Virtual Lincoln appears on Quad; next stop, Gettysburg
In celebration of his birthday, Abraham Lincoln was brought to the Quad by a team of UNC Asheville New Media students and faculty who are creating a lifelike animation of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.
Placing Lincoln virtually on campus was a dress rehearsal of sorts. If all goes according to plan, Abraham Lincoln – precisely and accurately rendered down to the texture of his beaver skin hat – will be brought to life by UNC Asheville animators in time to redeliver that most famous speech on the day of its 150th anniversary, November 19.
The virtual Lincoln is the brainchild of Christopher Oakley, assistant professor of new media and former Disney and Dreamworks animator. Four semesters ago, Oakley conceived of the project, and began sharing his lifelong passion for the study of Lincoln with a team of eight students who are learning to craft every virtual detail with excruciating accuracy, and learning the craft of animation in the process.
“Right now I’m working on finishing the hair, giving it dynamics so it can move properly,” says Hagen Carringer, a senior from Hayesville who has become the project’s technical director. “What led me to New Media was an accident,” says Carringer, who had his heart set on conventional filmmaking until he had his first animation class with Oakley. “A week into that class… I just got it and ever since then, I’ve been in love.”
The project requires students to be both animators and historians, learning about the scar on Lincoln’s nose often left out of his likeness, among other things. “We will place Lincoln in Gettsyburg,” says Oakley. “We are building the speaker stand… We’re doing a ton of research on where that stand actually stood and what the cemetery looked like at the time the address was given.” “I take part in that research,” says Carringer, “all of us on the team do because it’s a collaborative effort."
The project simultaneously fits the goals of liberal arts education and career preparation. Says Oakley: “We have students who are strong enough, who can go out and get jobs in animation and my goal became, how can I best prepare them? … I wanted something … that would have them working at what I consider a professional level… with professional-level expectations and professional-level deadlines.”
“We have this deadline now that we know we want to hit because we’d like to show this to the world,” says Oakley, speaking of the 150th anniversary, looming just nine months away, of perhaps the most famous speech in American history. “Our plan is to have Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address – it won’t be an actor with a pasted-on beard. It is going to be Abraham Lincoln – as close as we can get to the real man – using computer technology. We can’t go back in time and watch Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg address, but through animation, we can feel like we have.”