Creating Animation for PBS - in High School
CreativeCOW presents Creating Animation for PBS - in High School -- Autodesk 3ds Max Editorial

A collaboration between Biscardi Creative Media and CDAT teacher Mike Reilly has led to a wonderful opportunity for a group of high school students. Walter Biscardi, Jr. introduces us to Mike and his work:

Mike Reilly is one of the CDAT teachers at Lanier High School, located about 3 miles south of our facility. To say the least, this school is AWESOME and Mike has a philosophy to reach out to the local professional community to get the kids involved in "real world work" instead of just made up assignments.

To that end, his students are creating a full blown 90 second animation for our upcoming PBS documentary, "Dark Forest, Black Fly" that we would not have been able to have create any other way. The budget just wasn't there for the animation. His kids have been working on 3D Studio Max and have simply blown away all expectations. I just posted a short blog about the project. [Editor's note: For more information, check out Walter Biscardi's blog at http://www.biscardicreative.com/blog/2013/02/high-schoolers-pitch-in-on-documentary-project/ ]


Michael Reilly - Our work for Dark Forest, Black Fly
Michael Reilly - Our work for "Dark Forest, Black Fly." Copyright 2013 Cielo Productions Inc.


The school features animation, web site design, graphic design, audio design, full studio and field packages and a very refreshing attitude from all the students. I'm going to be collaborating a lot more with Mike and the high school on two upcoming projects.

On their own, his students have essentially created the modern version of "Schoolhouse Rock" with their own YouTube channel. Now meet Michael Reilly...



Kids these days...don't be jealous!

Do you remember high school history class? Imagine if your teacher said "As your assignment this year, make a YouTube channel to teach US History." Well that's not just imagination, it's actually happening, and just one way the world of digital creativity is showing up in schools.

At Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, Georgia, north of Atlanta, there's a segment of the school called the Center for Design and Technology, aka, "CDAT." It's a project-based learning environment, with a focus on digital creativity. To clarify, project-based learning is basically "make something that shows that you know the information" instead of worksheets, assignments, term papers, the usual. The YouTube History assignment is actually one of those projects, check it out: http://youtube.com/forgottostudyvideos


The best US History assignment ever!
The best US History assignment ever!


The projects go beyond assignments and beyond the school walls. But first, what are they learning? In CDAT, our kids are focused on learning their regular academics, but also "digital creativity". To us, that means traditional engineering, games, video and audio production and post-production. After all, we have Turner Studios about 30 minutes away, Meggitt Training Systems around the corner, a cute little school called Georgia Tech and another across the way called SCAD. The world of digital creativity is thriving in the Peach State, and these kids are on board. Of course, thanks to the State of Georgia for those tax incentives!

The primary softwares used in CDAT are Adobe (Master Collection CS5), Autodesk (3DS Max, Inventor, Revit), lots of free stuff (Unity3D is popular), and music too (Logic, GarageBand, ProTools, Reason). In the 9th grade, CDAT kids are introduced to all of them, to get a taste each and pick a direction. In 10th grade, they have to choose a direction and specialize. This is where they develop a deeper set of skills in one area, and begin collaboration with other disciplines. In 11th grade we blow their mind: work on one project, as one large team, for one year. The goal is to have them fall in love with a creative direction, understand the successes and frustrations of a workplace environment, and develop strong communication and planning skills. In 12th grade, we pair students with local companies that can use their skills, sometimes beyond what we had ever planned!


Our first class
Our first class


One person we've been blessed to work with is Walter Biscardi of Biscardi Creative and of course, Creative COW blogging fame. Walter was introduced to us by Blake Lewin, founder of Turner's GameTap program and whose son attends the program (we must be doing something right). In short, Walter saw the "win-win" right away. We have kids thirsty to prove themselves, to intern at no cost, and we even have very cheap (if kids are involved, FREE) facilities. Walter has connections and work to get done, and many folks are ready to give the kids a shot (did I mention the FREE cost?).



Want an example? I'm not sure how much detail I can give, but Walter connected us with Gary Strieker, Executive Producer and Director for Cielo Productions. Our students were hired on to make a 90-second 3D animation for the documentary, Dark Forest which will be distributed by PBS in the Fall of 2013. I'm not an expert, but I think we saved the director quite a few thousand dollars, and the students get their names in the credits of a PBS documentary. Now THAT'S a "win-win"!

When the school year begins in August, we will be working with multiple companies in what we called "remote internships." That is, we host the kids at the school with occasional visits to the company, and companies will utilize our students as contractors to accomplish assigned tasks. One example is HiRez Studios, where our students will create marketing trailers for a game like SMITE, design items or characters for the game itself, maybe even get in some QA time.


A visit with our friends at HiRez Studios.
A visit with our friends at HiRez Studios.


Students get to learn the systems and procedures of real production, have a chance to be creative and show off their skills, and the company gets to network with future employees, maybe get some decent assets at no cost, and get some strong community public exposure too. How does this fit with academics? All students involved at this level are studying Economics, Government and readin'/writin', which all connect back to the industry in which they are working.


Our awesome work space!
Our awesome work space!


Of course, students will only work for free for so long, and they are realistic. The goal is to get paid internships, once they demonstrate their value. Companies like this method because they get to try the kids out at a low risk level, and bring talented kids on if/when they need them.

The students LOVE the opportunities of work, but they also love opportunities for accolades. The Southeast NATAS organization has just begun a contest for the high school level, and other contests like STEMChallenge.org are great places to win contests and add to the resume.


Using our unfinished 4th floor for a shoot.
Using our unfinished 4th floor for a shoot.


So don't be jealous that these students have this chance, embrace it. Look at schools near you, ask what creative classes they offer. They might have some rock stars for concept art, post-production basics, who knows! Check out the list of advisors on Autodesk's curriculum site, or the winners of the Adobe Youth Voices contest and you'll find some great programs that can make this student-business connection for you.

If you have a chance, visit a program. Teachers become like another parent, and YOUR opinion means so much more because YOU are an outside stranger who really does this for a living. We were lucky to have Mary Poplin from Imagineer Systems speak to them, as did Walter Biscardi and others. Maybe you could do this remotely with a school you have a connection with. During our PBS work Autodesk connected the students to Gary M. Davis, a lead customer support for 3DS Max. In the music world it was great when Montell Jordan stopped by to show us how he does it, Chris Rickwood shared how the world of how audio blends into video games, and this year Young Guru came in to support learning the technical and programming side of music.


Young Guru, Jay-Z's audio engineer, visited Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, GA with GT professor Jason Freeman to work with students on the EarSketch program, which teaches coding through music.
Young Guru, Jay-Z's audio engineer, visited Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, GA with GT professor Jason Freeman to work with students on the EarSketch program, which teaches coding through music.


We've been so fortunate to have all of this. If you're ever in Georgia, stop on by so our students can meet yet another person in this creative world! We can never get enough. Come on, get involved. It's fun, and could help your next product. (In the meantime, visit our channel and post some compliments to the kids! http://youtube.com/forgottostudyvideos )


Montell Jordan visits with the students.
Montell Jordan visits with the students.