Catalog Code: DDA 390-04

Course Title: Senior Project Pre-Production

Department: Digital Arts

Chairperson: Peter Patchen

School: School of Art

Term/Year: Spring 2018

Course Credits: 3

Location & Time: Myrtle Hall, Room 4W-06, Tuesday and Thursday, 9:30 - 11:50 PM

Req or Elective: Required


Instructor: Claudia Herbst-Tait


Phone: 718 636 3490

Fax: 718 399 4494

Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday, Lunch

Office Location: 4W-16

Syllabus Version: November 14th 2017

Bulletin Description:

Students will undergo research and development for their upcoming Senior Project over the course of the semester. This project, in the form of a short animated film up to four minutes long, will serve as the centerpiece for their portfolio upon graduation. Students will conceive, complete, and document the pre-production phases of this project. The semester’s final presentation includes an advanced 2D/3D animatic as well as a 15-20 second sequence that is fully rendered and has been treated in post.


Detailed Description:

Students develop a major project that reflects their creative and technical abilities to act as the centerpiece of their professional portfolio. The planning phase of Senior Project is a hands-on experience: while developing 2D and 3D animatics and finessing the aesthetic in terms of surface treatment, lighting and overall approach to rendering, students complete models and rigs as well as motion tests. By semester’s end, student’s have produced a polished animatic that includes a detailed, beat by beat treatment of the story, camera movements and transitions and sound as well as a fully rendered sequence of their project -- a 15-20 second vertical slice that has been treated in post-production and conveys the final look of the animation. Moreover, students devise a comprehensive production pipeline and schedule for the completion of their Senior Project.

Projects have to reflect each individual student’s skill level. That means a project and its technical requirements should suit a student’s current skill set. Acceptable types of projects include 3D animations destined for film festivals, or for gallery installations. Projects can be part of a wide variety of animation genres, including traditional, linear or poly-linear narratives or experimental formats; projects may, or may not, include characters depending on a student’s interests and area of expertise. Students may mix media and borrow from other disciplines. While the possibilities are many, the demonstration of technical skill (such as an animated modeling reel) does not meet the requirement of a Senior Project; similarly, gaming projects are not acceptable because the department does not offer relevant coursework to support these types of projects. Projects are expected to comprise original ideas that engage the viewer and are expressive.

Each student is solely responsible for all visual components of their film. Any plagiarism of third party assets of any kind could result in failure or expulsion. This includes sketches and designs, animation, editing, matte painting, textures and texturing and also rigging. Rigging tools, such as Advanced Skeleton, are acceptable provided that credit is given. Using online services to rig characters, or applying pre-made animation cycles, is not permissible. Use of online services such as CG textures to obtain individual texture maps is acceptable. Using entire online shader networks is not acceptable. Please read Pratt’s plagiarism policies at the end of this document.

Significant progress is expected on a weekly basis as students produce key components of their films. Class discussions and critiques will be used to further develop visuals and stories. Once their animatics are at an advanced stage of development, students are strongly encouraged to consult with a skilled/professional musician or sound designer in order to achieve a high quality of sound design.

Senior Projects may not be used for commercial purposes. No client relationship may exist surrounding the Senior Project with the exception of a student hiring a professional sound designer. 

Course Goal(s):

● Translate Ideas and Concepts into a cohesive and well-planned Senior project.

● To produce a detailed, polished animatic and vertical slice of the Senior Project.

● To produce a significant percentage of the 3D, sound, and other visual assets for the Senior Project.

● Plan and begin production of the centerpiece of their professional portfolio.


Student Learning Objectives:

By the end of the course, the student will be able to:

● Demonstrate working knowledge of the process and required steps in the production of a short 3D-animated film.

● Demonstrate enhanced presentation and communication skills.

● Document the creative and conceptual evolution of a Senior Project.

● Provide a plan to complete a fully realized Senior Project in the time allotted.



Senior Projects are expected to not only live up to a high technical standard and polish but to introduce fresh aesthetics and be conceptually rich and innovative. Thus, students are asked to search out idiosyncratic materials that are outside of the mainstream and their personal zone of visual familiarity in the hopes of stimulating new ideas. In developing their concepts, students may take a cross-disciplinary approach, visit other departments, or draw from related (or unrelated) disciplines. Research can take on many forms and students are asked to look for venues appropriate to their interests. While instructors will make suggestions and share resources, students must take initiative, be proactive and follow through: it is the student who has to come up with ideas and who must demonstrate that he/she can produce meaningful and relevant concepts on their own. Research conducted in the development of a Senior Project has to be documented and organized so that it can be presented in class.

In addition to weekly in-class presentation, students will give two formal presentations of their developing Senior Projects to faculty and peers to be scheduled at midterm and at the end of the semester. Each student is allotted 15 minutes to present their work to date, this includes 5 minutes to present his/her project, followed by up to 10 minutes Q&A. Attendance is mandatory for the entire length of presentations.

 For the midterm presentation, students must meet or exceed these milestones:

● carefully time their presentations

● test and rehearse presentation beforehand

● predominantly use images of their own making in the visualization of their projects

● include a moodboard, well developed style sheets and five pieces of polished concept art

● 3D assets, including retopologized character models for character-driven films and an environment for their vertical slice

● at least one fully rigged 3D character for character-driven films

● lighting and rendering tests

● include an advanced 2D animatic with sratchtrack

For the final presentation, students must meet or exceed these milestones:

● carefully time their presentations

● test and rehearse presentation beforehand

● include advanced 2D animatic indicating camera movement and shot transitions with a 3D animatic overlay (bottom right) and revised soundtrack*

● at least one fully rigged 3D character for character-driven films

● include a polished vertical slice depicting the final aesthetic of the film, 15-20 seconds in length

● a production schedule

* instructors submit .mov files of final animatics to the department for Assessment at the end of the semester

It is important that all pre-production visuals, such as concept art and animatics, adhere to the final 16:9 aspect ratio. Students are required to seek approval from the instructor by the 5th week of the semester. Once approved, concepts may not be changed without permission from the instructor. Modifications may be made up to the 9th week (midterm presentations), at which point the student will receive feedback from other Senior Project Faculty. After the 9th week, written permission must be obtained by the department chair to change a project.


The animatic should always include the most current version of each shot. Thus, animatics should be updated and posted on a weekly basis. Animations must be 4 minutes or less. Students are encouraged to think “quality over quantity.” During presentations, the animatic is expected to run within the presentations software (e.g., Keynote).


Creating a short film is a complex undertaking and file management is a big part of bringing a project to successful conclusion. Thus, students are required to manage and organize their data, assets and resources in a professional manner and to devise logical naming conventions and file structures for their projects. Students are further required to devise a comprehensive production pipeline and schedule for the completion of their Senior Project. All production documentation, such as shot and asset lists, must be kept current throughout the production of a Senior Project and shared with the instructor online.

● Students are encouraged to think digitally: what modeling detail can be simulated using textures, what elements can be recycled, when can sound effects be used to signify the presence of objects?

● Students “model to the camera,” i.e. students model with scene layout, staging and lighting in mind.

● Students create asset lists with detailed information for texturing and what level of detail the asset requires.

● Students identify naming conventions for each of their shot components (models, textures, etc.) and devise a project map to identify a structure for their assets and where each element is to live.

● Students will create a shot list in a spreadsheet format. Columns should include shot number, description, length of shot in frames, start frame of shot, camera angle, stages of process, notes for sound effects, dates of production, directors notes.

● Students will create a production calendar based on their pace from the vertical slice. This calendar will be shared with the class weekly and will determine what is due for each student's weekly critique.

Storage and Backups

Students are expected to use cloud-based storage and/or obtain external hard drives for daily and weekly backups. Lack of work due to data loss is no excuse.

Naming Convention: Class_YearTerm_LastNameFirstInitial

(ex. UG_18FA_GannisC and G_19SP_BlazerG).

Summer Break

Students are encouraged to continue to work on their Senior Project films during the summer break.

Useful References

Animated Storytelling: Simple Steps For Creating Animation and Motion Graphics, by Liz Blazer

Basics Animation 01: Scriptwriting, by Paul Wells

Inspired 3D Short Film Production, by Jeremy Cantor

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee

Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen, by Steven D. Katz

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Weekly Breakdown

January 22nd & 24th

Week 01

Between weeks 1 and 3, students attend a live performance and visit museums/galleries; students document their visits and the work they have been exposed to on their blogs. This is a firm requirement.

Syllabus overview.

Students present examples of their best work, stills and time-based works. 


Homework (Tuesday presenters will show work on Tuesday, Thursday presenters will show work on Thursday):

Read chapters 1 and 2 (pages 1 - 35) of Animated Storytelling, by Liz Blazer (on reserve in the library). Complete the assignment on page 33. Do thumbnails for the linear and non-linear versions of the "favorite mode of transportation" story. Post on blog.

In bullet point form, post the identifying hallmarks of the genre you are most interested working in/your project is part of. What are the defining characteristics is this genre? You will need to do some research here — think of films that your project is comparable to. What defines them, makes them effective? (This can include types of editing and pacing, design styles, overall themes, etc.)

Building on the idea/s and sketches you have already brought to class, create additional sketches/thumbnails that explore the character/s and how they interact; visualize scenes. Draw characters in poses that read clearly in silhouette and reveal the character’s personality. Consider that character designs have to be animated, i.e. deform well. If your project is not based on a character, create visuals that explore environments and ways how the mood and meaning of your film will be conveyed.

If your project includes writing (such as a poem), post that writing on your blog.

Post a longline for your project on the blog.

January 29th & 31st

Week 02

Overview of Senior Project 400/410 for context

Review of progress posted on blogs (Tuesday presenters will show work on Tuesday, Thursday presenters will show work on Thursday)

Students share what genre their films are part of and what the defining characteristics of that genre are

Concept and content vs. what happens. Logline, Pitch, Treatment, Moodboards and Scene Cards... (re-read Save the Cat if necessary)

Characters must be designed with deformation and environment in mind.

Character design: seasonal color palettes and color mixing for characters, lighting 3D characters

Students research the work of concept artists they admire who work in the genre they are interested in, post 5 pieces of favorite works on blog. 

Homework for Thursday:

For Thursday read chapters 1 and 2 (pages 13 - 32) of Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, by Marcos Mateau-Mestre  (on reserve in the library). How will I know you did the reading? Easy, it will be very obvious in your work….

Follow the requirements outlined here: Logline, Pitch, Treatment...


Homework for Tuesday:

For Tuesday read chapter 3 (pages 37- 53) of Animated Storytelling, by Liz Blazer (on reserve in the library).

Students write beat sheet (example structure) and create mood boards and scene cards for their ideas. Drawings should communicate clearly (create digitally with sufficient contrast or scan/photograph so that images are clean with good contrast).

Students create style sheets for their characters following these requirements.

February 5th & 7th

Week 03

Visual story telling, addressing story issues…

Pixar Rules of Storytelling.. (these rules don’t apply to non-linear storytelling in the same way…)

Discussion of character designs, more of what to look for.

Character modeling commences. On all modeling progress, always include a version with 'wireframe on shaded' turned on. Post updates on blog.

Camera and editing



For Thursday

Read chapter 4 (pages 55- 69) of Animated Storytelling, by Liz Blazer (on reserve in the library).

Read chapter 3 (pages 33 - 72) of Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, by Marcos Mateau-Mestre  (on reserve in the library). Post notes on blog.

Students complete moodboards


For Tuesday: 

Students post modeling progress for characters.

Students create well-develop storyboards. Panels make good use of staging paying special attention to the use of foreground, middle ground and background elements. Panels depict the scenes and actions using exciting camera angles that help convey the feeling of a scene to the audience. (16:9 aspect ratio). Every camera angle should communicate clearly and aid in the effective telling of the story/message.

Students create a color script (students create a copy of the storyboard and apply color, save as a different version). Post on blog.

February 12th & 14th

Week 04

By the beginning of Tuesday’s class all students have completed the requirements outlined in this document (writing) and created a beat sheet as well as this document (character design). Story and designs have undergone at least one round of revisions. Moodboards have been posted. Modeling progress has been posted (wireframe on shaded) and color scripts are in progress, posted on blog. All posts are organized by category (post all writing in one place/doc, all designs in one place… essentially organize posts so we don’t have to search for items).

Students present modeling progress.


Students revise storyboard and create a 2D animatic, includes soundtrack. Here is a document with contacts for sound designers — plan ahead, plan early.

Students create 5 polished pieces of concept art (16:9 aspect ratio); post on blog.

February 19th & 21st

Week 05

Students seek formal approval from the instructor for their projects. Once approved, concepts may not be changed without permission from the instructor. Modifications may be made up to the 9th week (midterm presentations), at which point the student will receive feedback from other Senior Project Faculty. After the 9th week, written permission must be obtained by the department chair to change a project.


Refining animatics

Students present 2D animatic, includes scratchtrack. Students may include 3D elements using Storyboard Pro.

5 polished pieces of concept art due (students drop their images here —create a folder using this naming convention:



All basic character modeling near completion, students apply test rig to check for deformation—post evidence of rig tests on blog. Include close-ups of models in ‘ wireframe on shaded’ mode.


Environment/asset modeling commences. 


Animatic continues to be developed and edited for time and tempo, includes advanced soundtrack.

Students begin planning their presentations.

February 26th & 28th

Week 06

Students present revised 2D animatic, includes soundtrack and advanced scene layout/shot composition and surface descriptions.


Rigging in progress, trouble shooting.

Environment/asset modeling continues. 


We will practice presentations in class. For their presentations next week, students include the following (all applicable items are required and factor into the final grade):

● a logline (what is it about) and very succinct/brief description
● mood board (one slide), color palettes (one slide), 5 pieces of original, polished concept art conveying final look/aesthetic
● examples of influences (one slide max)
● examples/work samples of relevant experience
● a revised, detailed 2D animatic that... 

-has been edited for time

-successfully conveys the flow of shot sequences

-includes revised pacing, reflects good variation in tempo

-depicts strong compositions for each scene

-indicates good use of foreground, middleground and background elements

-indicates character movement and direction

 -indicates camera movement and major lighting

-includes soundtrack, sound effects, etc.

● character style boards including color keys and value charts
● for character-driven films, at least one truly finalized character model, fully rigged and functional; additional characters are near final
● motion tests

The week of presentation (week 7), students drop their work here (create a folder using the naming convention, see below)...


  • a revised, detailed animatic, includes soundtrack

  • at least one/main finalized character model (UV mapped) and rigged: body rig must be finalized, a version that includes a final facial rig may be turned in by Wednesday, March 13th, 5 pm). Note that completed character models must include all aspects of a model, including hair, hands, accessories and clothing. If you are working on Xgen hair, include work in progress, reference images, and/or stand-ins.

students include “.mb” or “.ma” file of rigged character (no referenced files please)

students include .mov file/s that demonstrate rigging and good deformation (bending limbs, etc.)

  • secondary/additional bi-ped characters 75% completed model

  • any other characters (such as monsters) demonstrate progress

students include .fbx files and .mov of turntable animation, wireframe on shaded for character models in progress

  • screenshots of assets, wireframe on shaded

  • moodboards

  • character sheets (including orthographic drawings, poses, color chart, value chart)

  • concept art (at least five pieces)

All deadlines are firm. Work handed in late drops a letter grade.


Naming Convention for Files:

Folder naming convention:  



Image naming convention:




Animatic naming convention:


Production documentation naming convention: 




Students are advised of their grade in writing. Grades are based on in class performance, blog updates, the above materials and presentations.

March 5th & 7th MID-TERM REVIEWS 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM

See breakdown of week 06 for details on what to hand in.


Students revise their animatics and continue modeling and rigging.

Students begin production documentation. Asset lists are due after spring break.

Read chapter 5, 6 and 7 (pages 71-111) of Animated Storytelling, by Liz Blazer (on reserve in the library).

Read chapter 4 (pages 73 - 88) of Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, by Marcos Mateau-Mestre  (on reserve in the library). Post notes on blog.

March 11th - 17th SPRING BREAK

March 19th - 21st

Week 08

Discuss faculty feedback.

Students present their fully rigged characters (body & face).

Students share Asset Lists and continue creation of Production Documentation, including detailed shot lists.

Converting 2D animatic into 3D (scroll to page 2)

setting up scene for shots: planning, using clean imports, reference where necessary

pay special attention to scene layout

revise and/or animate camera as necessary

include key lighting where story calls for it

Planning and pipeline.

Students begin creating a 3D animatic (first draft due April 2nd). 

March 26th & 28th

Week 09

Students continue working on their 3D animatic (due April 2nd).

Asset production continues.

Secondary character models are complete, rigging is in progress.

3D animatic continues to be developed and includes more finalized tempo and transitions. Also includes advanced soundtrack.


April 2nd & 4th

Claudia will miss morning class on April 4th — as a make-up session, students are invited to schedule an appointment for an individual meeting on Monday, April 8th, between 9 am and 3 pm to discuss progress.

Week 10

Students present 3D animatics. Current versions of the 3D animatics have to be uploaded to blogs. Students submit .mov files of their animatics here.

Suggestions and critique are implemented for next week.

Rigging for secondary characters is in progress.

Begin developing the prototype (vertical slice, 15-20 seconds).

April 9th & 11th

Week 11

Students present revised 3D animatic, includes camera movement and key lighting. 

Students review character poses and staging.

Rigging for secondary characters is in progress, near final.

Animating for for vertical slice.  

April 16th & 18th

Week 12

Students present revised 3D animatic.

Secondary characters are handed in — please follow the naming convening and drop your work here.

Animating for vertical slice.  

Lighting and rendering tests: economizing render times.  

April 23rd & 25th

Week 13

75% of assets are completed and handed in. All components must be saved following simple, logical naming conventions. Submit as .fbx files.

Students present revised 3D animatic.

Finalizing vertical slice: lighting and rendering.

Economizing render times.  

April 30th & May 2nd

Week 15


Final presentation includes advanced versions of the work presented during mid-term. Presentations include...

● an abstract
● mood board (one slide), color palettes (one slide), 5 pieces of original, polished concept art conveying final look/aesthetic
● examples of influences (one slide max)
● examples/work samples of relevant experience
● 3D animatic with 2D animatic as corner overly

-includes vertical slice: 15-20 seconds fully rendered, post and effects applied

-includes character in stepped animation (makes use of strong poses)

-includes near final pacing, reflects dynamic variation in tempo (if applicable)

-includes transitions

-includes thoughtful camera angles

-depicts strong scene layout/shot composition

-includes camera movement and major lighting, especially where critical for story

-includes developed soundtrack, sound effects, etc.

● character style boards including color keys and value charts
● at least two characters fully rigged, truly ready for animation (if applicable)
● compositing tests, examples of post-production


May 19th

Week 16

FINAL PRESENTATIONS: April 26th (Thurs), May 1st ( Tues), May 3rd (Thurs)

Discuss committee feedback.

Students hand in their 2D/3D animatic (see requirements above, week 15) 


Please note that completing all assignments (see below) is not the only requirement for successfully completing this course. Students are required to attend all classes, to be on time each time and come to class prepared. Students are advised that four unexcused absences will result in automatic failure of this course. No exceptions. Two late arrivals of 15 minutes or more count as one absence.


Attendance at Critiques

Any student who fails to attend a critique and does not email their work on that day, will receive a 0 (that's zero, lower than an F) for that assignment.



All major deadlines are posted in the weekly breakdown above. Students must meet each of these deadlines. Work handed in late automatically drops a letter grade.


A key goal of this course is to prepare students for the professional world. This is a student’s grade is dependent upon his or her level of “professionalism.” Most people have some intuitive grasp of what this means but we would like to say a few candid things about what it means in our classes. Here are a few do's and don'ts:

1) Show up on time every day with all of your work done and placed in a location where the instructor can easily access it for critiques. No excuses.

2) Handle critiques graciously and don't take tough critiques personally.

3) Avoid juvenile behaviors. Do not bang computers and curse. Do not have side conversations which interrupt lectures, presentations and critiques. Do not publicly damage the reputation of your colleagues because you have had a bad day.

4) Don't be arrogant. In the professional work space, arrogance leads to termination.

5) Take direction. Be comfortable being told to do something and do what you are told. That said, it is always possible to disagree. Just do it politely and without excessive emotion. In short, production is a high-stress environment of sleep-deprived people whose flaws are easily placed on display. Professionalism is a means of keeping the environment productive and harmonious for everybody. Most importantly, professionalism is how you keep your job. Your work and interview usually get if for you, but after that, your people skills in the workplace are essential to your survival. Your grade depends heavily on your professionalism because your future career does as well.

Methods of Assessment

Instructors will provide early grading feedback. Individual instructors may add additional checkpoints between the major project deadlines. In these cases, the instructors will provide the class with the adjusted grading weights for each stage of the project. A student’s progress is assessed based on their level of professionalism as demonstrated during presentations, level of organization and ability to meet deadlines. Students are also evaluated based on their ability to receive feedback and to implement suggestions they have received during critiques. A student’s project is assessed based on the demonstration of technical ability and originality of ideas and overall creativity.

Missing deadlines, rehearsals, presentation schedules, late arrivals, or leaving during a presentation are not acceptable and negatively affects a grade.


Class participation and attendance is mandatory. Grading will consist of evaluation of the blog, research and development exercises, quality of presentations and class participation and overall quality of progress.



A= Exceptional Work

A-= Excellent Work

B+= Work of high quality

B= Very good work that satisfies goals of course 

B-= Good Work

C+=Average Work

C= Barely adequate work

C-= Poor Work.

D= Poor Work; doesn't understand the assignments

F= Failure, no credit


Students are advised that incompletes are given only in cases of a documented emergency.



Institute-wide policies listed in the “Community Standards” section of the bulletin: Any additional applicable school, departmental, or personal course policies:


Policy on Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a series of laws designed to protect individuals with disabilities in the workplace and within educational environments. Pratt must make a reasonable effort to accommodate your disability. ADA includes not only physical disabilities, but also learning disabilities, and mental health disabilities. It is your responsibility to notify the Institute and your instructors of your disability, in a private manner, at the beginning of the course or as soon as your disability becomes evident.


Academic Integrity

Pratt Institute considers Academic Integrity highly important. Instances of cheating, plagiarism, and wrongful use of intellectual property will not be tolerated.

Faculty members will report each incident to the registrar for inclusion in student's files.

More than one report to the registrar during a student's program of study at Pratt will result in a hearing before the Academic Integrity Board, at which time appropriate sanctions will be decided. These may include dismissal from the Institute.

The nature and severity of the infraction will be determined by faculty members who can ask students to repeat an assignment, fail students on the assignment, fail students in the course and/or refer the incident to the Academic Integrity Board.

For more details about these procedures please see the Pratt Student Handbook, the Pratt Bulletins, and the pamphlet entitled Judicial Procedures at Pratt.



If students use dishonest methods to fulfill course requirements, they are cheating. Examples of this include, but are not limited to:

Obtaining or offering copies of exams or information about the content of exams in advance. Bringing notes in any form to a closed book exam. Looking at another student's paper during an exam. Receiving or communicating any information from or to another student during an exam.



Plagiarism is a bit more complicated, but the rules of documentation and citation are very specific and are tailored to different academic disciplines. Types of plagiarism include:

Including any material from any source other than you in a paper or project without proper attribution. This includes material from the Internet, books, papers, or projects by other students, and from any other source.

Using your own work to fulfill requirements for more than one course. The extensive use of the ideas of others in your work without proper attribution. Turning in work done by another person or a fellow student as one's own. 

Please remember that all work must be the student's own. If it is not, the source should be cited and documented appropriately. If there are aspects of this statement that are not understood, ask faculty members for help.