By Kevin Hogencamp/Jacksonville University
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JU senior computer arts and design student Michelle Pabalate describes her animating with digital clay project April 4 at the JU Faculty & Student Symposium at the Davis College of Business.

Jacksonville University computer arts and design student Michelle Pabalate only had to think back to her childhood to come up the perfect idea for her senior project.

“I loved the clay animations I watched as a kid; I was fascinated with them,” said Pabalate, of Sacramento, Calif. “So when it came time to choose a senior project, I thought it would be a good technical challenge for me to attempt to create a computer animation that looked more like a clay animation.”

And a catchy, quirky Christmas tune fixed in her memory helped, too.

The result: “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” in simulated clay animation — a big hit at the JU Faculty & Student Symposium April 3-5 at the Davis College of Business.

Pabalate’s faculty sponsor was Dr. Carolina Conte.

“Through this research project, I have learned a more efficient way to produce an animation that offers the appeal and charm of a clay animation without the cost in materials and studio space,” Pabalate wrote in her project summary.

Pabalate’s thesis outlines the computer-generated method she used to create the realistic texture of clay. Using the right digital materials and understanding the physical properties of real clay went a long toward enabling Pabalate to successfully simulate clay within a computer animation program.

“Meindbender Studios in Sweden has created shorts for the Cartoon Network that are computer animations, but they intentionally look like clay animations, so they were a further inspiration when I saw how successfully they did this,” Pabalate said.

Among Pabalate’s challenges for the project was getting permission to use the song – a process that took about two weeks.

“I received a lot of help,” she said.

Pabalate says she’d like to produce her own series of animations for entertainment and instruction, and someday work on stop motion animation projects, the cinematic technique used to makes static objects appear as if they were moving. First, though, she hopes to parlay her degree, which includes a concentration in computer animation, into employment with an animation studio.

“I really enjoy character animation as well as modeling sets and props for the animations,” she said.

Here is Pabalate’s “I Want for Chritmas is a Hippopotamus” animation.