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Center for Graphics Research continues university's growth in computer animation, graphics

WestConn's annual festival featuring computer animation and graphics created by college students, faculty members and industry professionals has become known as a top-shelf event. A recent change in the sponsorship of the free, public "AniFest" festival hosted in April each year ensures that it will offer more of the same for years to come, said Center for Graphics Research Director Dr. William Joel, the chief organizer of the festivities.

The festival is being sponsored by the newly created WCSU Center for Graphics Research. In the past, the university's Graphics Research Group (GRG) organized the events. The group formed in 1999 to offer students, often enrolled in various imaging courses, the opportunity to work with faculty and other students to blend their curricular pursuits with extra-curricular projects in the fields of computer graphics and animation. Those projects took a number of forms, including one student's work to create graphics for the WCSU Weather Center.

However, the GRG almost immediately took on duties beyond its original research scope to better serve student needs, pointed out Joel, who was the director of the GRG and now is the director of the Center for Graphics Research. Those additional projects included organizing the annual animation festival at WestConn and providing scholarships for students to attend an annual national conference focused on computer graphics and interactive techniques. Acknowledging that, the Connecticut State University (CSU) Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Center for Graphics Research in 2004. The GRG now will operate as an arm of the Center for Graphics Research. That means the GRG will focus on its original mission: research. And the Center for Graphics Research can expand its scope.

"This recognizes the true nature of the projects originally being supported by the GRG," Joel said. "With the recognition of the CSU System, the Center will have the opportunity to entertain other non-research projects."

Additional support comes with its role as an official center that is part of the CSU System, and the Center now has the structure to pursue other funding. That means the Center for Graphics Research may be able to bring in additional guest speakers to address computer animation and graphics topics. Local animators Andy Luckey and Trace Burroughs have agreed to lend their expertise to the Center's efforts, Joel said.

"We're looking to develop relationships with a number of local animators and to partner with them in the work of the Center, including the animation festival and beyond," Joel said.

With the help of the Center's five-member advisory board, Joel also is exploring a number of other possible ventures, such as animation workshops for local high school teachers. Another possibility is a two- or four-week summer animation institute that will allow area high school and college students to earn college credit as they learn about computer graphics and animation. Joel recently was awarded a Connecticut State University/American Association of University Professors Research Grant to begin work on the institute.

"These are possibilities now that the Center has been created," Joel said.

Many GRG activities have been supported by the same private donor for the last several years. With the creation of the Center for Graphics Research and the push for additional projects, Joel said he and the advisory board members hope to secure funding for current and future projects from a number of other sources. For AniFest 05, the Center secured donations of materials, such as software and books, from Avid Technology, Focal Press, Discreet and BOXX Technologies. Joel invited those who want to know more about the Center's activities or who may be interested in providing support to contact him at (203) 837-9350.

"We're inviting local individuals, organizations and businesses to get involved in all the Center's efforts," he said.

WestConn Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Eugene Buccini praised Joel's efforts in creating the Center, which combines areas of interest for both computer science and art majors.

"The fact that this is such an exciting field, such a cutting-edge field, makes it a wonderful addition to what the university offers," Buccini said. "I personally love that this is an interdisciplinary effort."

Joel has emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of computer animation and plans to continue that with future Center projects. In fact, he spearheaded the university's creation of a digital media minor, which includes art and computer science requirements. The university formally offered its first digital media course in the fall 2005 semester. And Joel already is looking for opportunities to collaborate with other departments, such as theatre arts and music, and their students.

Buccini said research shows interdisciplinary approaches can be very effective in educating students. "This is a wonderful example of that interdisciplinary approach at work," he added.

For more information, call the WCSU Center for Graphics Research at (203) 837-9350 or the Office of Public Relations at (203) 837-8486.



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