CSC/FST 430: Digital Visual Effects

Course Description

Interdisciplinary class covers aspects of manipulating digital imagery and video for special effects. Student teams of computer-science and film-studies majors work together to learn and apply theoretical and practical issues. Topics include image and video representation, digital workflow, lighting, rendering, compositing mixed environments (live and CG), morphing, particle effects, dynamics, camera properties, match-moving, filters, and virtual cinematography. Film-studies majors concentrate on planning, storyboarding, and producing short movies that apply special effects, while computer-science students focus on programming and technical implementation issues of special effects. (Prerequisites for CSC: 121, 220 ; Prerequisites for FST: 201, 220).


We'll begin the course by discussing historical aspects of visual-effects work as well as covering traditional techniques such as traveling mattes and optical printing. We will also cover more recent film history with the transition to digital technology in the last few decades for film recording, digital-intermediate process, digital compositing, and computer-graphics-based visual-effects work. These techniques will also inform a discussion of image formats, camera properties, digital storage, image manipulation, and compositing theory. Along the way, we'll cover some Python (rapidly becoming the industry-standard solution for application development and in-application scripting) and examples of image manipulation and compositing demonstrated through code.

From there, we'll pick up compositing from the application standpoint, covering node-based compositing used in industry packages such as Nuke. Basic photogrammetry will be discussed from the standpoint of understanding matchmoving, projection, and stereography. We'll work with leading industry software such as Maya, Nuke, and Houdini to create VFX elements, and hands-on projects will yield experience with bringing plates together for a photorealistic, final moving-image. Image-based lighting and rendering techniques will be discussed and applied. Effects-related areas such as particles, fluids, and dynamics simulation will enhance capabilities, and other areas such as face-capture and matte-painting will round-out material covered. Several projects and a production experience complete the coursework.