“What originally brought me to Bennington was the science program. I came as a prospective student and sat in on one of [faculty member] Betsy Sherman’s classes, and I fell in love with the way she taught. The atmosphere didn’t feel like a lecture; it was more like a discussion in a living room about biology. All of the classes I visited had that feel to them—like people were there because they wanted to be, not because they had to be. That’s one of the first things that struck me about Bennington.
“I’ve been interested in biology since elementary school. I’ve always had a big love for animals, so from a young age, I’ve wanted to learn more about them. I used to have pets that most people wouldn’t even think of—tree frogs, sea monkeys, sea horses, all types of snakes and lizards—if I could get it from the pet store, I had it. I also really loved those educational children’s shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy—that’s sort of where I got my love for animation.
“When I first got to Bennington, I automatically went for science classes like How Do Animals Work? But I also tried to expand my horizons with other courses in literature and Chinese (I’m still taking Chinese). With my interest in science, I never really even thought to take a visual art. I was always taught, until I came to Bennington, that the sciences and the arts are two separate things, and you either do one or the other. But then my second term, I decided to take Introduction to Animation with [faculty member] Sue Rees, and that’s when I had an epiphany.
I thought, “Maybe I can put these two things together.”
“As it turns out, there’s a lot of work being done right now with 3-D animation to create behavioral models of different types of species. I just read a study where they made 3-D behavioral models for a certain type of guppy (fish) and used them to study mate choice. They set up a 3-D animated video of male guppies behind a tank of female guppies so that the female guppies would try to school with the males. Then they changed the color intensity of the males to see how it affected the females’ choice in mate.
“For my senior project, I’d like to do something like that with crayfish, a species I’ve already been studying. Crayfish are mostly studied because of their ritual-like fighting bouts, which are largely influenced or decided by chemical signals released by each opponent. But there is also a visual aspect to their aggressive behavior—threat displays—so I’m hoping to create some 3-D behavioral models that, by eliminating the chemical component, will explore more of the visual aspects of crayfish behavior.
“I’m taking Sue Rees’ Advanced Digital Animation course, where I’m learning how to use Maya software to make 3-D models of pretty much anything. I’m really excited to learn more about the process. Also, this Field Work Term, I interned at World Leaders Entertainment, an animation studio that produces shows for Adult Swim and Warner Bros. I worked on arranging and organizing scripts, props, and backgrounds for the show Venture Bros. I learned a lot about how an animation project is done in a full-blown studio. Seeing this process, I took away a lot of tricks that will make future animation projects easier. At Bennington, I’ve been obsessed with finding ways to use animation to assist my science career. But more and more, I’ve been realizing that maybe it can go the other way. Maybe I can use science to springboard a career in animation.”
It’s been too long without a ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy.’ I think it’s time we had another one.