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Bloody brilliant: Students hone real-life skills in digital media arts

Teens learning to plan, execute and document projects

STERLING – Once a striking young lady, Kelsey Simpson looked a fright – her eye blackened as black as night, her right arm grotesquely burned, a stomach-turning gash across the right side of her throat.

Isabelle Carreno and Sierra Williams couldn’t have been prouder. Except for the black eye.

“I think I need to work on the black eye a little,” said Isabelle, a senior at Amboy High School. “It needs a little love.”

The most startling development: The bloodied Kelsey didn’t win the first Cos War mask-design competition through the Digital Media Arts program at Whiteside Area Career Center, which was based on the popular TV show “Face Off.”

The honor went to Ohio High School junior Haley Monier, who turned Faith Christian School junior Shianne Warner's face into a horrifying, bloody mess.

“You look right out of a horror film,” said Paula Rademacher, the career center’s executive director and also a member of the judges’ panel.

That's just what Monier, a horror film buff, was going for. She’d like a career in movie-making – specifically, in the magic that goes on behind the scenes.

“I like to watch the ‘Saw’ movies with my stepdad, and I’m always looking at little parts and details they do and thinking about how they do it, trying to figure it out,” Monier said. “This class has helped me figure out that I really want to go into movie-making.”

It's bloody brilliant, in the eyes Denis Mennie, who’s instructed the class for a dozen years, and who keeps in touch with alumni to see where their exposure to a variety of media arts took them. They’ve gone into marketing for businesses such as John Deere and Sprint, and one alum even designed the Chicago Bulls website, he said.

The program has eight subclasses: digital drawing, digital photography, graphic design, film/video, image/sound, motion graphics, interactive media, and media arts (a little bit of everything). High school students who get with the program their junior year can take all eight subclasses throughout a 2-year span.

Students lit, filmed, shot, did sound for, and eventually edited the Cos War production. But as is a common theme with Mennie’s classes, they also had to create a back story for their terrifying makeup jobs.

For instance, the left half of Kelsey’s face was as pristine as ever, because her prom date tortured only one half of her, to keep the other half perfect.

Isabelle wants to be a makeup artist or a cinematographer.

“When I came here, I made YouTube videos and enjoyed editing – but I just don’t do it anymore,” she said. “I don’t know if this sounds lazy, but rather than doing the work, I have artsy ideas. That’s what the cinematographer does. I want to come up with the feeling of the film – give it a feeling and give it a story.”

Sounds more like playing to one’s strengths. That’s why Sierra, a senior at Prophetstown High School, is feeling better every day about going into marketing.

“Don’t get me wrong – this is fun, deciding whether we want to burn her or stick something into her neck,” she said as they put the finishing touches on Kelsey, a Newman High junior.

As Kelsey tried to picture herself, she talked about her passion: photography.

“I really like to go to events like sporting events and capture moments,” she said.

In all the students’ projects, they have to keep the audience in mind. As they enter partnerships with local business – such as the Sterling Park District, the YWCA and others in the works – they have to form a marketing campaign plan.

“We try to teach them how to pitch an idea,” Mennie said. “Having a back story, and having to help people get a feel for your product, that’s half the battle.”

Thanks to a donation from Wahl Clipper, the program has a 3D printer, another way Mennie is able to keep his students on the technological arc.

“It’s just going to get more and more, with how we’re doing things these days,” said Jerry Binder, the center’s assistant director. “When kids get to see a finished product? That thing just amazes me.”

But Mennie’s program’s success will always hinge on the kids. Kids who want to do post-production editing of light saber battles. Kids who design sound studios. Kids who want to have their own Cos War.

“The biggest inspiration is the students,” Mennie said. “They’re the ones with the fresh ideas. That’s where I get the inspiration for my classroom.”

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