What does it feel like to make an idea come to life? High school students find out during the annual Game, Cinema & Animation Summer Academy.

This July, in one intense week, 62 teens got real-world, professional experience in film and TV production, game development, hand-drawn animation, 3D modeling, or screenwriting. Working in cross-disciplinary teams—animators with game designers; screen writers with film makers—the students made actual, short games and films.

Scott Roberts, an associate professor in the School of Cinematic Arts, says the academy is a “great opportunity for young students to exercise their creativity, while also learning the nuts-and-bolts of something they’re really interested in. The academy is all about experiential learning—about jumping in, working hard, and making art.”

Collaborative Creativity

Allen Turner, a lecturer in the School of Design, describes the week in his game development class:

“We start with brainstorming to decide on what they’d like to do, ideally, and then shave the scope until we get to a manageable project. After that, right away, the kids start animating and coding. The process is both challenging and not: Challenging because the students don’t know how hard it is to make a game, and not challenging because they don’t have to ‘unlearn’ bad habits. The final games are simple: Characters move from point A to point B, pick up stuff, get to the finish line. Simple, but amazing.”

The film and TV production class follows the same trajectory, says Gary Novak, an associate professor in the School of Cinematic Arts:

“On day one, I’ll show them some parts of films—‘See how this was shot, how the camera was positioned, how lighting and the soundtrack affect the mood, how the scene was edited’—that’s the limit of my lecture. Then, we break into small groups to explore ideas and create storyboards. Days two and three, we shoot the films. Day four, we edit. Day five, we’ve got movies to show. It’s intense, but the hands-on, hit-the-ground learning approach works great all around. The students learn how to make movies like professional filmmakers. But for them, it’s not work: It’s fun.”

Rewards All Around

“To move from being consumers to being makers, to make something from nothing—the process is profound for the kids,” says Turner. “To be able to say, ‘I did this, I made something people can see and touch’—there’s big power in that. It flips a switch: ‘I have to do more of this’ is a typical response.”

Novak agrees: “The week inspires and excites the kids. I tell them the same thing I tell my DePaul students:  ‘If you decide to do this, it’s not a job: It’s a passion.’ They get that. The good news is they have no fear: They’re willing to take chances.” And the value derived from the experience goes both ways. “Teaching the academy class—and teaching at DePaul, actually—reminds me of why I chose to make films in the first place. The students’ excitement and energy are contagious.”

Turner feels the same way: “I love working with young people because they’re hungry to do new things. When I see game design through the eyes of someone who’s just discovering it—that always wakens in me the desire to create and the need to explore. After every class, whether at DePaul or in the academy program, I want to do something new, too.”

Roberts sums up one more benefit—a practical one—for the students: “Coming here for a week in the summer, they get little taste of what college is like. More specifically, they get a chance to see whether DePaul is a good fit. For those who end up coming here—and there are always quite a few—the experience is a great head start.”

To view the students’ work, go to https://www.facebook.com/DePaulSummerAcademy/