JACKSON TWP — Motion capture suits are used to make animation come alive with lifelike movements at places like Disney and Pixar — and now at Seneca Valley.
Seneca Valley High School students are some of the first in the country to use this technology in a new pilot program this school year. The course is called Honors Motion Capture and Animation 1 and is giving students skills to get jobs in various industries.
“We're the first to offer motion capture animation at a high school level,” said Ken Macek, high school cyber and technology teacher.
The course comes thanks to the district's partnership with the Situated Multimedia Accelerated Learning Lab, or SMALLab for short. SMALLab is an educational company that sells a room-sized interactive environment that integrates motion-capture technology and an immersive floor projection.
Connoquenessing Valley Elementary School became home to the school district's first SMALLab in 2014, where students use it as an additional tool in their learning.
At the secondary level, a former computer lab in the intermediate high school houses the SMALLab equipment. In the room, 12 infrared cameras surround a mat on the floor that's about the size of a boxing ring. The cameras pick up the sensors on the motion capture suit or on a wand with sensors on it.
The cameras then transmit information from the sensors to computer software that projects an image onto the floor, Macek said. Students can then interact with the images.
The setup can be used to play educational games for any class subject or grade level or to animate characters using the motion capture suit, like Macek's class is doing. It keeps students involved and engaged in their learning, Macek said.
SMALLab recently created curriculum for a motion capture and animation course, and Denise Manganello, principal of Seneca Valley's Academy of Choice cyber and arts program, thought it would be a great fit for their high school students, who are used to high-level thinking.
“We had to think outside the box for these active students,” she said. “They want to think more and want to be challenged.”
They're the first in the country to take part in SMALLab's course, Manganello said. The pilot course has five students in it this semester.
Students are learning the history of animation starting from the early 1800s with thaumatropes, zoetropes and flipbooks to today's technology using the motion capture stage.
Along the way students complete projects creating the old technology — making their own pre-film animation devices — and the new technology. The students will create characters on the computer that will be animated by their real-life movements in the motion capture suit in the SMALLab.
Cole Eckenrode, a sophomore, said he wants to go into animation and design after high school, working somewhere like Pixar.
“It's definitely going to prepare me,” he said. “The technology we're using right now in this class is what we'll be using later.”
That's one of the goals of the course: to prepare students for what's next by getting them into using professional-grade software and technology while they're still in high school. It could mean a job in animation, video game design, augmented reality, virtual reality, architecture or engineering.
“We're creating a career ladder,” Manganello said.