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Teaching 3D Production Graphics to High School Students

Authored By: 
The Beekman School Technology Teacher

There is an ancient eastern truth that if you put six blind men around an elephant and have them describe it, you will get six different, partial descriptions.  Take six students and sit them around an elephant and have them draw, paint, illustrate, or photograph it (either traditionally or on a computer) and you will get six different perspectives of that elephant.  But give those six students a 3D program and you will get six models that contain all sides of the elephant.  That elephant model may not be the same from student to student, but all the models will be, by and large, full attempts at recreating the whole animal.

If a man who can see walks around the elephant, not only does he get to see the whole elephant, but also how it fits in the world. This experience expands his mind.  So, too, with the student who has modeled that elephant in 3D.  The student objectively studies and understands the elephant as it truly is, in a complete way that he never would have had he just made a two-dimensional representation.

Interestingly, a 3D program is itself an elephant.  Programs, like Maya, are elephants in breadth and depth.  They require a need to understand math, principles of physics (motion, light, fluids, etc.), biology, scripting, and of course, the techniques of traditional arts like sculpting, painting, photography, and design.  So, in essence, an elephant is needed to recreate an elephant.

Teaching this elephant to make an elephant is usually reserved for the college level.  It is time-consuming with its technical and artistic demands like nothing else.  Unlike the other arts in reproducing that elephant, so much more needs to be considered to create a final image.  We recently started offering an elective covering Maya at The Beekman School.  The interest in the class was so overwhelming that we had to create two sections for all the students who wanted to take it.  And although it has been a steep learning curve, the students are beginning to understand the elephant that is Maya.  And they are now using that elephant to model a real-world elephant as it is, seeing it from all perspectives and recreating it from all sides.  Like that seeing man who looked at the whole elephant, their minds are expanded.  Except, in their case, they've studied two elephants.

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