Digital arts program fosters collaboration

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Students listen to final projects in a film scoring class on Dec. 6. The class is part of the unusual Digital Arts Initiative offered by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Story, photo and video by Kate Veik

This semester, Devon Kathol became a film director.

It was a departure from the typical class that Kathol, an art major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, takes. Usually, she’s working in ceramics or more traditional arts.

But Kathol, a junior, was taking a digital video production class as part of the unusual Digital Arts Initiative (DAI) at UNL.

Giacomo “Jack” Oliva, the dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, created the Digital Arts Initiative in fall 2009. The initiative was designed to be a collaborative effort between the School of Music, the Department of Art and Art History and the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.

“When I came here about 10 years ago, we all recognized that technology was changing rapidly,” Oliva said. “We wanted to be ahead of the curve.”

The program’s goal is to foster collaboration between students from different majors, said Steve Kolbe, a professor for the arts initiative from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film. Typically, there are four seats reserved for art students, four for music majors, four for theatre and film majors and four for non-majors in each of the classes.

For Oliva, the interdisciplinary approach was essential to the program. “We had to do it in a way that was collaborative,” he said, “rather than in individual programs.”

And so the program became a unique recognition of the digital components of each major.

Kathol, who is working on a graphic design concentration at UNL, is taking the video class to get experience shooting and editing digital films. She hopes that she will be able to apply what she learns in the classroom to future internships and jobs.

Kolbe thinks it will. The initiative gives students better preparation for the jobs they are already moving toward, he said.

“Art is not just cutting and pasting,” Kolbe said. “More and more, there are artists that want to get into stop motion sorts of things with their hand-drawn animations and in order to do that, you have to explore into the digital realm.”

The program’s technology and equipment is constantly evolving as professors and students see new things they want to try in the classes.

Because different majors are involved in the program, students take the DAI classes as electives, Usually three classes are offered in the program each semester.

Kolbe, who was hired to head the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film portion of the DAI, brings professional experience to the classroom. The Omaha native received his bachelor’s degree in advertising and graphic design at the University of Kansas. After working at an advertising agency, he decided he enjoyed the post-production side more than the ad creation side. He left the agency and became part of a new Omaha-based conglomerate named North Sea Films in 1994. Kolbe learned how to do all the different elements of film making at the conglomerate.

“It was a great learning bank for me,” Kolbe said.

After North Sea Films, Kolbe decided to go to the Art Institute in Dallas to make connections in the digital media industry. Through the Art Institute, Kolbe was hired as a layout artist on the Jimmy Neutron movie in 2001. Kolbe also worked as a layout tech director for the “Back at the Barnyard” television show during his first semester teaching at UNL.

A layout artist works on blocking for a show or movie. These artists determine rates of speed and anticipate movement of on-screen characters and adjust the camera to match the characters’ movements. As layout tech director, Kolbe was in charge of layout artists.

Kolbe has not regretted his move to UNL two years ago and would like to stay in Lincoln.

“The Initiative really drew me in,” Kolbe said. “The opportunity to come in as a new professor into an environment like that, it’s an incredible place.”

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