Jasper is little girl who prefers a big sky over her head, doesn’t care what people think she should do or be, and just wants to fly. And she isn’t going to give up until she does.
She’s also an animation – a character developed by UTS PhD student Simon Rippingale and brought to life by students at the UTS Animal Logic Academy, along with experts in design and technology from the university.
Her story is part of an RAAF initiative to encourage more young women to do science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects – and to fly.
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne was present for Jasper’s first public outing at the recent AIR4 event, a new festival of STEM that also aims to encourage young women to consider this path.
“Women represent only 16 per cent of STEM graduates across Australia. In order for Defence, and indeed the country, to get the very best capability, we need to have greater female participation in STEM subjects,” Mr Pyne said at the launch.
“We may have the next aerospace inventor, satellite engineer, or a future fast jet pilot [here]. For these girls, we see their future as limitless, and we would like them to see it that way too.”
The cutting-edge, two-minute Jasper animation was a collaboration between the RAAF and UTS, with the university bringing together a diverse team of specialists and students from its faculties of Trandisciplinary Innovation (TDI), Design, Architecture and Building (DAB), and Engineering and IT (FEIT).
With Rippingale, they developed unique “hybrid” animation techniques, combining the traditional and hand-made with new technologies such as robotics, 3D printing and laser cutting in order to realise Jasper and her world.
UTS ALA graduate Mai Pham, now a 3D animator at Flying Bark Productions, says working on the Jasper short film was special not just because of the creativity and innovation.
“The project's message is beautiful – to be a dreamer and to be brave was what I strongly believed in as a kid, and now,” she says. “Growing up, I always knew what I dreamed of becoming but I was told ‘no’ by many people, and society, just because it wasn't ‘a good choice’.
“I think shorts like Jasper are important to everyone just because it says ‘yes’ to those who need it.”
Working on Jasper pulled her back to the days of “playing, dreaming, creating crafts on the field at the back of my house”, she says. “I'd hope the girls watching this feel the connection as well – that they'll feel what Jasper feels. I hope to inspire them to dream and start building that dream, to be brave and determined and believe that nothing's the limit.”
Rippingale is following his own exploration, with his PhD looking at unique techniques and styles for realising moving images and producing visual effects on screen.
“My animation work has become about finding unexplored creative opportunities at the boundary between analogue and digital animation techniques,” he says. “My aim is to create more immersive, emotionally engaging and compelling story experiences.”
For the Jasper project, the team built real-world, mini-sets for a character that was digital and animated. “The technique was in finding a way to do that so that it felt real and believable – really ‘there’,” he says.
That involved using both animation software and an industrial robot arm, among other things. “That robot didn’t know it was a camera,” Rippingale says. “These industrial robots are designed to do other things, like build cars.”
Rippingale’s PhD supervisor, Associate Professor Andrew Johnston, says: ‘We worked closely with the ProtoSpace 3D printing experts in FEIT and the Transformative Technologies & Data Poetics research group in DAB, who were able to get their industrial robots working with our cameras to enable complex shots we would never have been able to pull off otherwise.
“Jasper is a great example of how transdisciplinary research collaboration and the creative use of technology can bring really interesting projects to life that have real impact,” adds Dr Tim Schork of the Transformative Technologies & Data Poetics research group.
Jasper’s character is based on the real-life Squadron Leader Jacqueline Killian, who is the voice of Jasper in the animation and who was present for the public launch.
The animation has been awarded Gold at the prestigious 2018 Animation Effect Awards and Festival, along with an Australian Screen Sound Guild award for Best Sound for a Television Commercial or Promo.