With upcoming exhibit, Tech high students want to prove video games are art

May 18, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Students Russell Lockwood, left, and Justus Burger show their digital rendering of the floor plan of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's "Art of Video Games" exhibition.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Their brushes are electronic, not made of wood and hair.

Their palettes do not hold small, wet mounds of burnt sienna and other colors but are found by a click of the mouse.

And the results are often found on computer screens in homes, not hanging on the walls of the Lourve.

But does that make gaming design less of a work of art?

Students from Washington County Museum of Fine Arts don't think so and would like others to see that game development and computer animation is art in their show, "Pixels & Games."

Teacher Martin Nikirk's group of 32 juniors and seniors in his computer game development and animation class are hosting the one-day exhibit at the Hagerstown museum.

"The exhibit will feature different simulations, animations, arts and games from all of our seniors. It will feature different things and events we've gone through the past few years," said senior Jacob Sines, 17, of Hagerstown who is director of advertising for the exhibit.

Jacob said included in the exhibit will be the class' demo they developed for Microsoft Challenge, which gives students a chance to pitch their work to Microsoft executives. Also included is "Insert Token Here," a game that students developed for the Smithsonian American Art Museum's "Art of the Video" game exhibit's Micro Donation Campaign. There will also be art work they developed for the USDA's Chef Grant.

Nikirk said his computer game development and animation class is a highly competitive program. Juniors and seniors learn skills that oftentimes can't be found even in a college classroom. Although last year about 200 prospective 10th-grade students took a tour, the capacity of the rooms is for only 16 students per class.

Nikirk said this program trains students for "gold-collared" jobs after high school graduation, which often have annual salaries that start in the $60,000 range.

"Depending on a portfolio and skills, you can walk straight into a job," he said.

And for the Class of 2012, the skills they have learned have offered them a plethora of opportunities that are excellent resume builders.

"This senior class is called the legendary class," Nikirk said, noting that they earned the moniker for their experiences and accomplishments they experienced.

And earlier this spring, students participated and visited in "The Art of Video Games" exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibit, which continues through Sept. 30, allows visitors to test segments from several games. To download and play the Tech High students' game, go to

It's that Smithsonian exhibit that has encouraged the Tech High students to have their work recognized as pieces of art.

And when visitors come to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, the students hope they do see it as a pieces of art.

"Personally, I hope from the moment they enter the museum that they experience games as not only a form of entertainment, but also as a form of art," said Christian Las Dulce, 18, of Hagerstown and the show's exhibition set-up chairman. "Because it is really a form of art. It's taking a single pixel on a monitor, which is just a source of light, and being able to create multiple pixels and from those pixels you create art, from art you create animation, and then you create a game from that art and animations. Programmers work together with the artists and create a new form of art. And thankfully, the Smithsonian really did convey it as a work of art with ‘The Art of Video Games' exhibition. We're trying to bring that locally as well. We're trying to show that it's not just entertainment, it's art."

To create these pieces of art, students learn to use software programs.

"We use multitude of programs at CGDA," said Russell Lockwood, 18, of Hagerstown, and director of marketing for the exhibit. "We focus on Game Maker, which is a drag-and-drop/scripting game engine and compiler at the same time. A game engine is software that actually runs the game. It houses all the info the game needs to run. We also use Google SketchUp for 3-D models. We will actually be portraying some of our students 3-D models we made using Google SketchUp. And we used Sony Pro for our music. That's our major program for any form of audio sound."

"We also use Photoshop, which allows us to create some of our art that allows us to do a draw-over," Jacob said. "We'll have a picture and have a draw-over and then create art from the draw-over."

And they do it every year from scratch. Nikirk said during the junior year students learn about processes — graphics, concept development, storyboarding, two-dimensional animations and the like, and the senior year is the actual production year.

"Everything we create is original," Nikirk said. "We're talking from story, character, background, graphics, music. We copyright our own work, we are sensitive to not use somebody else's work."

The students said they hope that the exhibit will not only entertain, but change minds.

"We are very thankful for the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts actually allowing us to have our tech show in the museum," Christian said, "and allowing us to try to convince Hagerstown and the surrounding area that games aren't just entertainment, it's art. And it's more than just art, it's art that teaches whoever is playing it."

The trio agree.

 "It all starts from that sole pixel on a screen, that generates itself and the artist manipulates into a background, a character, it could even be code," Russell said. "They say programming, ‘How can that be creative?' But it is. It's just like writing a story."

If you go ...

WHAT: "Pixels & Games"

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 23

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' Bowman Gallery, City Park, Hagerstown

Schedule of games pitched to Microsoft executives             

In the atrium  9 a.m. to 4 p.m. —  Characters, Art, Animations & Computer Game Testing Exhibition

In the Bowman Gallery:

  • 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. — "Silex" presented by Travis Tracey, Michael Magaha and Dillin Brawner
  • 10:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. —  "True Aspects" presented by Nick Hockensmith, Christian Las Dulce and Justus Barger
  • 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.  — "Endure" presented by Sean Fagan, Matt Culber and Kelsie Munch
  • 10:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.  — "Terra Rive" presented by Brett Welsh, Eric Martell and Nathan Lachapelle
  • 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. — "Sunfall" presented by Russell Lockwood, Jacob Sines and Francis Welte

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