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Camp lets high schoolers bring video game characters to life

Published July 12, 2012 12:02 pm

U. of U. summer camp lets high schoolers bring original video-game characters to life.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At the University of Utah's new technology facilities, 30 students are creating life.

One student, 17-year-old Michael Jacobsen, has spent the last three weeks crafting a creature with a majestic wingspan. Another, Banning Day, is using her final day perfecting the shape of her character's eyes.

The students are part of the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Summer Camp, a creation of professor Mark van Langeveld, the director of the technology track at the school.

More than ever, video game developers have moved away from pure leisure and into the realm of real art and complicated stories. The industry is also lucrative. According to the Entertainment Software Association, it took in $25.1 billion in 2010.

Devotion to art and limitless opportunity are at the heart of van Langeveld's program.

"This is a class that's taught between the arts and the technology, and we have students at both extremes," van Langeveld said. "It's a way for these kids to understand part of what they'll be doing in the overall college program."

He added that many of the students who have enrolled in the camp show a higher level of dedication, often coming back multiple years.

"We've also found that when they enter college, they really become the rock stars of the program as well," van Langeveld said.

Some, like Jacobsen, are awarded the opportunity to become a teacher's assistant in future camps and a credit toward their college education. He was given a scholarship his first year in the camp and paid to come back a second year.

"I really enjoy animating," Jacobsen said. "I love how it puts you in a different zone in your mind and allows you to delve into the creative side of your brain. Once you zone in, time just flies."

The program costs $200 per week, with the majority of students enrolling for the full three-week program. The students spend their time perfecting a 3-D character and a character-based theme. They are also given the opportunity to meet employers through field trips to game developers like Disney Interactive Studios and EA Games.

It's a takeoff of a camp van Langeveld started at the University of Pennsylvania 10 years ago, a curriculum that costs $6,500, which is more than 10 times the cost in Utah.

The medium isn't limited to video game development, either. Interactive software has only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as real world application, van Langeveld said. He used the example of emergency room personnel using programs to simulate triage situations — an example of one of the many games that are moving away from collecting extra lives to saving real ones.

"The skills the students learn here allow them to go into aerospace, the health industry, or any number of other careers," van Langeveld said. "They really become incredible problem solvers and learn how to understand an audience."

closeup@sltrib.com

At a glance

Mark van Langeveld received a doctorate in computing from the University of Utah in 2009.

The cost of the Entertainment and Arts Summer Camp is $600 for the three weeks, with financial aid available for those who qualify.

Additional information is online at http://www.eae.utah.edu.