3D Motion Capture and Animation Come to the Classroom

Ken Macek, Cyber and Technology Instructor, Seneca Valley Academy of Choice 

Background

Ken Macek is a Cyber and Blended Technology Coach at Seneca Valley Academy of Choice, located 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. Possessing both undergraduate and graduate degrees in technology education, Macek joined Seneca Valley School District in 2014 and was initially tasked with implementing programming, game design, and 3D modeling into a new curriculum. Now in his fifth of year of teaching, he is crossing a new threshold. Macek has worked with SMALLab to teach the only high school-level Motion Capture course in the world.

Challenge

When Macek joined Seneca Valley School District in 2014, he was simultaneously a first-time instructor and head of a department that had no existing curriculum. Commenting about accepting such a role, Macek said, “Initially, curriculum planning felt overwhelming, but technology is all about taking chances. You can’t be nervous about taking the leap, so I dove in and never looked back.”

I wanted to give students the ability to decide if this topic could be more than just a class.

Macek isn’t just a believer in technology, though. He’s a believer in skills and the ability to turn those skills into lucrative career paths. “There are a lot of jobs, a lot of stability, and a lot of income for people who possess technology skills. So when I implemented this curriculum here at Seneca Valley, I wanted to give students the ability to decide if this topic could be more than just a class.”

Solution

Denise Manganello, principal at Seneca Valley Academy of Choice, shared Macek’s belief in the liberating power of technology skills. She had previously worked to have a SMALLab installed at the school, which would prove to be instrumental in bringing subjects like animation and 3D modeling to life.

With SMALLab at his fingertips, Macek turned his attention to the company’s full-year Motion Capture and Animation course. “Most students learn these concepts on a two-dimensional computer screen,” said Macek. “SMALLab creates a learning environment that is three-dimensional. With our motion capture suits, students see and record exactly how they move, and they can play those behaviors back in the form of an animated villain or superhero.”

Most students learn these concepts on a two-dimensional computer screen. SMALLab creates a learning environment that is three-dimensional.

Macek further explains that SMALLab’s 3D motion capture technology teaches a wide variety of skills and thought processes. “People think ‘motion capture’ and they immediately think of the technology behind it, but there’s also the artistry—making it look good, making it look real, capturing a viewer’s attention and getting him or her to feel a certain way. SMALLab combines both the art and the science of motion capture into a single, holistic concept.”

Use of the SMALLab also gave students a better understanding of how real companies work on real projects. “At the beginning of the course, a few students said, ‘I can only imagine how difficult this is for a company like Disney or Pixar.’ By the end of the class, they were doing the exact same thing, and they were the first students in the country to ever do it. That’s simply amazing!”

Result

In SMALLab, Macek found a technology that makes learning more fun, more relevant, and more hands-on. “The SMALLab allows students to explore topics much more deeply because they can approach them in ways that textbooks don’t enable them to do,” said Macek.

What pleased Macek the most, however, was that students were thinking about pursuing these interests over the long term. “The experience that students have in SMALLab is starting to influence their post-high school planning,” said Macek. “I just received an email where the parent said, ‘My son loved your animation course. You have really sparked his interest in this, and he wants to consider this as a profession and as a path in college.’ As an educator, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”