The Academy Media Arts Department introduced the first digital motion picture program for high school students in the United States, and continues to be at the forefront of teaching storytelling through the mediums of film, animation, and creative writing.
The program includes classes in animation, poetry, fiction, screenwriting, cinematography, and design, as well as fictional, documentary, and experimental video.
Above all, the Media Arts Department focuses on storytelling. The process-based program values workshop, and is designed to hone a student's voice and ideas, and their ability to communicate both to an audience.
In Animation, students will learn and practice hands-on traditional animation techniques that evolve over the course to involve digital technology. Students will develop various products in the animation process from flip books to motion graphics. This course will also involve studying the history of and viewing important works of animation as well as investigating trends in the current media.
Form and Structure introduces first-year students to basic narrative form. This is accomplished through a review of Freytag's triangle, the exploration of three-act structure, and an immersion in Aristotle’s Poetics. At the end of Quarter One, students will be able to note the narrative form of a piece and point out the strategic use of structural devices. The second half of the course describes and discusses the two structures for storytelling: comedy and tragedy.
Film Aesthetics provides students with the opportunity for an increased understanding of the film medium and of cinematic language. Through viewing films grouped by chronology, director, and movement, students will increase their awareness of various filmic terms and aesthetic forms while taking into consideration technical and social factors, sound, editing, and shot selection. Taken together, students will increase their critical analysis and their ability to discuss the art of film. Students will gain a familiarity with the following terms and concepts: narrative/non-narrative form, story/plot, genre, character arc, three-act structure, montage/ juxtaposition/editing, time and space, cause and effect, temporal order and duration, film movements, film form, mise-en-scene, theme and tone, cinematography, composition, and symbolism/motif/image.
In Cinematography, students will: learn foundation aesthetics of photography and cinematography; learn the fundamentals of interior and exterior lighting for HD video; expand the aesthetic and creative application of cinematography skills; develop understanding of the cinematographer and director collaboration; receive lessons related to managing the camera as a piece of gear as well as an artist's tool; understand the fundamentals of screen grammar necessary for the role of cinematographer; and learn to analyze a screenplay in relation to the cinematographer's art.
Video Production I introduces students to basic terms and techniques of motion picture. Students focus on narrative story telling. Students will learn: video camera techniques, non-linear editing software, basic motion picture critique skills, and pre-production (treatment writing, storyboarding, and proposals) for the creation of traditional narrative motion pictures. Over the duration of this course, students will: understand and use various shots and angles; understand and use professional editing software; understand and use a three-point lighting scheme; edit image and sound in a narrative fashion; mix sound to form a soundtrack; understand and use basic camera functions; use storyboards to further planning and pre-production; write treatments and proposals; collaborate with other students in a film project; develop critique skills through group workshops; learn producer-director relationships; and develop planning and implementation skills. Students will create three to five personal narrative motion pictures, including at least one adaptation.
In Video Production II - Documentary, students will learn documentary and improvisational styles of motion picture making, with emphasis on spontaneous and intuitive methods of directing, acting, and editing reminiscent of Dogme 95, Direct Cinema, Cinema Vertie. Over the duration of this course, students will: develop spontaneous and intuitive use of the camera and discover and use organic forms for documentary storytelling; develop editing skills (editing on action and sound); develop critical skills through group workshop and critique; collaborate with other students in documenting a live event; propose and implement a process documentary; propose and implement a documentary on an individual; propose and implement a documentary on an ideology; and propose and implement a fictional adaptation using Dogme 95 guidelines.
Video Production III - Expanded Narrative provides students with an introduction to experimental and abstract forms of motion picture making. Students will learn image manipulation using digital imaging software, and will explore basic forms of animation, personal motion picture making, word and image, and video poetry. Emphasis is placed on technically proficient theme-based communication in motion pictures. Over the duration of this course, students will: collaborate with other students in a film project; communicate theme and mood through form; communicate theme and mood through image; communicate theme and mood through sound design; develop sound design skills; experiment with non-narrative forms; develop proficiency with editing software; use cinematic and aesthetic tools to communicate tone and mood; develop critical skills through group workshop and critique; and propose and create four finished pieces.
In Video Production IV, each student will produce a collaborative, crew-based motion picture developed from an original screenplay or treatment. Students will participate in an intensely collaborative experience and further explore and demonstrate proficiency in directing a motion picture. Students will employ non-linear editing, editing software, motion picture editing theory, art direction, sound design, sound recording, and cinematography skills over the duration of the course. Over the duration of this course students will: write an original screenplay; further producer/director skills; write treatments and proposals; pitch ideas; develop pre-production skills through storyboards and production schedules; recruit and organize a film crew; and create a thesis-level work, either a feature-length film or a series of thematically related shorts, approved by the department chair.
In Media Design students explore various disciplines, from creative writing to film, that include elements of graphic design. In this course, skills developed include: using Photoshop and Illustrator, studying and creating “zines,” designing posters and other promotional print materials, and perfecting layout/font/image quality.
This course introduces students to screenwriting format, craft, and technique, with an emphasis on the fundamentals of storytelling. Areas of study include screenplay structure, including synopses and treatments, and in-class workshopping of student pitches. During the course, students will be asked to write and revise several short screenplays, focusing on a variety of subjects.
In Screenwriting II, students work as a group to create a feature-length screenplay which goes into production during second semester. The senior students serve as both leaders and gatekeepers. Final say regarding script decisions lie with the seniors. The process begins with brainstorming and early on this brainstorming leads to several pitches, of which one is chosen democratically by the seniors. The process focuses on plot and narrative structure (building on the foundations established in Form and Structure). Characters, scenes, and the three-act structure of the film are decided upon democratically, with the senior students, once again, holding the final decision. At the completion of the class, students produce a feature-length script, which then is given to the production team to begin casting, pre-production planning, and shooting.
Fiction I introduces first-year students to the fundamental elements and approaches to fiction writing. Students will read a number of critical essays and short stories to learn the essential vocabulary of fiction writing, begin to read as a writer, and develop a craftsman’s approach to their work. Much of the year is dedicated to learning what the central features—plot, character, dialogue, conflict, setting—of fiction are, and how they can be used to help tell a story with complete dramatic action.
Fiction II builds on the fundamentals learned in Fiction I to advance the student’s approach to their work and bring depth to their stories. Throughout the year students read a selection of stories that utilize more complex narrative forms and metaphoric elements. Students will be introduced to new ways of constructing their stories and more mindfully employing scene, summary, and varied fictional shapes.
Fiction III considers formal experimentation in fiction writing and storytelling. Students read work that uses traditional elements in innovative and unexpected ways to rethink their own work and push it forward. Forms such as flash-fiction, lists, essays-as-stories, and so forth are examined as ways to reconsider the boundaries of storytelling and give students new modes of expression.
Fiction IV is an independent study for fourth-year writing students that is designed to allow students to pursue longer pieces, prepare a portfolio, and complete a final senior project.
Poetry I introduces first-year students to the basic terms, techniques, and forms of poetry. Students will read a variety of poets to become more sensitive readers and, in turn, more mindful writers. Through a combination of reading and workshop-style classes, students will develop their poetic sensibility and learn to write with craft and argument in mind.
Poetry II continues the work established in Poetry I through continued readings and a deeper exploration of how poetic techniques can be used in chorus to create more complex work. By asking students to more deeply consider the relationship between speaker and situation, more independent and personal work is composed and revised.
Poetry III takes a broader approach to poetry by placing collections and movements in historical context and framing poetic works as a whole. Students read work that uses traditional elements in innovative and unexpected ways to rethink their own work and push it forward. Students are expected to sharpen their own voice by understanding and implementing poetic tools learned from their study of collections.
Poetry IV is an independent study for fourth-year writing students that is designed to allow students to pursue a longer series or a collection of poetry, prepare a portfolio, and complete a final senior project.
Students work as a collective voice to offer comments on the work of other students in Media Arts. Each week students volunteer to submit a piece that is ready for review. The process begins on Wednesday of each week, when the written works are collected and copied for submission to the group. Video and Creative Writing students participate in critiquing one another's work on Friday. Both the videos and the writing (fiction/poetry/screenplays) are accompanied by a set of questions, created by the submitting student. These questions allow the author or director to control and focus the feedback they receive from the group. Of the many qualities of this class, one is the realization of the importance of an audience. Students' work is intended to speak to an audience and in this environment students can learn to determine whether or not their pieces successfully communicate their intentions to an audience. Conversely, the audience (or fellow Media Arts students) learn to give helpful and constructive feedback.
In Speculative Fiction, we will explore the art and impact of science fiction and fantasy, from H.G. Wells to George R.R. Martin. We will look at the way this distinct literary form has played with, and shaped, our notions of technology, culture, and science itself. Our exploration will take us from the earliest days of science fiction to the most exciting work being done today, and we see how different authors from different eras have used speculative fiction to discuss important topics like race, gender, identity, war, and the environment. Also, there will be aliens and robots.
In this class, we'll study and practice the oldest media art: text as such. Since writing has been around for many millennia, and has a myriad of forms and purposes, we'll narrow things down to three genres that rely on no other technology but placing tiny symbols on a flat surface in order to engage readers: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. At the root of all the disparate materials selected for this course is the authors’ desire to surprise their readers. This surprise may vary from shock to astonishment to revelation to amusement. But the question at the root of it all is the real puzzle: how do language and elements of poetry and prose come together on the page? The best way to begin to figure it out is to read closely and write bravely.
Poetry is the oldest genre of creative writing: the oldest extant work of literature (in cuneiform, on a tablet) are hymns to now-forgotten gods and goddesses, composed by the Sumerian poet Enheduanna who lived and died four millennia ago. In the many thousands of years since it's been around, poetry has gone through staggering changes, yet always spiraling back to the source: breath, voice, body, and the sacred. We will dip our toes in this vast river of human endeavor and explore traditional, modernist, and contemporary modes of poetry in order to try to figure out which molecules make it flow. Throughout the course, we will read and analyze poems and, of course, write our own.
Consider this: nonfiction is the only genre out of four (the remaining three being poetry, fiction prose, and drama) that is named for what it's not. The root of the word "poetry" goes back to Greek and Sanskrit words for "to make" and "to assemble." Drama means "to act," "to do." Fiction and "to feign" are closely related words with the same root. You can fabricate stories and situations in verse or prose; in creative nonfiction you avoid fabricating stuff, and have to rely on a combination of research, memory, and reflection. In this class, we will explore the unique ability of non-fiction to chart not only the inner life of an individual, but also all the surprising ways in which people relate to one another, in time-and-locale-specific settings. We'll read and emulate some of the best examples of the genre.
*Course titles reflect transcripts for the 2017-2018 freshman class.
Animation from Jackie Tang (Media Arts, Class of 2017) for the Media Arts Fall Show "Reversal."
"Perspective" from Media Arts student Emily Gay. This was first premiered at the Media Arts Winter Juried Festival at the Landmark Theatre in March of 2016.
Film by Jamie Weiss and Nicole Mitchell (Class of '17) for the Media Arts Fall Show "Reversal".
Film by Jonathan Ziebarth (Class of '17) for the Media Arts Fall Show "Reversal".
Dana Scott reads her winning poem "In the Garden" at the Media Arts Winter Juried Festival in March 2016.
Media Arts Student Jackie Tang's winning short film "Desperado" from the Media Arts Winter Juried Festival 2016.
Chair - Media Arts
Jessi Meliza has taught animation at The Academy since 2013 and was named Chair of the Department in the summer of 2017. She works in Chicago as an analogue and digital animator and has experience working in 16mm film production including both stop-motion animation and the DOS-controlled Oxberry animation stand for 2D filming.
Snezana Zabic has been teaching creative nonfiction and poetry at the Academy since 2015.
Jake Hinkson is the author of several books, including the novels Hell On Church Street, The Posthumous Man, and No Tomorrow, the short story collection The Deepening Shade, and the essay collection The Blind Alley: Exploring Film Noir’s Forgotten Corners. He was a a guest lecturer at The Academy in early 2016 and later joined the faculty.
Media Arts majors explore their vision within three distinctive modes: as writers, as filmmakers or animators. Media Arts applicants should be prepared to discuss their work, either writing, film, or animation, participate in a departmental interview, and discuss their experience in their medium of interest.