The Game of Life

February 11, 2013 12:34 am

Tags: 3D, Cinema 4D, Game Development, Games, Maxon

At-Risk Youth Get A Glimpse Of Their Future Selves During Bay Area 3D Animation and Gaming Classes

Recently, a dozen bright and adventurous students participated in the Bay Area Video Coalition’s (BAVC) Digital Pathways Next Gen Youth Program’s class on 3D Animation & Gaming. And in creating projects rooted in where they are today, each budding video game designer offered a personal glimpse of where they hope to be in ten years.

Alex, one of Sirron Norris' students, is known for being efficient and self-contained
and the room he created for his future self using Cinema 4D only reinforces that notion.

Under the direction of critically acclaimed San Francisco artist Sirron Norris (, students used Maxon’s Cinema 4D along with Unity 3D to work on their projects. Assignments over the course of the class were designed to teach students how to use the technology at their fingertips while also learning about themselves. “I think it’s essential to give youth a voice,” Norris explains. “Allowing them to express themselves through technology is an amazing way for them to learn.”

BAVC’s mission is to inspire social change by enabling the telling of diverse stories through art, education and technology. Norris, a dynamic, energetic artist and instructor who has painted over a dozen murals around San Francisco, describes his work as “cartoon literalism.” “Cartooning is a gateway to creativity, and that freedom of expression is necessary for a healthy well-being.”

Seventeen-year-old Jesus had no experience with technology or software of any kind when he started attending Norris' classes.

In class, students used Cinema 4D to create a room that they envisioned would be part of their future in 10 years. The result, Norris say, would be a visual metaphor for attaining a future goal or maybe many goals. In other words, where did they see themselves a decade from now?

Alex, a recent high school graduate who won the school’s competition for “best room,” plans to attend Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University). Analytical and creative, he has an entrepreneurial spirit and wants to make serious video games for a living.

Jesus, who is 17 years old, is a great example of how BAVC’s classes benefit youth at all skill levels. After coming into class having no experience with technology, or even basic software, he has excelled rapidly. Asked what he sees himself doing in ten years, Jesus said he would like to be working on feature films or maybe in an auto body shop.

Norris describes fourteen-year-old 14-year-old Koby as “not afraid to try anything.” He picked up the application so quickly that he had extra time to learn advance features such as scripting animations. In ten years, Koby envisions himself in college, hopefully Harvard.

Safia, who is also 14, started the course with absolutely no computer experience. But after a slightly bumpy start, she learned quickly and produced impressive results. See more of Norris’ students’ work here:

Bridging the gap

BAVC hired Norris to bring a new sense of life and energy to their video game program classes, which were languishing because the software program they were using was too challenging and complicated for students to learn. Norris was asked to build a curriculum combining Cinema 4D and Unity 3D, and classes are also offered in Photoshop, Illustrator, web design and more. Having written the curriculum for the City College of San Francisco’s video game program, Norris was confident that he could make a valuable contribution to BAVC.  

Though he was already familiar with creating art and video games with computers, Norris had to teach himself C4D in just a few months before the first class began. “Even if you didn’t know how to use a computer, Cinema 4D is so user friendly that even a novice could pick it up relatively quickly,” he says.

Safia had no experience with computers when she started Norris' class. But she learned quickly and did great work.

Students who participated in BAVC’s recent Next Gen Youth Program’s 3D Animation & Gaming classes were recruited based on the need for the classes in their lives. At-risk youth, particularly kids from single-parent families and troubled backgrounds, were a top priority and potential students were asked to write an essay on why they deserved to be in the program.

“The classes are a bridge program that helps youth connect learning and work experience,” Norris explains. “We build technology skills and aim to give students confidence that they can truly pursue dreams that they previously may not even have envisioned.”

Why video games?

Building the curriculum as he went, Norris had his students learn the basics of C4D before taking on Unity 3D. After the students learned to create rooms and 3D assets with Cinema 4D, he had them import their work into Unity. Students used Photoshop to manipulate textures.

Norris chose video game animation and creation as the focus of the classes because games are so popular and pervasive. So while the National Science Foundation may view 3D animation and gaming as a forum for teaching kids science and math, Norris believes video games are “the way the younger generation communicates and learns so this is the way that we can keep them engaged.”

Koby, 14, was one of the first students to complete his room design, which includes a world map on the ceiling.
He envisions himself attending Harvard, earning a law degree, and making 3D games on the side to sell to developers.

But engagement doesn’t come easy. As any 3D artist will attest, mastering the technology takes time and patience. Problems arise and challenges are inevitable. “Technology’s not always going to work,” says Norris, who believes the process of finding solutions and coming up with workarounds is a positive experience for his students, many of whom have expressed an interest in the gaming industry.

“It’s very rewarding when you’re able to confront a technology problem and figure it out,” he continues. “I think that’s important if they choose gaming as their career, but it’s also important for life.”

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Article by Scott Strohmaier

Scott Strohmaier is a writer living in Los Angeles living with his wife and son.

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