DAGD Students Claim Second Straight SkillsUSA National Championship

2019 SkillsUSA gold medalists
PHOTO CAPTION: Ben Waters (left) and Keith Takens (right) sport their gold medals from the 2019 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference after they repeated as champions in the 3-D Visualization and Animation competition. The East Grand Rapids residents are entering their junior year studies in Ferris State University’s Digital Animation and Game Design program.


A return to Louisville, Kentucky and the 2019 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference produced a repeat of gold medal success in the 3-D Visualization and Animation competition for two Ferris State University Digital Animation and Game Design students.

Keith Takens and Ben Waters, who are East Grand Rapids natives entering their junior year in the DAGD program, won the collegiate-level honors at the June 22-28 conference. David Baker, Ferris’ DAGD program coordinator, said that he worked with Takens and Waters before their Kentucky trip for the SkillsUSA conference.

“Keith and Ben are very well attuned to the variety of considerations that arise during this competition,” Baker said. “The support of College of Engineering Technology Professor Daniel Wanink, as their on-site advisor at nationals, was also appreciated.”

Takens, who competed in the SkillsUSA Nationals as a Kent Career Tech Center student, said organizers of the competition had an unusual wrinkle for them. They were asked to develop a photorealistic “Big Mouth Billy Bass” in 3D, to parody the novelty automated singing fish that was popular around the turn of the century.

“Some years, there have been subtle clues as to what we might be asked to produce, but this was a unique and very exciting challenge for us,” Takens said. “We decided to rig or animate a saltwater fish called a Cobia. With only nine hours to complete our project, we had to stay on a strict schedule to create a storyboard, then do the modeling, texturing and animation which is typically spread out over a number of weeks by a digital animation team.”

Waters said that as veteran competitors, he and Takens recognized the importance of carefully following the competition rules.

“We knew we were going to have to rig a character, but this was a surprising prompt to work with,” Waters said. “Keith and I decided that a Cobia would allow us to display some creativity. Our desire was to present a photorealistic subject, and the judges said that we achieved that goal very well.”

Baker said that Takens and Waters also mentored Kent Career Tech Center students Julius Herring and Henry Lachman, who were bronze medal recipients in the 3-D Visualization and Animation competition for high school students.

“I very much want to thank Ferris’ Board of Trustees Chair and East Grand Rapids Mayor Amna Seibold for visiting Keith and Ben to congratulate them in person,” Baker said. “They have been fantastic representatives in SkillsUSA the last two years, and we will welcome them and other DAGD students, as our department will hold a runoff near the start of the 2020 spring semester to select our representatives.”

“If others in the DAGD program have an interest in demonstrating their skills, we will welcome that opportunity,” Waters said. “We will be looking to continue as state, and hopefully national competitors.”

“Ben and I work well together, and we were proud of our success in representing Ferris and the state of Michigan,” Takens added.

Also participating in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference were College of Engineering Technology students Zach Heemstra, of Morley, and Matthew Korman, of Fennville. Heemstra finished sixth in Technical Drafting while Korman was Michigan’s representative in Diesel Equipment Technology.

Wanink said he was proud of all the university’s representatives, for their active participation in SkillsUSA gatherings, seminars and the annual Day of Service project.

“Our team, along with other volunteers from across the United States, assembled bicycles for underprivileged youth,” Wanink said. “Some of the children receiving a new bicycle were there at the end of the event to receive their new bicycle. I can tell you firsthand that it choked many of us up to see these children’s excitement. I can proudly say that the Ferris group was one of the hardest working groups on the project, and I was glad that they were able to witness the reactions on the kids’ faces.”