DMA Central


Creating Asymmetry with 3D Models and Animation

When you create a 3D animated character there are several things to keep in mind. 3D modeling and animation is a process that requires you to constantly evaluate what you’re creating. That’s why it’s helpful to group the thousands of visual choices you have available to you according to basic, fundamental principles. One of the most important of these principles is the idea of asymmetry.

In the context of design (particularly in 3D modeling and animation), asymmetry is vitally important in establishing both believability and interest.

Finding Balance
Why is asymmetry so important in 3D creation? Asymmetry helps establish believability. Just take a look at the world around you. For the most part, unless it’s a car, machine or other man-made device, it’s naturally asymmetrical. Asymmetry also helps establish interest because of variations in the object. Take a look at the example below…

The image on the left side is asymmetric, while the image on the right side is symmetric. As you can see, my face isn’t as interesting to look at when it’s the same on both sides.

How does this translate into 3D modeling and animation?  How do we achieve asymmetry in 3D creation program like Maya? Actually, there are some easy ways to accomplish this:

Mirror Model
One common approach to modeling characters is to work on one half and then mirror the geometry to the other side.  This is a smart way to work, as it resembles the rough symmetry of most characters and simultaneously cuts the work in half.  However, this leaves us with a completely symmetrical model when we want something more believable.  It looks manufactured. Avoid this by simply altering certain elements of the object on one side of the model. Do this by scaling or sculpting or using lattice deformers.

Altering little details (like eyebrows or the corner of a mouth) can help make a character asymmetrical.

Animation Asymmetry
Modifying a 3D model can easily add asymmetry, but how do we incorporate asymmetry into animation? One is posing your model with asymmetry. Take a look at the two poses below:

Of these two poses, the model on the right is more dynamic and more believable.

Finally, during the animation process, motion curves representing opposite sides of the body can be offset to provide a sort of temporal asymmetry. This creates a pleasant overlap and flexibility to a character action, and it’s an important step in creating a believable sense of weight.

In summary, asymmetry is a vital step in creating believable characters. When you use asymmetry, you demonstrate to the viewer your thoughtfulness as a animator, modeler and designer.

Geoff Beatty teaches 3D modeling and animation using Maya for Digital Media Academy. He was previously profiled on DMAC. Geoff is one of only a handful of Autodesk-Certified Instructors in Maya, the leading 3D animation software program.


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Teaching the Basics of Filmmaking

By Lee Manansala, Teen Filmmaking Instructor DMA @ Harvard University

The basics of filmmaking are, to be perfectly frank, the most important things an aspiring filmmaker needs to know.  Composition, screen direction, shot sizes, set protocol—these are the things that get one hired as a director in the film/television/commercial industry.  The students I taught at DMA had innate creativity to spare, and I was just there to teach them how to apply that creativity to the film medium, and how to use the tools of the medium to realize their cinematic visions.  I’ll admit, it sounds funny to use a term like “cinematic visions” to describe short films made by teenagers, but it’s entirely appropriate—these kids were GREAT, eager to learn, and they had amazing ideas and a real sense of what they wanted their films to be!

I taught my students Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro, two incredibly sophisticated filmmaking programs that intimidate and baffle some of my fellow graduate film students at NYU.  The programs are, however, very intuitive, and by explaining the basics of what the program is actually doing, I found that my students took to both programs very aptly and comfortably.  By the end of the third day of instruction, the entire class had what I like to call “the edit face”:  the look on a seasoned editor’s face when she/he is fully immersed in a project.  On the final day of instruction, the class outputted their projects onto DVD with DVD Studio Pro, something I didn’t do until my first semester at NYU.

I’ve dreamt of making movies since I was 10, but never thought it was a possibility.  The countless names on the credits at the end of every movie made me think it was an incredibly involved process and a near impossible task.  I wish a resource like DMA was available to me when I was younger.  The process would have seemed less complicated, I would have met kids with dreams in common with my own, and I would have spent less time doubting myself  and more time learning and becoming inspired by the tools of filmmaking.

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Sony Renews Official Sponsorship of Digital Media Academy

Sony Continues To Provide Professional HD Video Equipment For DMA Film and Video Courses Given At College and University Campuses in U.S. and Canada

Campbell, CA — The Digital Media Academy (DMA), a leading provider of film and video training for educators, adult learners and teens, announced today that Sony Electronics has renewed its official sponsorship and will remain the exclusive supplier of video equipment for DMA’s courses. Sony provides its most current state-of-the-art professional high-definition video cameras and other equipment for use by students in DMA consolidated classes, which take place throughout the summer on college and university campuses including Stanford, Brown, Harvard, U of Chicago, U of British Columbia in Vancouver, U of Texas, Austin and many more.

“DMA is thrilled to continue its successful relationship with Sony as a corporate sponsor,” said Dave Livingston, Director of Instruction for the Academy and its programs. “We’ve made our name providing beginner to advanced training for teens and adults, using the latest and greatest industry standard tools. This relationship puts the cutting-edge, professional Sony video technology, including the HDV™ series of digital video camcorders, directly into the hands of our film and video students.”

Sony’s high-definition camcorders are the choice of professionals working in a range of video applications including electronic field production and newsgathering, and event videography, as well as leading university film and video programs.

“Training programs like the Digital Media Academy are an important part of Sony’s educational focus,” said Shari Sentlowitz, Sony’s Education and Government marketing manager. “We are committed to preparing the next generation of industry professionals and educators, and we’re pleased to continue to be the exclusive video products provider to DMA’s film and video courses.”

Learning how to film with a Sony Camera

About the Digital Media Academy:
The Digital Media Academy (DMA) is a nationally-recognized organization offering hands-on learning in a broad range of digital media technologies. DMA offers a wide range of courses targeted at kids, teens, adults and educators, Founded in 2001 by a group of professionals from Stanford University, DMA is known for its premier summer programs hosted at prestigious destination campuses nationwide. In addition to its summer programs, DMA provides on-site training to schools and companies throughout the year.  For more information, go to or call 866-656-3342.

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The Joy of Teaching Final Cut Pro

By James Alguire, Lead Final Cut Pro Instructor, DMA @ UC San Diego

I’ve been teaching Final Cut Pro courses at DMA for about 4 years now.
Each time I teach a class, I am challenged and grow as a teacher and also as a Final Cut Pro user and editor.

Final Cut is such a robust program and since I’ve been editing on it since version ONE (we are now up to SIX),
I have watched it grow and offer even more tools for my work.

What’s great about teaching new and existing FCP users is that there is always a question of ‘How do I do this?’, and sometimes, I’ve never had to execute said question, so as a group we figure it out together!  I love collaborating with my students in that regard.  And sometimes I watch their projects and get inspired in my own work. (Another great benefit to teaching!)

I also love working with ‘mature’ students who are adapting to a new platform: Sometimes an Operating System – Sometimes a new program.
I love the moment when they are able to execute an edit and they get very excited and want to show me their work!
This always reminds me of my first films, when I found the ‘right’ cut, I always wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

At the end of the day, editing for me is about telling a story.  Choosing the right ‘frame’ to cut upon is sometimes essential to telling that story.
FCP is a tool that we learn  and I embrace the challenges of helping new and current editors learn their tool to better tell their stories.

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Virtual Teaching in our 2nd Renaissance

By Chris Platz, Lead 3d Game Art and Design Instructor, DMA @ Stanford University

After last week’s Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, I realized that we are indeed in a new Renaissance, and most of us don’t even know it. The current convergence of social networks, virtual worlds, and games is connecting people world wide faster, and in new ways that are mind boggling.

The research going on in the two departments I work in at Stanford has opened my eyes to many of these new paradigm shifts on the Web. The current group I am spending the most time with is the Stanford Humanities Lab

This is where society meets art, meets technology. Our new open source 3D virtual world platform Sirikata is being developed so that anyone can build a networked virtual environment, and use it for what ever they like.

The other research going on the the Computer Science Department, Graphics group, is also truly amazing. Tools that allow for anyone to build a great avatar will soon be available. A few Ph.D. students have a rendering system that rendered over 12 BILLION polygons realtime, and with 6 simultaneous users in that networked environment! Incredible advances.

What does all of this mean for me as an instructor? By next year we’ll have a virtual classroom environment in 3D, with people logged in from all over the world. Inside people will be able to upload their 3D models and textures directly from their favorite 3D package, and we’ll build worlds, games, whatever, together and be able to talk with Voip. All of this will happen with dynamic lighting.

This should all trickle down to K-12 education, and allow children to start building virtual environments to express themselves, learn, and communicate in such a manner that they will far surpass us old folks by the time I see them in my DMA students in college classrooms. They already know more than I do in many ways, and I love the collaborative learning that goes on when generations come together around new technologies.

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Documentary Filmmaking : Learn How to Make a Documentary Film

My name is Matthew Levie, and I’ll be teaching Documentary Filmmaking again this summer. I’m a professional editor, and feel free to browse my web site to see what I do.

Last year’s Documentary Filmmaking class was a fantastic experience for me as a teacher. The students included:

• a businesswoman from Boston,
• a sociologist from Japan,
• a teenager from France,
• a flight attendant from Miami,
• a scientist from Texas,
• and a teacher from South Carolina

Imagine what you could learn from a group like that!

Here’s a small snippet from the course. Since I’m an editor I can’t resist an example of phenomenal documentary editing. Have a look at the following clip, from the documentary Carrier, about the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.


So first, one of the pilots introduces the idea that everybody on the carrier needs to do their job correctly, at the right time, for the carrier to function properly. And that sets off this montage of flight deck operations, set to—wait, can it be?—the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Notice how similar motions are grouped together—there’s a beautiful series of circular motions, for instance. And at the end, somebody declares “it’s like a ballet.” Which makes perfect sense, since the filmmakers have already make that perfectly clear from a visual standpoint! But then they extend the metaphor to other areas of the ship, particularly the people feeding the ship and cleaning it up.

This is actually an important priority of the filmmakers: making the viewers understand that an aircraft carrier isn’t all about the planes and the flight deck, but that there are people greasing the cables and cleaning the toilets as well. And they’ve done a great job of conveying that visually at every opportunity.

Want more? Well, you’ll have to come to Stanford. Not a lot of people regret spending a week in Northern California, and I’m sure you’ll learn a tremendous amount and enjoy yourself as well!

Browse the Documentary Film class syllabus here.

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DMA Highlights the New Media Consortium and the Horizon Project

The Digital Media Academy, along with companies like Apple, Adobe and Sun Microsystems, is a Corporate Sponsor of the New Media Consortium. The New Media Consortium (NMC) is an international 501(c)3 not-for-profit consortium of nearly 300 learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies. Given the relevance to our own mission of providing effective and relevant digital media training, we are pleased to support a leading organization dedicated to researching and promoting best uses of digital media in teaching and learning. One of major ways DMA participates in the New Media Consortium is at their annual conference. This year in Monterey, California (June 10-13, 2009), we will be conducting hands-on sessions in a classroom sponsored by Apple. Sessions will include Final Cut Pro training and other Apple Pro-Apps training.

One of the major contributions of the New Media Consortium is the Emerging Technology Initiative. The goal of this project is to uncover emerging technologies that have potential for adding great value to creative expression and education. Emphasis is placed on uncovering how these technologies will impact the future and be relevant given emerging trends in technology and education.  The Horizon Project is the centerpiece of the Emerging Technology Initiative, and the NMC’s annual Horizon Report is one of the most widely-read publications in higher education.


This year’s 2009 Horizon Report is now available, and I wanted to highlight something I found especially interesting. One of the “Key Trends” identified is the emerging affinity for computer games as learning tools by students entering college and the workforce. One example of game-based learning is the Global Challenge Award, an online science program for pre-college students, age 14-17. Online and social gaming among kids is extremely popular (obviously), and it is fueling the success of game-based learning. Social gaming is also helping create a generation of kids who respond very well to learning methods that are interactive and social. Most learning institutions have not recognized this opportunity to engage students more effectively, but I suspect in the next several years we will see more schools augmenting their learning methods to be more social, perhaps incorporating more game-based learning where appropriate. One irony here is that many parents (myself included) do not readily make the connection between developing social and interactive learning skills and online computer games. Something to think about!

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