Spring 1999 CS302 Assignment #10

by Dan Garcia (ddgarcia@cs.berkeley.edu)

1. Choose a textbook for your course and evaluate it according to the following criteria.

I considered several textbooks:

"Computer Graphics : Principles and Practice" by Foley, van Dam, Feiner, and Hughes. Addison Wesley, 1990.
This was the required book for cs184 Fall 1992-1995. It is known as "the bible" of computer graphics; the completeness of this book is outstanding. Every student / professional in computer graphics has this book on their bookshelf. However, at over one thousand pages and $60, sometimes it is too much to bite off for an undergraduate who doesn't hope to major in graphics. It was dropped in 1995 as the required book for cs184, but still recommended for anyone wishing to enter the field. It is far, far too technical for cs5 students.
"Introduction to Computer Graphics" by Foley, van Dam, Feiner, Hughes and Philips. Addison Wesley, 1994.
This was the required book for cs184 Fall 1996. Philips was brought in (he is the only author from industry) to reduce the bulk of the original book and make is suitable for an undergraduate computer graphics course. The authors realized the need to retool their original tome for the different audience. It's still too technical for cs5 students.
"Computer Graphics, 2nd Ed" by Hearn and Baker. Prentice Hall, 1994.
This was the required book for cs184 Fall 1997. Very good book, but aimed at cs184 and not cs5 students.
"Interactive Computer Animation" by N. and D. Thalmann. Prentice Hall, 1996.
This book was written by and for computer science animation researchers, such as those you'd find in MIT's Media Lab. Very few animation examples, pretty dry for this exciting field.
"The Way Computer Graphics Works" by Lathrop. Wiley, 1997.
Excellent graphic design, great figures, but it's aimed at explaining for your mom how graphics works. They only devote a chapter to animation; unfortunately it isn't the central theme of the book.
"Making Them Move" by Badler, Barsky and Zeltzer. Morgan Kauffman, 1991.
This was the recommended book for cs39a Fall 1996 and 1997. It's a compilation of several seminal papers in the emerging field of computer animation. The book is clearly dated and not the best book for cs5 students. Like the Thalmann book, this is written by and for researchers.
"3D Graphics and Animation: From Starting Up to Standing Out" by Giambruno. New Riders, 1997.
This is a very good book. It feels very much like a "Computer Animation for Dummies" book in the way it's written. Each page is only black / white and very busy, but it does come with a CDROM of animation and demonstration code. There aren't enough figures, and not enough examples in the text.
"3-D Computer Animation" by Vince. Addison Wesley, 1992.
This was the required book for cs39a Fall 1997. It is very good, aimed dead-on at cs5 students. Unfortunately it takes a "here's what you need to know about cs184 for cs5 students" take for most of the text and explains abstractly what's behind the curtain rather than showing them how to do critical animation tasks. It also seems to be written for the next generation of folks who will be writing animation software, rather than animators. It never once talks about the importance of the story, how to make a storyboard, or compositing final frames together. The author is clearly not an animator.

...before settling on the best of the bunch:

"Digital Character Animation" by George Maestri. New Riders, 1996.
This book has everything. It covers everything we do in cs5, it's aimed at folks learning to animate, it is chock full of examples using many different programs, it has tremendous graphic design, every page is in color, it contains a CDROM of code, it's written by an animator, and it's state-of-the-art! There is no book even in its league. The only caveat is that it assumes the reader has high-end software, rather than the middle-range software we currently use in cs5. Thus, there are things it says you can do that the students won't be able to. The way around this is to only have the students read chapters / pages for things they can do, and if they ever have access to a higher end program they can read the remaining chapters.
  1. completeness of coverage of your course material;

The book covers everything we do with the small exception of morphing. To its defense, none of other books discuss morphing very much either.

  1. consistency with your approach to teaching the material and with the course activities you have designed;

The book begins with character design and advances to bodies, hierarchies and digital sets and finally, making a film. It's exciting to have a book talk about the story, the storyboards, etc. - no other book has ever even discussed this important component of animation. We do basically the exact same thing, except we focus on the story creation process first, having the students do a flipbook then stick figure animation before beginning to talk about modeling. This is ok, we'd just have the students read chapter 12 ("Making a film") before chapter 1.

  1. innovations that you might take advantage of;

The book has supplementary animations and models on the CDROM that go a long way towards explaining their examples. It would be wonderful to use these in class to highlight points. We already used Infini-D in class to highlight examples, and it would be great to have high-end examples as well.

  1. clarity of examples and explanations;

Unparallelled. They include screen shots, sample code, animations and excellent descriptions.

  1. quantity and quality of exercises;

Also unparalleled. Quantity is just about right - a few exercises for each chapter.

  1. supplementary course material or software that you might use;

The CDROM is invaluable.

  1. usefulness as a reference;

It's a reasonable reference for animators, but not necessarily for programmers.

  1. usability in subsequent courses.

Again, if they were to take an "Advanced animation" class with high-end tools, this book continues to have worth.

2. The ordering of the criteria above reflect (more or less) my opinion of the relative importance of the various items. Do you agree? Why or why not? Are there other criteria that one should consider when choosing a textbook?

I don't agree with the particular ordering, and I would have added a few questions, which are italicized. I added the questions (think of them as "filters") because there were several of the books I reviewed which would have received good scores otherwise. The majority of the problems with these books are that they're either too old (state of the art), written by researchers for researchers (written for your audience by someone who knows the field), or not written well (easy to read). I also added a price and size question. I also think examples and a supplementary CDROM are essential for intro animation books. I would have chosen the following questions to ask when choosing a book for cs5:

  1. completeness of coverage of your course material;
  2. state of the art;
  3. written for your audience by someone who knows the field;
  4. easy to read (simple language, good graphic design, typography);
  5. clarity of examples and explanations;
  6. supplementary course material or software that you might use;
  7. consistency with your approach to teaching the material and with the course activities you have designed;
  8. innovations that you might take advantage of;
  9. quantity and quality of exercises;
  10. reasonably priced;
  11. usefulness as a reference;
  12. reasonably sized; (e.g., not coffee-table-book sized!)
  13. usability in subsequent courses;

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Teaching cs302