The good and bad of student projects

I attended IUPUI’s Media Arts and Science capstone last Friday. I knew a number of people from classes that are graduating this year and had projects on display and wanted to support them as they supported me when I went through the capstone experience this time last year. Including my own, I think I’ve attended 5 of these capstone evenings altogether, and each time I go I have the same kind of observations. I tend to think that way too many of the projects are not at the level a college graduate receiving a BS should be producing. It seems to me like it should be much more difficult to get through that last hurdle of the program and get a college degree.

There aren’t an overwhelming number of video projects on display usually, as the Media Arts and Science program is somewhat small as it is, and usually focused more on interactive media or web development. However, this year there seemed to be more on display than before, so I got a good look at the fresh faces of video, or the people I’ll be competing with for jobs I suppose. Overall, the video projects were OK. For the most part, they weren’t great, creative, interesting, and innovative,  nor were they terrible. They were just OK. Well, except for two.

The good? Maybe I should say great. The great video project, and probably best capstone project I’ve ever seen, is a short form documentary called Changing Faces by my friend and classmate Jeremiah Nickerson. Changing Faces digs into Jeremiah’s family situation which has been largely affected by his father’s alcoholism and subsequent suicide attempt. He sits down with members of his family and explores what happened – a subject they haven’t discussed before. The emotion is raw yet controlled. The interviews are individual and assembled to tell the story of his childhood and dysfunction throughout, expertly paced with meaningful b-roll and photos. So many things in stand out in university projects that just scream STUDENT FILM HERE, whether it’s the hesitant framing of shots, clunky and meaningless editing, lack of cohesive theme, or just plain bad technical aspects. This film was a total breath of fresh air that showed the program can take people with natural talent for storytelling and help them develop into filmmakers. You should definitely go to Jeremiah’s website and give this film a watch. It’s very impressive that such a personal project can have such an emotional universal theme and appeal.

The rest of this blog entry is going to be me complaining about student projects. If you prefer to leave on a positive note, end it right here and go check out Jeremiah’s work.

The bad. Boy, was it bad. I feel like as a recent student of the program I can comment on this without seeming too all-knowing or self-righteous about it. Hopefully, anyway. I’m not going to put links up or name any names obviously, but one project I saw was a movie trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist. It’s a fine idea for a project and one that I considered as an editing exercise and demonstration but ultimately passed on. Editing trailers is a great skill to have and a perfect way to show your full range as an editor – if you put an insane amount of time into developing the project so it really looks like a trailer. This project basically highlighted exactly what is wrong with very young editors and motion graphic artists. Rather than digging into a very deep program like After Effects and learning the various parts from the ground up, young people tend to Google for the most relevant tutorial and just learn enough to get by. While this might get you through a tiny little problem here and there, you will never really be a motion graphics artist from doing tutorials.

 It was painfully obvious that this project was completely reliant upon tutorials and nothing else. In fact, almost every shot was created with a tutorial from, an extremely well-known website for AE tutorials. I feel quite bad for this student. His capstone would have been a great independent project to work on in order to learn different aspects of AE. Tutorials are great tools to use for practice, as long as you can understand how all the pieces work in order to adapt it to another effect later on. Simply copying a canned effect you find online doesn’t show me you are an artist. It shows me you can push the correct buttons in the correct order to produce a mediocre result.

I truly wish that this person’s mentor had stepped in and made him take it a step further, because with that piece as the center of his portfolio, any mograph person worth their salt will never hire him. While the Internet has given us the ability to find all kinds of amazing tools, effects, and instant answers, it also seems to be making new generations of media professional wannabes so much lazier, which is sad. If you want to impress, you have to innovate a little.

Dearest student, if you happen to come across this blog and know I’m talking about you, please take that out of your portfolio. You’re worth more than that.