gender, race, physicality, and identity. Students will model and rig in Cinema 4D, and experiment with inverse kinematics, soft body physics, motion capture, and animation controllers in Unity. Prior experience with these programs is not necessary, but some familiarity with 3D modeling software will be helpful.
Please take note that our syllabus can change to better suit the needs and pace of our unique class. Check the course site regularly for assignment details, recorded tutorials, and schedule updates. And, always feel free to bring inspiration from outside to share and discuss in class.
Our class schedule is a living document—check the “Schedule” page on this site to keep updated. Find a printable version of our syllabus and schedule below:
This course explores the intersection of technology, identity expression, and bodily agency. It was created with two objectives in mind: The first objective is to teach techniques for modeling and rigging CG bodies in Cinema4D. The second is to explore topics related to the body as it is represented and experienced on digital platforms. Every class will address both objectives, though Tuesdays will feature longer screenings, critiques, and discussions on assigned readings, and Thursdays will involve longer tutorials and studio time. By the end of this course, students will:
- Feel confident modeling and rigging non-traditional avatars in Cinema4D
- Have gained experience performing, embodying, and animating digital bodies
- Have a strong foundation for analyzing, discussing, and critiquing works about cyborgs, avatars, and digital bodies
- Develop strategies for using CG, animation, filters, or performance to explore deeper concepts about identity in virtual spaces
20% – Participation
50% – Projects 1-5
30% – Final Project
Participation involves actively engaging in critique or discussions after screenings, responding to readings, sharing ideas, and responding to technical questions on our Discord.
Projects 1-5 are designed to motivate deeper exploration of themes related to techniques we learn in class. I understand that some projects will inspire individual students more than others, so I have lumped them together and ask that students fulfill the stated requirements for each project to earn a good grade. Higher scores will be given to Projects 1-5 that show ingenuity, consideration for aesthetics, and serious conceptual investment.
A successful final project will show deep consideration for topics discussed in this class and express a unique perspective on digital identity. It is important that this final project is finished and that the student has considered a platform for sharing, performing, or displaying their work.
More than two unexcused absences will lower your grade. Please email me and cc Isaac if you can’t make it to class.
It’s a bad idea to submit projects late because you may fall behind or get overwhelmed later in the quarter, but there will be no penalty on assignments that are submitted before Week 10. This doesn’t apply to readings, though. Students must respond to readings for a high score in Participation.
The UCLA Center for Accessible Education (CAE) is responsible for ensuring students with documented disabilities have access to an inclusive, supportive learning environment. Students with disabilities or other needs requiring academic accommodations should speak with me as early in the quarter as possible to be sure they get the support they need. If you have a disability or health concern, be sure to contact CAE (310) 825-1501 or submit a request for accommodations via the CAE website (https://www.cae.ucla.edu/).
Students in need of special accommodations due to time zone differences or limited computer access should get in touch with me as soon as possible. Recorded lectures and notes will be posted on our class site, protected by a password that I will give out in class.
The University of California, Los Angeles occupies the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary Lands of the Tongva and Chumash peoples. Our ability to gather and learn here is the result of coercion, dispossession, and colonization. We are grateful for the land itself and the people that have stewarded it through generations. While a land acknowledgment is not enough, it is first step in the work toward supporting decolonial and indigenous movements for sovereignty and self-determination.
COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY + SAFER SPACES
We understand the classroom as a space for practicing freedom; where one may challenge psychic, social, and cultural borders and create meaningful artistic expressions. To do so we must acknowledge and embrace the different identities and backgrounds we inhabit. This means that we will use preferred pronouns, respect self-identifications, and be mindful of special needs. Disagreement is encouraged and supported; however, our differences affect our conceptualization and experience of reality, and it is extremely important to remember that certain gender, race, sex, and class identities are more privileged while others are undermined and marginalized. Consequently, this makes some people feel more protected or vulnerable during debates and discussions. A collaborative effort between the students, TA, and instructor is needed to create a supportive learning environment. While everyone should feel free to experiment creatively and conceptually, if a class member points out that something you have said or shared with the group is offensive, avoid being defensive; instead approach the discussion as a valuable opportunity for us to grow and learn from one another. Alternatively, if you feel that something said in discussion or included in a piece of work is harmful, you are encouraged to speak with the instructor or TA. *Statement adopted from voidLab at: https://github.com/voidlab/diversity-statement
EQUIPMENT + SOFTWARE
- A mouse with a scrolling wheel
- A computer with some reasonable power
- MAXON Cinema 4D S22.123
- Deadline (DMA’s Remote Rendering Server)
- Spark AR
- Lens Studio
- Snap Camera
Discord is a social app that we will use throughout the quarter to discuss projects, field technical questions, and share inspiration. Being active on our Discord will count towards Participation.