SIDEBAR:
Chilly
Scenes
of Ninja

Ray Forziati’s T-Rex makes the stones of Locust Walk tremble.

 

There’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the loose.
It’s stomping up Locust Walk, turning its great razor-toothed head from side to side as it goes, the scarred skin on its massive body glistening in the morning sun. It hesitates in front of Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall and finally turns toward me and lunges forward with a great soundless roar.

T-Rex on Locust Walk is the creation of Ray Forziati EAS’04, who hatched his terrible lizard in 2001, after an eight-year gestation that began when his father took him to see Jurassic Park for the first time.

“They just looked so real,” he says of the dinosaurs. “The movie’s characters claimed they were a miracle of genetic engineering, but even at 11 years old, I knew that couldn’t be. How’d the filmmakers get those dinosaurs in the movie? Robots? Puppets? Then I finally found out. They did it with computers. The dinos were digital. And a DMD student was born.”

Fast forward half a dozen years. Forziati, now in high school, was sorting through a pile of discarded college brochures when a list of Penn’s majors caught his eye. “I saw Digital Media Design listed, and my mouth dropped,” he says. “I had been tirelessly looking for a program even named that.”

His research into other schools clinched it. “DMD was the only undergraduate program that offered such a good balance between art and computer science,” he says. “Other schools were either very technical schools with pure computer-science majors or art schools that gave out art degrees. DMD offered both.”

By the summer of 2001, Forziati had finished his freshman year, and was ready to create his own T-Rex and set it loose on Locust Walk. He watched specific scenes in the Jurassic Park movies “over and over and over until the tape got a bit ruined,” he says. “I had to find out where the joints were, where the weight was, what skin jiggled, how it walked. Industrial Light & Magic, which did the visual effects for the movies, had done the research. I was just trying to recreate that effect.”

By then—having devoured TV specials, books of dinosaur artwork, and special-effects magazines; downloaded software; chatted with experts online; and begged big animation companies to show him around—he was ready to take his research to another level.

“I walked around my room pretending to be a dinosaur,” he says. “Yes, this scared my family a lot. Having your 19-year-old son stomp around the house like a six-ton reptile is just plain weird.”

After modeling his T-Rex by hand—“virtually sculpting it in 3-D”—he animated it by setting key-frames at various poses. “The textures were painted on the dinosaur model by hand in 3-D,” he explains. “I actually made ‘cuts’ and scars in the T-Rex’s skin.”

The hardest part was incorporating the dinosaur into his live-action background footage of Locust Walk, which “bounced around” a lot.

“Once I had the footage in my computer, I had to track the real camera movements to match up the virtual camera with it,” he explains. “Otherwise, the dinosaur would ‘float’ around the footage when I composited it in. After tracking the camera in the footage, I applied its movements to the virtual camera, and lo and behold, the T-Rex looks like he’s standing on the ground.” A ’saur is born.

“I have no doubt that Ray Forziati will be one of the great animators of his generation,” says Dr. Paul Messaris ASC’72 Gr’75, the Lev Kuleshov Professor of Communication and the Annenberg School’s DMD representative. “But some of the most talented DMD majors have worked in other areas as well.”

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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 09/02/03

FEATURE: The Cult of DMD
By Samuel Hughes