Students Focus on Visual Storytelling and Animation

Professor presenting on Virtual Reality

Anyone wondering why Boise State is launching courses in Gaming, Interactive Media and Mobile Technology (GIMM) this fall need only pick up a catalog from the Swedish furniture company IKEA.

Thomas Elder, graphic design associate professor, pointed out that, “In 2013, just 12 percent of IKEA’s content for its webpages, catalog and brochures were rendered virtually. In 2015, it was 75 percent.”

The company used to spend two-thirds of its marketing budget on building and furnishing living quarters to photograph for its publications. To curb costs and boost productivity, IKEA turned to computer-generated images. Graphic artists create room settings and furniture in a collection of pixels arranged on a computer.

Marketers are not the only professionals making use of the new artistic skills. The health care industry uses apps for diagnostic manuals, automated registration, outpatient monitoring and virtual operating rooms to cut costs of physical lab space and materials.

As a major in the College of Innovation and Design, GIMM courses are expected to draw students from art, computer science, English, information technology and supply chain management, and educational technology.
Students who graduate with GIMM degrees are qualified for professions such as mobile app developer, video game designer and web developer. Labor officials estimate dramatic growth in all these fields, with an expected increase in jobs of up to 30 percent by 2020.

Just as important as technical skills for these professions is the ability to tell a story. Students in Elder’s spring class, Art 297: Special Topics Animation and Visual Narrative, worked toward both objectives. The class of 14 students included mostly art majors looking to become illustrators and graphic designers. But it also included two students planning to become GIMM majors. Art 297 is an optional class for art and GIMM majors.
“The objective of this course was for students to have fun and learn some of the principles of visual storytelling and animation,” Elder said. Students also had to complete assignments using different principles of the creative process with technical elements.

Using the principles of telling a story, each student created a story with a feasible and interesting plot. “Making ordinary things move with animation can sometimes entertain us, and that is rather easy,” Elder said. “Creating a story is the real work.”

Students had three assignments:

Stop Motion animation. Any material was an option. Students used clay, paper or Lego characters and custom props.

Digital, 2D animation using Adobe Flash. For this assignment, students had to create an animation based upon a joke or cliché. Making the animation more complex by including a place where viewers decided the ending earned students extra points.

Computer Generated Image (CGI). Students had to create a scene in the digital application Blender 3D of a single frame or rendered scene. Students had to create at least one container or object that you could see into and add either an element of cloth in a wrinkled state or liquid in a state of transition such as movement or even ice melting.

Elder said, “One of purposes of using CGI was to get more students exposed to the ever-present digital 3D environment so as not to be daunted or, worse, avoid it.”

He continued, “While all creative artists will always use traditional tools such as brushes and pencils and hand craft, I believe that creative people of all sorts will need to learn 3D software to lend that professional ‘eye’ of seeing.”