More than just games

Students get intensive computer training at ID Tech Camp
Jul. 24, 2013 @ 08:48 PM

Zoe Blandford said she has loved playing video games for many years, and has always been fascinated with their underlying construction.

This week, Blandford, 14, from Charlotte, has been creating characters and shapes inspired by the Sonic the Hedgehog game series using the Maya program. She is one of the students taking Andrew Barratt’s class in 3-D design and animation at this year’s ID Tech Camp at Koury Residence Hall at UNC.

This is the second class she has taken with Barratt, and she is building on some designs he helped her with in the earlier class, she said. Blandford, who wants to be a game designer someday, said the Maya program is a great way to learn about how games are constructed. “It’s very valuable because later I would like to work at a game company like Nintendo, and do character design,” Blandford said.

In Daniel Bradley’s class in moviemaking, Garrik Maloney, from South Carolina, is making his first film with the iMovie program. Earlier this week, Bradley and his students did a story board. Each student then got to hold a digital camera, film and act in the scenes. The scenes were then loaded onto each student’s computer. At this session, each student is editing the scenes “the way they want to to put their own creative edge behind the piece,” Bradley said.

Maloney said he likes listening to music, and to put this stamp on his film, he uses music to create a soundtrack for one scene. “I use different textures,” he said, as well as different fade-ins and fade-out techniques. He wants to be a filmmaker, and plans to build on what he has learned at the camp.

Blandford and Maloney are among about 100 students in the final session of this year’s ID Tech Camp. Internal Drive, a Campbell, Calif.,-based company, started giving the intensive one-week camps in 1999. Students ages 7 to 17 can learn to make applications for iPhones, iPads and other devices; create games and films; and learn computer coding and other skills applicable to science, technology, engineering and math. This year’s sessions, which began June 10, mark the 11th year ID Tech has held a camp at UNC. Other campuses hosting the program include University of Virginia, Emory and Stanford.

At the end of the week, each student leaves with a project he or she can take and expand, said Justin Price, the director of the UNC camp. Price, who also works for Disney in animation, said students learn programs used in game and film industries.

Gavin Lyons, 17, from Columbia, S.C., was developing a role-playing game in Bill Underwood’s game-design class. All students create their own stories, and the only pre-requisite for the students is some concept of story, Underwood said. Lyons has worked with Web design, likes math and wants to be an engineer. The skills he is learning in game design translate to his goals, he said. “The camp makes you think about something in a different way. When you have to think of your own game … it makes you think out of the box, and think creatively,” Lyons said.

Students in Alex Kumbar’s class were learning to write the codes are used to create the movements and images in games. Using the programs Java and C++, the students, many of whom Kumbar said had no prior programming experience, are “teaching a computer to talk to us,” then using their coding skills to create graphics.

Alex Melamed, 16, of Raleigh, took previous classes in C++ in school, and enjoyed it. He plans to be an engineer. “This is something that is very useful,” he said. “It’s a really good skill, and it’s really fun.” The camp has allowed him to put what he learned in school into practice. “There’s nothing quite like sitting down and doing this for a week,” Melamed said.

The teachers in the program, some of whom are former campers, praised the students and their ability to take their instruction and teach themselves. “Their level of skill is pretty impressive,” Bradley said of his film students. Barratt, the animation teacher, was a student four years ago and is in his second year teaching. “If a student comes out as inspired as I was, then I’ve done a good job,” he said.