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Bill Plympton Is The First Virtual Reality Artist-in-Residence at SVA MFA Computer Arts

Cartoon Brew is delighted to present a guest essay today by Terrence Masson, Chair of the School of Visual Arts MFA Computer Arts in New York City and a 30-year veteran of CG production and education. Below, Terrence shares exciting news about the department’s first Virtual Reality Artist-in-Residence and the creative process of working alongside “The King of Indie Animation,” Bill Plympton.

Here at School of Visual Arts (SVA) MFA Computer Arts, we have been dramatically ramping up our virtual reality capabilities, including tripling our ‘room scale’ tracking resources, offering intense VR workshops, and bringing a brand new Virtual Reality Storytelling course to our curriculum.

A new initiative launched this past summer is our first-ever Virtual Reality Artist-in-Residence Program, where we partnered with renowned independent animator Bill Plympton.

Bill Plympton (left) with Terrence Masson, chair of SVA's MFA Computer Arts department.
Bill Plympton (left) with Terrence Masson, chair of SVA’s MFA Computer Arts department.

“My first experience in VR about 5 years ago was so powerful, and now I see a lot of great stuff from Google that really knocks me out,” says Bill Plympton. “I just see the future of virtual reality is potentially huge. What VR needs is humor, some crazy bizarre gags! There is some beautiful stuff out there, realistic and human drama stuff, but I want to put some humor into it – make people laugh in VR. That’s why I’m really happy to do this and I hope to do more.”

Bill Plympton graduated from SVA as a cartooning major in 1969 and has maintained a great connection with the animation community at SVA and New York City. Because of our close relationship with Bill, we collaborated with the goal of creating a VR environment using a gag from his 1988 2D animated short film One of Those Days. This short was an obvious choice due to its special element of being in the first-person point of view.

One of Those Days, says Plympton, was “really VR before there was VR because it’s a POV of a guy having just the worst day ever.”

One of the biggest challenges was turning a 2D animated piece into 3D, speaking from both this project as well as my personal experiences working at Warner Bros. in 1994 as well as the original South Park CG animation test for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to pitch to Comedy Central in 1996.

A still from the “One of Those Days” VR experience.
A still from the “One of Those Days” VR experience.

We put together a wonderful team of current MFA Computer Arts students and recent alumni, along with the technical leadership of Tom Westerlin, Creative Director at Nice Shoes in New York City.

We began by exploring different options for creating Bill’s very unique 2D visual style in real-time 3D, eventually settling on a brute force method of alternating through slightly varied copies of the geometry. Procedural generation of color and texture was likewise tested, but ultimately abandoned in favor of directly applying scans of Bill’s original artwork.

Left to right: Tom Westerlin (technical lead), Ninaad Kulkarni (digital artist), Bill Plympton (director and designer), Chris Ramirez (animator), Terrence Masson (producer), Gonzalo Janer (animator), and Jose Vargas (systems lead).
Left to right: Tom Westerlin (technical lead), Ninaad Kulkarni (digital artist), Bill Plympton (director and designer), Chris Ramirez (animator), Terrence Masson (producer), Gonzalo Janer (animator), and Jose Vargas (systems lead).

We are excited about continuing our exploration of exciting new frontiers in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality filmmaking with our talented students, alumni, and artists to share with the world.

To learn more about the School of Visual Arts MFA Computer Arts, follow SVA today on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo.
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