by Ashley Ngu:
Photos courtesy of the GRT Animation Team
Away from the metal chips and loud machines of the rest of the Gunn Robotics Team (GRT) is a less prominent group of six students that make up GRT’s Animation Team. This year, those six members cranked out a 30-second animation stuffed with aliens, rocket ships and robots. “The people at For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) added an animation component to give students a venue to dream and be creative,” GRT mentor Bill Dunbar said. “With this year’s prompt they literally aren’t grounded on earth.”
Entitled “Bridging the Gap,” the team’s animation was a product of five weeks of brainstorming, decision-making and creating. This year’s prompt asked for teams to produce a storyline where technology was used to help an alien race, the “Iiko,” in rebuilding their world for a better future.
After finalizing a specific idea for the storyline, each member pitched in his own ideas for scene shots, character designs and object designs like the bridge, robots and the rocket ship. Individual objects were constructed using animation softwares such as programs like Autodesk Maya and 3DS Max. The six students then began working on the actual animation, creating key frames and having the computer software generate intermediate frames in order to produce the smooth movement seen in the animation.
Since all of last year’s animation members graduated, the six members started off the season with a clean slate and little experience working with each other. “We’re all rookies, which helps because no one is able to dominate the group,” sophomore Yuka Sakazaki said. “When making decisions, we used simple democracy; everyone was equal.”
Junior Tony Yin joined the animation team mid-season after he discovered that GRT had added an animation division. “I’ve always dreamed to be a video game designer, so I had been learning how to use Autodesk Maya for two years by myself before joining,” Yin said. “I also really enjoy making sculptures, which is very similar to computer 3-D modeling.”
Junior Lisa Wu became interested in animation from watching childhood cartoons and Pixar films. “I’ve always loved storytelling of all forms like writing and movies; animation is one of those forms,” she said. “It allows you to be fully flexible in creating your own world. You can basically create whatever the mind can imagine.”
Dunbar has found that the animation team likes to be independent instead of relying on mentors’ help. “Usually the people on animation like to be autonomous,” he said. “I’m always ready to intervene when I think the students are in trouble. But this year, they came up with their own great ideas, worked together well and were on schedule, so I just left them alone. They didn’t need me hovering.”
Sakazaki agreed, citing the team’s trial and error method. “We looked up tutorials online and experimented,” she said. “We probably would have finished faster if we had prior experience, but even if you make a whole bunch of mistakes the first few times, you’ll never forget how to do that particular task once you get it right.”
GRT’s animation will be peer-judged against other teams’ animations at the Silicon Valley Regionals in late March and at the National FIRST Championship held in April.
Check out the Video: Bridging The Gap
After an earthquake, two members of the “Iiko” alien race are separated by a huge chasm. Using robotic technology provided by humans, a bridge is built spanning the gap, reconnecting the two aliens.