Augusta Liddic/The Daily TimesAxanda Williams, Ronda Fowler and Amber Greenfield stand in front of a green screen during the Digital Media Day at San Juan
Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times Axanda Williams, Ronda Fowler and Amber Greenfield stand in front of a green screen during the Digital Media Day at San Juan College on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. (Augusta Liddic)
FARMINGTON — About 100 high school students gathered at San Juan College for Digital Media Arts and Design day on Friday to learn about career opportunities.

Attending Digital Media day were students from Farmington, Piedra Vista, Aztec and Kirtland high schools.

Farmington High School student Axanda Williams said she took a quiz on the computer known as "career cluster." The quiz showed that she was interested in digital media, so Farmington High School offered her the opportunity to go to Digital Media day. Other students came with their classes.

Axanda Williams and her sister, Angelina, said they initially got into digital media by watching their uncle do graphic design work. Axanda said Angelina enjoys drawing anime character and animating them.

Angelina said she's been playing video games since she was little and she wanted to learn how to make them.

The day started with the keynote address given by Dr. Rod Sanchez, who works as a film and technology consultant. Sanchez has been involved in some of the animation for companies such as Dreamworks. Some of the films he has helped produce include Kung Fu Panda II, How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek.

Sanchez spoke to the students about the unique opportunity New Mexico students have to get jobs at major film companies such as Dreamworks as well as other opportunities animation skills provide students.

"A lot of studios are looking for the next generation of animators," Sanchez said.


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Aztec High School freshmen Kade Kennedy and Alex Winterhalter attended Digital Media day because they have been making movies together for the last five years.

Kennedy and Winterhalter said their first movie was about a kid who went into a coma and ended up in some other world. Winterhalter said recently they have been working on more serious movies. Currently they are working on one about a person who is unable to travel anywhere and feels bored with his life until he meets a really fun guy and things begin to get out of control.

Sanchez said New Mexico has an advantage because the studios are looking to expand outside of California and the extensive broadband system in New Mexico allows virtual real-time communication between states. New Mexico is also close enough to California that images don't break up during transmission.

In addition to location, New Mexico's inexpensive electricity costs give the state another advantage. Sanchez said it takes thousands of computers working together to create a single image for a film. That requires a lot of electricity. He said its not uncommon for major studios to pay $1 million ( A YEAR, FOR A FILM???) in electric bills.

Sanchez also spoke about opportunities outside of the film industry, such as mobile apps and gaming. He said New Mexico has made its mark in what is known as "serious gaming." Serious gaming is the process of using games to train professionals.

Los Alamos National Laboratory uses the technique. Sanchez said LANL has a group of animators designing games used to train homeland security agents on different tasks, such as how to deal with a nuclear threat.

Sanchez said there are a lot of opportunities to extend animation to the health care fields. For example, he spoke about a hospital in Rio Rancho that uses digital media to practice surgery techniques before operating on a patient.

Sanchez said some New Mexico high schools are beginning to offer digital media programs. He talked about a school in EspaƱola that started a $50,000 program for its students. Two to three months into the program, Sanchez said the students were producing professional quality animation. He said teachers in other fields such as math and science also began to integrate animation into their courses. For example, science teachers began to use animation to create virtual frog dissection.

Sanchez said another school in Santa Fe developed a mobile app to track weather. The app was then marketed and sold around the world.

Sanchez estimates the cost of starting school programs ranges from $10,000 and $50,000, depending on the amount and sophistication of the equipment.

Following Sanchez's talk, students broke up into groups of around 25 and went to different workshops. Some that were available were 3-D animation and a tour of the green screen studio at San Juan College.

The day ended with a stunt presentation by Tomas Sanchez. Sanchez started his career when he drove his girlfriend to a casting audition and they gave him a part. Later the director remembered him and hired him to be in a Michael Jordan commercial in Chicago because he could speak Spanish.

Sanchez emphasized the importance of education in film making. He said stunt people have to know geometry and chemistry. He said if they didn't know the chemicals they are using it could create a dangerous situation.

Sanchez said there are people who perform dangerous stunts, such as Felix Baumgardner. But in film most of what appears dangerous is performed by manipulating camera angles.

He said the stunt he did that hurt the most was being thrown out of a moving truck at 35 miles per hour. But he said he hasn't suffered any serious injuries.

"A really good stunt man doesn't get hurt," Sanchez said.

Hannah Grover may be reached at hgrover@daily-times.com; 564-4652. Follow Grover on Twitter @hmgrover.