Episode 425: In which our hero visits Ringling and is stalked by menacing palm trees ...

Over the weekend I took a trip to Sarasota to visit Ringling on their annual Accepted Students Day. This was the first time I've been on an airplane in quite a while, and the first time I'd flown anywhere by myself before, so to commemorate the experience I took a lot of blurry cell phone pictures. Hurray!

Air travel has changed quite a bit since I last flew. Most of the changes are a result of all the new security precautions, but not all. On my flight from Atlanta to Sarasota the plane was equipped with these video screens in the backs of all the seats. "Wow, keen gear!" I thought for the first 3 minutes. Then I saw this sprite ad again. Then again. Then Again. THEN AGAIN. I was worried I'd have to stare at it the whole flight, but then the little 4-year-old boy in the seat next to me started playing with the unmarked buttons on the bottom and it turns out you can turn the screen off. Hurray for 4-year-olds!

Here was the most exciting part of the flight. It's kind of hard to make out, but down there somewhere is the florida coastline. This was my first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico.

And here's what parts of Sarasota looked like as the plane came in. The airport is right near the coastline.

I've heard that when you get off the plane in Hawaii that grass skirted hula girls come out of the woodwork and put leis of flowers around your neck. In the Sarasota airport you are greeted by this 8-foot tall statue 15th century Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto. He's very intimidating.

Hey look! My first encounter with a Floridian palm tree in the rental car lot. *sigh* memories.

I was eager to see the ocean so I drove around looking for a beach. Here's a little park I stopped at. It goes right up to the water, but no beach x_x. I'd have to try again later. I never noticed it before, but palm trees kind of loom over you.

Another palm tree greeted me at my hotel. I have to say, they were starting to get a little menacing.

The sun was going down, so I decided if I was going to see a beach before I left I'd better go find one now.

And look, I found one. This is called Lido beach (or Lido Key, I'm not sure what the difference is).

The sand was nice, but very different than the sand I remember from California.

I sat on the beach for a while and tried to draw the people walking by, but the sun went down pretty quickly. It sure was pretty.

I didn't have any swimwear, but I did walk through the water a little and pick up some shells. By then it was almost dark so I had to head back. Tomorrow Ringling!

The Ringling campus is very nice. My only basis of comparison is the campus at KU. Ringling is maybe the size of the main part of the KU campus on Jayhawk blvd, but very few buildings are over 4 stories. Most of the buildings are relatively new, built in the last 5 years or so. There are lots of trees and shady spots and nice places to sit and sketch.

When I got to check-in I was assigned to a small group of 5 or 6 other students and their parents and 2 student tour guides who would be showing us around for the morning. Everyone was very friendly.

The first building we toured housed the Film program and also the technology center for campus. Every student at Ringling is given a free laptop complete with all the software you could want, the gift of an "anonymous donor".

In the tech center we got a little tour of the server room which houses file space for all the students as well as a very impressive render farm used by the Computer Animation (CA) students to render their projects. The servers are in a very nice server room with hot and cold zones for about 5 isles of racks. I was surprised to learn that the render farm runs windows. The technical director told me that they would like to be running linux, but that the rendering software and plugins they use require windows.

Next we toured the CA facilities. Luckily one of our guides was a 3rd year CA student (that's him in the action pose) so we got a really thorough tour. In the animation dept they've lines the walls with these movie posters, and under each one they list the Ringling alumni who worked on the film. They have posters from just about every animated or scifi action film in the last 5 years.

The animation students spend their first few semesters learning 2D pencil animation, one of the things a lot of the other 3D animation schools (to their total discredit) completely skip over. I was really excited to see what sort of equipment they would have for students and I was not disappointed. Here is one of the animation desks. They have a whole lab full of these complete with backlit metal animation disks, adjustable surface, and a luxo lamp.

There's a reason the desks are so nice. They were all donated to the school by Dinsey when the Orlando animation studio was shut down. These are the same desks that movies like Lilo and Stitch were animated on.

Our guide said that the 2D classes focus on building animation basics, and culminate in a 15 sec pencil test animation that tells a simple story with a character you've designed.

After 2D animation students move on to 3D. The department has several labs full of computers, all PC's, all brand new, all with tablets, and all with 30-inch screens. The students do their animations in Maya and our guide was kind enough to show us some of what he'd been working on.

Everyone learns skills at every stage of the pipeline, so character design and connecting through study development, then modeling and rigging, texturing, animation, compositing and rendering. Your junior year you develop a final story up through the storyboarding stage, and then your senior year is spent completing a short film for your thesis.

Career services is very impressive. They have this display in their lobby with logos of all the companies that do recruiting and nearly every CA student I talked to was involved in an internship at some point.

This is a figure drawing session put on by students. They organize sessions every weeknight and bring in models so you can work on your skills outside of class.

This is one of the Illustration dept computer labs. Illustration has both Mac and PC's, everything with 30 inch screens.

I'm still not a fan of those creepy palm trees, but there are lots of other trees as well and most of them have big fluffy beards of this spanish moss that sways in the wind.

This is a shot from the second floor of the Graphic Design dept's building. They have a very nice (I'm guessing) Chihuli glass sculpture. This building also houses the main auditorium. Speakers come through from all over and include people from the major animations studios who show the students preproduction stuff and even some bits of films and shorts before they're released to the public.

And a little parting shot of the clouds over Sarasota. A big thanks to our guides (names withheld to protect the innocent), I had a great time.