Calculus With Sculpture? UF To Launch Unique Program To Train Artist-Engineers

May 26, 1999

Computer Engineering Students Will Take Classes In Art And Sculpture; Art Students Will Take Calculus And Physics.

GAINESVILLE --- The Hollywood studios and Silicon Valley offices that produce the eye-popping digital effects in the latest movies and computer games soon will have a much-needed source of talent: graduates of the University of Florida.

This fall, UF plans to launch a Digital Arts & Sciences Program aimed at turning out graduates as comfortable programming computers as sketching landscapes or writing a score for a battle scene. The program, a collaboration between UF's College of Fine Arts and College of Engineering, is a response to high demand for skilled workers in the growing digital effects industry behind movies, CD-ROM games, educational media and other areas.

"Computer nerds are not usually artists, and artists tend to know very little about computers," said Paul Fishwick, a computer engineering professor and member of an interdisciplinary committee that crafted the program. "But art and computers converge in movies, games and scientific pursuits today, and employers need people who cross traditional boundaries."

Students who enter the program, under development for the fall semester, take a range of classes so broad it calls to mind the Renaissance's blend of disciplines. Required for computer engineering undergraduates, for example, are Analytic Geometry & Calculus 3; Drawing: Form and Space; and Intro to Electronic Music. Art students' classes range from Analytical Geometry & Calculus 1 to Drawing Studio to Intro to Music Literature.

Corporate backers of the program include Silicon Graphics Inc., a graphics, server and super-computer company that created the dinosaurs in the movie "Jurassic Park;" and Cinesite Visual Effects, a Kodak company and special-effects studio that contributed to "The Mummy" and "Titanic," among other films.

Richard Kidd, a computer graphics supervisor at Cinesite and a 1994 UF computer engineering graduate, said he doesn't know of any other university with a similar program.

"Some schools address artistic development like animation and lighting, but they don't usually teach problem-solving and math and science skills," Kidd said. "Other institutions, usually universities, produce great computer scientists who can program graphics code, but they don't know anything about animation and lighting design.

"What makes UF's program great is that it truly marries art and science in the educational process."

SGI is donating 10 computer work stations to UF for the program. David Stamation, an account manager with SGI in Orlando, said he expects the program will reduce the need for costly and time-consuming employee training.

"What UF is doing is producing candidates who are ready to work in a production environment in the company," he said. "In the past and currently, these people spend up to two years learning the same skills."

Teachers and administrators in the schools of art and art history and music say the program will help students apply artistic skills to modern media.

"The art field in particular has changed tremendously in the past few years, and we find the traditional boundaries between disciplines blurred," said Maria Rogal, an assistant professor in the school of art and art history. "Our role at the College of Fine Arts is to envision and act on this change, and this program will provide the resources and structure to work collaboratively on projects and create an ideal environment for innovation."

James Paul Sain, an associate professor in the school of music, said musicians who rely on computers for their work may require many of the same skills as computer scientists.

"The tools that are used in the creation of electroacoustic music are the same as those in computer science research," he said. "Prospective students contact me frequently with the desire to combine their interests with those in the 'digital world.' This program will allow students from across the disciplines to gain the much-needed breadth of knowledge utilized in today's music industry."

Students in the schools of art and art history and music will take two-thirds of their classes in their major and one-third of classes in computer science, said Leslie Cannon, an academic adviser for the school of art and art history. Engineering students, meanwhile, will take two-thirds of their courses in their major and one-third of their classes in either art or music. All students will take classes that require them to work jointly on projects -- say, a CD-ROM game, video clip or a computer modeling project.

"When you're working in this kind of field, you do it in teams, and it's essential to have someone who is an engineer that can speak and understand the needs of the artists and musicians, and vice versa," Cannon said.

While important, the demand in the special-effects industry for qualified employees wasn't the only factor driving the creation of the program, administrators and professors said. It also was a response to an upswing in student demand.

"I constantly have students come in who want to produce interactive CD-ROM games," said Denise Atteberry, coordinator for academic support services in the computer engineering department. "When we mention this program, most students are extremely excited."

UF President John Lombardi said the development of new technologies will likely mean the launch of more interdisciplinary programs like the Digital Arts & Sciences Program.

"One of our greatest assets is the wide range of disciplinary skills that we can combine and focus on the needs of students and employees. When technology creates the need for a unique combination of skills, we can combine the expertise of our faculty and respond rapidly to emerging marketplace needs," he said. "At the same time, we can identify research and creative opportunities for faculty and students. The new technologies will accelerate the need for this kind of academic flexibility."

UF College of Engineering Dean Win Phillips echoed Lombardi.

"This is the beginning of a new future," he said. "We expect to see more multi disciplinary programs or interfaces involving engineering and technology."

University of Florida

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