Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Benefits of Online Learning

Teaching online is becoming increasingly common. There are many benefits to learning online. However, it needs to be remembered that online education is not a 'silver bullet' or panacea. It is just as easy to develop inflexible and inappropriate instruction online as it is with other methods. Nevertheless, there are good reasons that both students and teachers are making greater use of the Web for educational purposes.

Perhaps the greatest benefit is that of convenience. The online classroom is always open. It can be reached from anywhere with an internet connection. Greater access is useful for students living in rural areas, students with disabilities and those who cannot attend campus because of other commitments such as work or child-rearing. It can also reduce costs if there is less need to travel. Of course, providing material online can also result in reduced access where students have limited access to the internet.

Online learning is typically self-paced. This can suit students who are shy; those who are not native speakers or slower learners who need to take extra time to develop answers. The student can review material as many times as they want and references such as dictionaries can be consulted.

Online teaching tends to be more student-centered where the role of the teacher becomes that of a facilitator. It is often said that the teacher changes from being a 'sage on the stage' to a 'guide on the side'. Students are able to access a huge range of resources on the internet. These resources are not necessarily just text-based. The types of resources available include text, audio, video, graphics and animations. However, as there are no gatekeepers on the web and anyone can publish just about anything, students need to be taught how to evaluate and discriminate among these resources.

Being able to critically evaluate the wealth of material available on the web is just one skill that online learners develop. Students also get experience with technologies and methods that are used in many careers. For example, online courses often make use of computer-conferencing which is widely used in many industries. Hopefully, the skills that students attain can also help them become life-long learners.

Technology has the ability to enhance learning and teaching. However, if used inappropriately it can also interfere with learning. It is important to choose online methods in education for pedagogical reasons rather than let it be dictated by the availability of the latest technologies.

Bring life to your character animation with dynamic eye movement

For anyone with a deep fascination or interest in 3D animation, and in particular, 3D character animation, the goal is often to gradually improve the standard of your character animation to the point where you are not afraid to show it to even the most critical audience.

One aspect of character animation, which can be difficult to get a good grasp of, is eye movement. It is easy to underestimate just how vital it is to get the animation of the eyes right in your scenes, and in particular, in close-ups of your 3D character. There is nothing that screams "beginner" more loudly than slow, lazy, left-to-right and back again eye movements. Eyes simply don't move like that... unless you've been drugged, of course. And unless you inject some life and vitality into your characters, through their eyes, they will always look dead and lifeless on screen.

To see a really excellent example of the right way to treat this important and often overlooked area of character animation, take a look at the DreamWorks film "Shrek The Third". While the story and general animation are good enough to hold most people's attention, the eye movements of the characters in the close-up shots is absolutely fantastic! A superb example of the difference a little observation of life in action can make to an animation.

Time for a practical demonstration. Try this - hold your hand up in front of you and look at it. Notice that your eyes do not simply fix on a single point on your hand without moving. They dart from one place to another from your fingers to your palm, to your ring, back to your palm, up to your thumb. It is this continual movement of the eyes from one focus point to another that you must capture in your facial animation if you want your 3D character to look like they have something going on in their head. It is this continual movement that is a noticeable feature of the animation of Shrek. When he is talking to Fiona his eyes move in a shaky, imaginary triangle drawn between her eyes and her mouth. Notice the next time you are talking face-to-face with someone that these are the three points on their face that your eyes most often dart between.

Adding this subtle but vital movement to your character animation is actually a lot easier than you might think. Most 3D animation software these days, even budget packages like Poser, offers some form of non-linear animation - a way of layering up the various elements of the animation that go into making your character "act" on screen, yet keeping them separate for editing purposes. For example, the general body movements might occupy one layer with lip-synched speech on another. All you need to do is create your auxiliary eye movements on a separately editable layer. You won't need many keyframes and you can loop the movement so you only have to create it once. Keep the movement small, no more than a few degrees in any direction. Any gross movement or "look at" animation can be keyframed on a separate layer.

Try this animation technique out the next time your 3D character has a close-up. You'll be amazed at the difference it can make.