Virtual reality |

Virtual reality

In less time that it takes to order popcorn for an opening-day showing of “Spider-Man 2,” 15-year-old Ben Mora can assemble for you a vivid, three-dimensional home movie with sound and graphics, from the comfort of his hyperfast desktop.

Mora, a home-schooled student at Forest Charter School, has plenty of time for creating animated short films, music videos or slick promotional materials inside the confines of NCTV Channel 11’s studios at the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office.

Why then, was he laboring over a keyboard typing in captions for a video feed to broadcast this past weekend’s Fourth of July parade in Nevada City?

Two words: Learning experience.

Mora is one of dozens of students, some of whom aren’t old enough to shave much more than peach fuzz from their faces, who right now could be challenging workers twice their age for a foothold in the evolutionary world of digital media, taking classes and running the studios at Nevada County Television, which launched this spring.

Those close to the nonprofit, which began as Foothills Community Access Television more than a decade ago, are hoping to use the classes to create a new generation of videographers and media-savvy professionals.

But first, the basics.

“You’ve got to start somewhere, and this happens to be my starting point,” said Mora, hunkered over a keyboard, video monitors and a bank of waiting cameras in front of NCTV’s studio.

“It definitely has a feeling to it,” said Mora, who learned sound and video editing by taking classes when NCTV was known by its FCAT moniker. “I don’t know what you call it … joy?”

In the months since the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office assumed control of the county’s community-access station, teacher Lew Sitzer has immersed himself in all aspects of digital video production while preparing to launch a new series of classes for high school and college students in the fall.

“You can’t ever catch up,” said Sitzer, who previously taught photography and social science at both Bear River and Nevada Union high schools. “The students will always be learning faster than us. We work this studio at a level somewhere between an apprenticeship program and self-directed learning.

“Kids learn this stuff like it’s another appendage.”

Lewis Dobbins, a senior training engineer for video pioneer Thomson/Grass Valley Group, agrees.

“The gap between what people are doing at home and professionally is being narrowed.”

The hope, Sitzer said, is that students, no matter what the age, will have the knowledge, if not the need, to run the studio entirely by themselves.

Sitzer sees himself as someone to help nurture the dreams of the curious students who have been dabbling in multimedia on their own, a person to give them focus for their myriad ideas.

“A lot of people who have expertise in the technical field aren’t necessarily the best at the cooperative aspects of learning,” he said. “But if you can’t share your knowledge in some way, what good is it to anyone?”

Sitzer credits those who started Foothills Community Access Television for starting the trend. Indeed, many students worked on FCAT productions before joining NCTV, including Mora, who worked with veteran producer Gil Dominguez to assemble local sports programming.

Sitzer admits the ambitious scheduling wouldn’t be possible without a considerable amount of fund raising. Since March, the nonprofit has raised $51,000 from donors such as Thomson/Grass Valley Group and developer Phil Carville.

It will need considerably more seed money if the plans Sitzer envisions materialize. Those plans include multiple hyper-fast Mac-based computer work stations and eventual live, round-the-clock programming.

“In order for us to succeed, we’re going to need a lot of people interested in this field,” Sitzer said.

The plan could take as long as five years, Sitzer said.

Dobbins said the infusion of cash and materials, including digital recorders from his company, is a welcome addition to the studio.

Though most of Grass Valley’s “Video Valley” is comprised of companies working the technical, hardware aspect of media, teaching a crop of students locally could give them an edge over their Southern California and Silicon Valley counterparts when it comes to designing live-action cartoon shorts, digitally enhanced movies and documentaries.

“If they can be exposed to the world of what television or media is all about,” Dobbins said, “it can give students a good taste of what they might pursue when they go to college.”

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