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Studio serves as tool for launching new careers

The new digital multi-media studio on Dordt’s campus not only sets the stage for new teaching and learning opportunities for Dordt College students but also for new career opportunities for Dordt College graduates.

The lab makes it possible for the communication department to begin offering its new emphasis in film and video production. Communication Professor Mark Volkers, an experienced filmmaker, was hired last year to begin such an emphasis. The first courses in production are currently being offered in the new lab.

The studio/lab has nine networked stations loaded with AVID software, the industry standard for professional film editing. Although Volkers admits that there is a fairly steep learning curve to become proficient in the program, he says it is well worth it. The software allows the user to quickly and easily grab sections of film and place them on a timeline to build a video. Screens show the raw footage at the same time as the selected pieces on the timeline. Multiple video and audio tracks allow the user to cut from one clip to another, dissolve to a new scene, add music, background sound, special effect sounds, and more.

AVID is available in several different packages, but all build on the same operating process. The version Volkers will use is about mid-range. “But students could be hired at a professional studio with a top of the line version and be able to work with it immediately,” he says.

The move to introduce animation into Dordt’s graphic design program is closely tied to the introduction of the video production program. Volkers wanted his students to use moving type, morphed images, and animated sequences, so he talked with Art Professor David Versluis about what it would take to introduce students to animation.

“The growth areas in graphic design are in web design and animation,” says Versluis. The new studio gives him the technology to pursue these emphases, which likely will also draw students to his major.

“Students are smart. They know where things are going; they are very attuned to digital media,” Versluis adds. His students will work with animation on a beginning level, learning how to create moving type and type that will transform into something new.

Digital technology opens up a powerful medium through which to communicate and influence people, says Versluis. Students often enroll in these programs because they are enamored with the “cool” things they can do. It sometimes takes a little time to help them see the challenge it presents to them as Christians—to see the impact they can have for good and bad depending, on how they use it.

“Graphics and film have great impact on most people, whether they admit it or not,” says Versluis.

“What I’m excited about is the opportunity to teach students who are also taking a broad range of other courses so they see how complex and interconnected the world is,” he says. He believes that a broad general education humanizes the study of digital medium by giving students content and a context in which to say something important as they work in graphic design and film.

“I’m excited about creating a marriage of marketable skills and reformational perspective,” adds Volkers. “I want to put out technically-trained graduates who know how to think.” He believes that Dordt College is a good place to do that. He, too, admits that what often draws is the “cool” factor, but he believes that by taking the range of core courses Dordt students do, they can learn how to make a difference in the world of film and be able to contribute something valuable.

One of the ways he gets his students to approach their work in this way is through reading and discussion of books such as Behind the Screen, a book about Christians involved in the entertainment industry. He wants students to think about how they can use film and video to do and say something worthwhile—to create films that grow out of their Christian understanding of the world and their place in it.

“Anyone can go to a trade school and learn to push buttons,” he says. But good filmmakers need more. He believes Dordt can provide that something more.

The communication department’s introduction to video course is just beginning, and conversations are already happening about what it would take to offer a digital media production major. Volkers sees it involving majors from across campus: communication, art, theatre arts, English, and business. Students with such a major could create documentaries or work for television; they could set up their own shop producing ads or corporate training videos; they could look for jobs in Hollywood or in advertising agencies; they could become directors, cameramen, writers or grips in the film industry and, through it all, make an impact on culture.

“In a time when so much of the media we consume is full of empty calories, it’s time to start training people who can produce content worth consuming. Dordt is ready for the challenge.”