The Academy Media Arts Department introduced the first comprehensive 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 Media Arts curriculum includes courses in animation, poetry, fiction, screenwriting, and cinematography, as well as fictional, documentary, and experimental video. Above all, the Media Arts Department focuses on storytelling. The process-based program values workshop, a weekly critique session, and is designed to hone a student’s voice and ideas—and their ability to communicate both to an audience.
Students will learn and practice animation techniques guided by the study of the 12 Principles of Animation. As skills develop, they will investigate more experimental techniques. By exploring the animation process, students will create smaller works from flip books to motion graphics.
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.
In Video Production, students 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 and experimental films. 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. Each term, focus may shift between documentary, narrative, or experimental filmmaking.
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 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.
What a screenwriter puts on the page may or may not be realized on the screen. Still, the best screenplays can stand on their own as literature. This course covers the form and nature of screenplays, focusing on plot and characterization in short narrative screenplays. In the first half of the course, students collaborate on an adaptation of a short story while working on pitches, taglines, and synopses. In the second half, each student writes their own original screenplay. Throughout the course, students draft and revise, give and receive feedback and analyze films and screenplays they view and read in class and at home.
Fiction is the art of the possible. Every piece of fiction begins by exploring the notion “What if…” In this class, we will study the foundations of storytelling to better develop our craft. Through the process of drafting and revision, we will discover the most effective ways to tell our own stories, our own “what ifs.” In addition to developing and discussing our works-in- progress, we will also discuss published works ranging from dark psychological suspense to grotesque Southern Gothic, from subtle family drama to the biting social satire.
The oldest extant work of literature (in cuneiform) are 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. Students dip their toes in this vast river of human endeavor and explore traditional, modernist, and contemporary modes of poetry. Throughout the course, they draft, revise, and polish their own poems, giving each other feedback throughout the process. They submit monthly analytical and reflective journals in response to the classic and contemporary poetry they read in class and at home. At the end of each semester, they turn in a portfolio of several revised poems.
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. Video and Creative Writing students participate in critiquing one another's work by responding to questions posed by the creators. 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. Conversely, the audience (or fellow Media Arts students) learn to give helpful and constructive feedback.
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.
Writing Creative Nonfiction is the difficult process of trying to capture the world in words. Sometimes it is the attempt to describe a place we have been or to remember a time in our lives. Most difficult of all, sometimes writing Creative Nonfiction involves trying to accurately portray the complex life or personality of another person. In this class, we will work on creating our own nonfiction pieces. In addition to drafting and revising student work, we will read illuminating profiles and essays by writers like Gene Weingarten, James Baldwin, and Hester Kaplan.
Students investigate animation history by viewing and analyzing a variety of touchstone works from its humble beginnings to contemporary short films that stretch the boundaries of the medium.
Each term, students take on a different aspect of audio production and recording. This course is appropriate for writers, animators and filmmakers as a means of increasing production value and adding a new lens for creative thinkers to tell stories. Examples of topics include field recording, podcasting, creating soundscapes and audio mixing for film and radio.
This course will cover everything under the job title of “Motion Picture Director”. The course will include stressing the importance of casting, rehearsals, communication with actors and with crew, and developing a vision/voice that can evolve over the course of a production. We will also be covering the role of a director in documentary, experimental and expanded cinema forms. Work will include in/out of class exercises and scenes, test shoots, group and solo work, as well as examining philosophies and practices of professional directors.
Students learn the building blocks of visual storytelling. Through storyboards, graphic novels and comics, filmmakers, animators and creative writers learn the importance of balancing image with text.
This course is for the students who already have a few polished pieces (poems, a short story or a creative nonfiction piece) they can submit for publication, with a few more pieces in progress. The course is aimed at learning about the landscape of publishing online and in print, focusing mainly on independent literary journals. Students format their pieces, write short bios and cover letters, and send their manuscripts out into the world. They also get some behind-the-scenes experience: they work as contributing editors of Germinate; they talk to editors of small presses and literary journals, and they put together concepts for their own journals.
Studio time is a crucial part of student's work development in Media Arts. They are provided with free work periods to produce the films and written works that are showcased in our biannual "premieres." Like any professional studio arts practice, students are given space to think and create. Some students, specifically filmmakers, use this time to take care of academic school work so that their out of school time can be focused on casting, location scouting, filming, etc. Students are also encouraged to use this time to interface with one another to get work prepared for workshop or critique, or to clarify notes post-workshop, one-on-one. In studio periods that are facilitated by a teacher, students are encouraged to ask practical questions and to seek guidance on projects: how to break them down into smaller chunks, how to approach certain tasks, and how to know when to ask for further assistance from other media artists.
*Course titles reflect transcripts for the 2017-2018 freshman class.
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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.
Dana S. reads part of her short story "Uncle Jonny Wins the Lottery" at the Media Arts Fall Show "Reversal".
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".
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.