3D Animation, WTMC student gets star treatment with personal exhibit
BENJAMIN MICHAEL SOLIS
JARED ANGLE THE WASHTENAW VOICE
‘Rex,’ is a likeable creature created by Dalton Strong to demonstrate 3D computer animation. The Rex display may be seen on the first floor of the GM building. The presentation includes pictures showing the stages of animation and the final animated on-screen character.
By the time Dalton Strong attended kindergarten, he knew that he was born to draw.
“In kindergarten he drew stick figure pictures and flip books, and one of them said ‘Born to Draw’ on it,” said Strong’s mother, Carole. “We knew pretty early on what Dalton wanted to do with his life.”
Later, when he had broken his arm in the summer of his seventh-grade year, Strong spent his time healing by animating small comics based on his bus ride to and from his Manchester middle school.
And it seems his dedication to the sketchbook is beginning to pay off.
Strong, now 17 and one of Washtenaw Technical Middle College’s top 3D animation students, was asked last month by Judith Hommel, executive associate to President Larry Whitworth, to create a 3D character that displayed the versatility and strength of WCC’s animation program.
Strong’s genius and excellence went above and beyond the curriculum taught at the college, according to Randy Vanwagnen, an instructor of 3D animation.
“Dalton is one of the best students we’ve ever had, and he just got his driver’s license,” said Vanwagnen, as he presented Strong’s character “Rex” on April 11.
The exhibit, placed in the Garden Level elevator lobby of the Gunder Myran building, was specifically set up for Strong’s work, marking one of the first times a single student’s endeavors have been demonstrated alone, explained Vanwagnen.
JARED ANGLE THE WASHTENAW VOICE
“We take part in the end of the year gala for the graphic design students, but very often it isn’t for 3D animation,” he said. “This is the first time that we have our own separate display.”
Other work by students will be added to the exhibition later via a touch screen monitor, he said, but Strong’s work on the WCC character was so promising that it deserved its own recognition.
Taking a month to create Rex from the bottom-up, Strong described the opportunity to show off his work intimately as “exciting.”
“I am very proud of all of this,” said Strong. “Judith asked me if I could design a character for the school, so I created 10 or 11 characters before settling on Rex.”
Breaking down the different tenants of the labor-intensive animation process, Strong said that animating 3D objects includes four main progressions: concept art, modeling, texturing and animation.
“The first part is actually drawing detailed sketches of the character,” he explained. “After that, you have to start modeling the character’s body and construct the small shapes that will make it up, called co-planning, flat-liner polygons.
“From there, you texturize by unwrapping the character’s skin and adding color to it, and finally you build a skeleton of joints that will move the textured shapes.”
In the stage of modeling, Strong even went as far as to crate a clay sculpture of Rex to help him visualize how the character would be created digitally.
And if terms like co-planner polygons and unwrapping a dinosaur’s skin sound confusing, you’re not alone.
“When do we have the parents’ class that explains all of this?” asked Carole Strong, as she watched her young son explain such mathematically advanced concepts.
Carole Strong and her husband Jay said that they couldn’t be more thrilled at the excellence their son has demonstrated here at WCC.
“We heard about WTMC from one of his friends, so we decided to enroll him in the program,” she said. “He wanted to get an opportunity bigger than that offered by his high school.”
And although both of Strong’s parents couldn’t have imagined the level of success that their son has displayed so far, they had a good indication of what he was capable of when he was just a boy.