The Power of Collaboration: Bridging the digital divide

Building our future, together.

Last spring, I reached out to Radio Television and Film Faculty wunderkind Ben Bays and invited him to join us as a guest artist for our Enron Raptor class. Our Department of Theatre & Dance students have been raving about his visual effects and motion graphics classes for years. Ben wondered aloud about his possible contributions from a digital realm to the analog reality of our raptors, describing our world and project as so “physical, so plastic.”

Professor Ben Bayes, Department of Radio Television and Film

To me the connection is clear. We are addressing the same information and challenges with different tools. There is a commonly held notion in both the academy and the professional world that digital work is in the domain of one realm and the physical built world exclusive to the other. It is time to break these silos…

This space between is the where the magic lies, in the collaborative link between digital and physical. It is our superpower. Each strength builds onto the other. For example, Ben has worked with one of our T&D graduate costume technology students to sculpt models using Maya and Mudbox which were then 3D printed. These digital tools greatly enhanced the student’s traditional process and increased overall capabilities. She then took that information and moved the project into fabrication. Our Enron Raptor students are also doing this.

During Ben’s class visit we looked at the parallels between how a CGI animated figure is constructed, articulated, rigged, working through platforms like Maya, Mudbox, and nCloth, and building in the physical realm. All of these available for free at Autodesk for current students! As with all of our guest artists, Ben’s brief presentation spurred a flurry of activity from our students. Seeing how Ben rigged his virtual velociraptor inspired our structure team to reexamine their plans for building our physical armature. They have reassessed and adjusted the and rotation points of connection at various points on the body.

Ben’s raptor model in MudBox skinned in “honey”

Our mini velociraptor toy which has been our model for many of the design inspirations is off to the UT Foundry for its 3D Scanning. Lucky Girl. From there we can print and trace out large-scale patterns for forming our armature, print out blocks of foam to carve down into intricate detail for the head and feet. The trick here for our team will be to use this technology to speed them up, rather than slow down. If our students can cut and pattern foam to look like the head, feet, and other complicated details, we won’t need to slow our process down to build intricate digital files to 3D print those elements. Our team will use all tools at their disposal from masking tape to Maya, to speed our project along and create the three-stage ready, aesthetically captivating, cyberpunk Velociraptors to tell the story of Enron.

We celebrate this extraordinary opportunity of working with Ben Bayes to interconnect our disciplines. Our course was developed with a conscious commitment to building bridges between Texas Performing Arts, Theatre & Dance, Architecture, Engineering, and Radio, Television, and Film Departments to celebrate the strengths of these interconnected disciplines. We believe that this is the future of higher education. Develop teams to harness the full power of both the physical and the digital realms. Elevate one another to build a better future for Entertainment Design and Technology. Even the great film director Christopher Nolan prefers to shoot “in camera” (physical sets and environments) whenever possible, enhancing and expanding his world through CGI, rather than building the whole world virtually.

Interstellar (2014)

“This class sounds so amazing.  I think it is just an incredible idea that brings different areas together in a completely new way.  It’s like a class from the future!” – Ben Bayes

Ben Bays is an Austin, Texas, native and UT graduate who has produced a broad range of animation, motion graphics, concept art, CG models for a variety of media including television, feature films, and video games. Since 1998, he has been producing interactive content for various platforms including Gamecube, PS2, XBOX, GBA, GameboyDS, SO, IOS, and PC.   His game art includes isometric pre-painted backgrounds, full 3D environments, 2.5D platformers, tile-based destructible environments.  His specialty in interactive media has always been virtual worlds; concept to modeling, surfacing, lighting, simulations, and animation.  Over more than a decade in the video game industry, he worked his way from level 1 artist to environment lead to art lead on a variety of projects.  In 2008, he joined the faculty of the RTF department in The Moody College of Communications.  He has created and taught a variety of classes around storytelling in “new media”, a fluid term.  In addition to classes in traditional animation, visual effects, CG modeling and animation, he has been involved in the Immersive Media production classes, including several initiatives involving VR and AR.  In short, Ben is a New and Digital Media production specialist.


Ben Bays

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