Students get a fish-eye view of digital media

Wa-Hi students are taking to the digital media tech class like, well, fish to water.

Walla Walla high School student Tanner Gorze works on a 3D animation project in the digital media technology class.

Walla Walla high School student Tanner Gorze works on a 3D animation project in the digital media technology class. Photo by Ben Wentz.

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WALLA WALLA — So you’re a fish.

The Lower Granite Dam is just downstream.

You could pass through a labyrinth of tubes and come out safely on the other side, or you could get sucked into its hydroelectric turbines and there’s a chance you could be shredded to bits.

photo

Donald Daschofsky

Thanks to the work of a pair of Walla Walla High School students developing a computer game simulating such a trek, you’ll get to respawn either way.

Donald Daschofsky and Reid Magnaghi are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a simulation of the 3,200-foot long, 100-foot tall Snake River dam as part of their Wa-Hi digital media technology class. Designing a fish simulator likely wasn’t on either student’s agenda when they enrolled in the class. But the on-again, off-again project has provided real-world experience, teacher Dennis DeBroeck said.

Sometimes frustrating work experience.

Daschofsky and another student began working on the project last year, but the other student graduated and it turned out the simulation wasn’t detailed enough.

“I was like super stoked to already have half of the game basically done,” Daschofsky said. “But the engineer came and said it was completely wrong and unfinished.”

Magnaghi, a junior, took over the 3D modeling side this year, with Daschofsky, now a senior, taking the role of lead game designer. But on Thursday they suffered another setback when they discovered they had been using blueprints for the wrong dam.

“We had to delete about a month’s work,” Magnaghi said. “It was a frustrating learning experience.”

Nevertheless, the duo is plowing on and expects to complete the project within the next couple of months.

The list of things students can learn in the digital media class is long — 3D animation, 3D modeling, 3D printing, advertising, forensics, videography, special effects — and it’s going to get longer when the program moves to the soon-to-be completed Southeast Area Technical Skills Center.

Gerry Ringwood, the former director of Tri-TECH in Kennewick, which SEA-TECH is modeled after, said Wa-Hi’s program is unusual in that the caliber of work it puts out rivals some professional studios.

“They’re doing industry-standard graphics that you wouldn’t expect to see from a high school,” Ringwood said.

And digital media has been a hit at Wa-Hi, with roughly 150 students taking the class a year, DeBroeck said.

Ringwood said he would like to see a version of DeBroeck’s class taught at Tri-TECH, but “it’s very difficult to find a teacher with the caliber of knowledge that he brings to that class.”

“There’s not many people out there that could teach what he teaches,” Ringwood added. “He’s a very gifted person that is able to offer a lot to students in the Walla Walla area that you won’t find in a lot of areas.”

DeBroeck started teaching computer technology at the high school in 1994 after owning several computing businesses. He was chosen in June to direct SEA-TECH but he declined to focus on teaching the digital media program.

Over the years, DeBroeck’s students have gone on to work at major corporations such as Microsoft and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman.

For Daschofsky, who spends three periods a day in the digital media lab, the class has been an opportunity to realize a dream of being a game designer he’s had since he was young.

“DeBroeck is my main guy,” the heavily-bearded teenager said. “He’s opened so many doors for me.”

Daschofsky has started a gaming company named Xynatic with several friends and is already close to releasing an “alpha” — an extremely early version — of a retro side-scrolling PC game called “Knaf.”

He plans to take some time after graduating to help support the company, but may go back to school as well.

Magnaghi said he, too, plans to continue in digital media and hopes to help create games like the hit series “Call of Duty.”

He’ll be one of the first students to go through the program when it moves to SEA-TECH this fall. The center will offer two three-hour blocks of the class, but only to juniors and seniors who would still be able to graduate on time by spending half-days at Wa-Hi.

“It sounds so amazing out there, so I can’t wait,” Magnaghi said.

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.

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