First-year students in Ferris State University’s Digital Animation and Game Design program returned from the 2018 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, as gold medalists, as Keith Takens and Ben Waters topped the collegiate field in 3-D Animation and Visualization.
David Baker, the DAGD program coordinator, said Ferris has hosted a state-level competition in Grand Rapids for years but was encouraged to support the two East Grand Rapids students, who had each competed as high schoolers in SkillsUSA. The national competition is hosted each year in Louisville, Kentucky. Takens and Waters first competed as collegians this April and won state honors to advance to nationals.
“The field included students from technical schools and community colleges,” Baker said. “We came to the pre-event discussion knowing there would be a high level of production-required clues offered by the conference officials at that session prompted our team to focus on animation principles and the traditional ‘flour sack’ assignment.”
Waters noted they had approximately eight hours available to create a 20-second video. They relied on technology for efficient production of the animated segment. Their tasks included creating a storyboard, modeling and rigging their character and rendering their animated work.
“We used Unreal Engine, a game development tool, as it allowed us to render images in real time,” Waters said. “That allowed us to focus on the other aspects of the production.”
Waters said being SkillsUSA competitors, while they were students of the Kent Career/Technical Center, helped them in this year’s presentation.
“This project was somewhat like assignments we had experienced in previous competition, but we certainly benefited from what we learned in our core DAGD classes at Ferris, in the past year,” Waters said. “My primary interest is in character rigging or providing a skeletal structure to make our character, a bag of fertilizer, move. What separated us from the field was our quality of movement, since judges told us they felt they could hear our character move, even though the video had no sound.”
Takens said his state and national-level SkillsUSA experience benefited their team. He noted that the competition was more demanding as college students.
“We came in prepared, ready to compete, but it took the entire time available to develop and submit our project,” Takens said. “It was a once in a lifetime experience, as we met judges who provided us with software that will be of great assistance in our DAGD coursework.”
Baker said he was excited and encouraged by the DAGD team’s result in this first trip to the SkillsUSA Nationals, which ran from Sunday, June 24 through Thursday, June 29.
“Keith and Ben met the challenges of what was a very significant production task,” Baker said. “They very much rose to the occasion.”
“It was a thrill to be in Louisville, as there were more than 18,000 participants, supporters and advisors in the stands at Freedom Hall,” Takens said. “At the opening ceremonies, and when we received our awards, it certainly had a rock concert feeling. Ben and I were honored to bring home the gold for Ferris State, and Michigan.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Ben Waters (left) and Keith Takens (right), freshmen in Ferris State University’s Digital Animation and Game Design program, show off their gold medals from the SkillsUSA 3-D Animation and Visualization competition. Waters and Takens competed at the National Leadership and Skills Conference held June 24-29 in Louisville, Kentucky.