ECS 279:  Topics in Character Animation


The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the state of the art in character animation research.  The focus is on algorithms and techniques for controlling skeletal movement, i.e. how the whole body moves.  We may also talk briefly about other topics such as the movement of cloth and hair, the bulging of muscles or facial animation.  The main topics will include forward and inverse kinematics, physics-based techniques, data-based techniques, representations of style, and modeling gesture.  In order to explore the state of the art, much of our attention will be aimed at recent research papers in the field.  This will be supplemented by lecture material meant to bring you up to speed on the major tools and approaches used in character animation research.


NOTE: some of the web pages for this course are restricted to students in the course only.  A username and password will be issued in class.


The class is scheduled for TR 10:30 – 11:50 am in Cruess 107. 

Office Hours

Tues. 1-2pm Thurs. 3pm-4pm, or by appointment.  I’m happy to discuss the material with students, so please e-mail me to make an appointment if you would like to meet outside of the office hour.

Contact Info


Michael Neff

Kemper 3031

mpneff AT ucdavis [dot] edu

754-9510 (e-mail is preferred)

Late Policy

10% per class the assignment is late.  Talk to me about medical or other reasons beyond your control that prevent you from submitting work on time.


Classes will consist of a mix of lectures, paper presentations and project discussion.  Class participation is a key component of the course.  The intent of the course is to explore current research material together.  You are expected to come prepared to participate in the discussion whenever a research paper is presented (i.e. you should read the paper ahead of time).

Class Schedule

Please look here for the schedule, including paper presentation dates (once set).

Textbook and Reference Material

There is no textbook for the course.  Lecture notes will be placed online as appropriate and research papers should be downloaded and read before they are presented in class.  The following textbooks are useful, but you are not required to buy either:


“Advanced Animation and Rendering Techniques:  Theory and Practice” by Watt and Watt. 

This book is getting old and does not have a huge animation section, but the material it contains is well presented.


“Computer Animation:  Algorithms and Techniques” by Rick Parent

This is a newer book with a broad overview of computer animation.


Lecture notes and supplemental material are available here.


There are four different types of work in the course designed to help students learn the material.  The first is a short programming assignment to implement an inverse kinematics algorithm.  The second is a practical animation assignment using current software (e.g. Maya) intended to give students experience with state of the art tools and current animation practice.  The third is a paper presentation and discussion session that allows students to explore a particular piece of research in more depth and practice presentation and facilitation skills.  Students are also expected to read other papers and be prepared to discuss them.  The final component is a major course project that allows students to experiment with doing some novel research.  The weighting of each project, due dates and links to more detailed information are contained below.




Due Date

IK Implementation


Jan. 25th

Applied Animation Assignment


Feb. 8th 

Submit Paper Selection


Jan. 21, but you’re encouraged to submit sooner.

Paper Presentation and Discussion Session



To be scheduled during the quarter.

Paper Summaries and Discussion Participation


With every paper presentation

Project Pitch (written submission)


Feb. 7



End of quarter