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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Youth Q&A: Justin

Learn about Justin in this in-depth interview.
By Ken Ellis
Related Tags: Technology Integration

I'm Justin. I'm 16 years old, and I use technology because it allows me to express myself to the fullest extent. When it comes to games or digital media, within those, you create things, and that really resonates with me -- the fact that you're making a game, you're creating a world, almost.

See Justin's full portrait.

Edutopia.org: How does technology allow you to express yourself?

Justin: Through my movies, I can show people my vision of the world. I mean, other people get the same feeling I get from making music or all different sorts of things. It allows me to express what I'm feeling.

What's a typical day for you in terms of the digital technology you use?

I'll wake up, I'll listen to music. I'm a big fan of music, and I just get ready for school, then I go to school. If it's an A day, I have two tech classes -- programming, and my interactive-media class.

But when I get home, I do all sorts of things: I'll write scripts for my projects. I'll do a little shooting. I'll call my friends, kind of coordinate to see what's going to happen. But a lot of the time, I'll plan shooting or kind of mess with something, trying to figure out how I can make something look the way I want it to look.

What about your core classes?

On A days, I have physics and AP English. I'm getting A's in both classes. I kind of like those classes, because in physics, you do simple math, and math isn't that hard. So I do it, and I get an A easily.

And I love English, because it allows me to get into the fundamentals of English and try to improve my writing skills, and so I definitely take every opportunity to write something interesting. The teacher will say, "OK, do a compare-and-contrast essay." And I'll compare and contrast two of the characters from one of my films. And it allows me to expand on my films, and I really love the class for that.

On my B days, I have no tech classes. I have AP U.S. history, world geography, precalculus, and Spanish. My first two, the history classes, I'm big fans of those. I love history because it's almost like a storybook. I mean, you're sitting there, and you read, and it's just kind of like a story, almost. There are important people and heroes and bad guys -- all that good stuff.

But I'm not a big fan of precalculus. When it comes to Spanish, I can pronounce well, but I don't have comprehension. Those classes can be a little rough sometimes, but I still get good grades in them.

Can you describe people who are important influences in your life?

I have to say some of my teachers have been very, very good. Mr. Dasenbrook definitely is one. And we're good friends, so we just talk about all sorts of things. I had a math teacher last year who had a strong impact on me.

But when it comes to my creative skills, there wasn't anyone who really did that for me. It was just kind of my own reading and playing video games and then kind of coming up with it. I think, "That would appeal to me," and then I just try it out, and it's even better.

Definitely, when it comes to machinima, machinima was a completely different medium in the sense that it was just some stupid people. They would get up and have this little thing. The voice acting was terrible. The editing was terrible. Everything was just terrible, and you might get a laugh out of it, but it wasn't really worth your time.

But digitalph33r really strived to make it a serious cinematic genre. And his stuff isn't the best quality, but he did a good job, and that's kind of what inspired me to try it myself.

What digital technology do you use?

Definitely for my machinima purposes, my Xbox is the most important part. It's where I play the games that I film, and also the features that it has makes it really easy to make machinima. Probably the second most important thing I have is a Dazzle video recorder, and it captures what I have on my television, and it turns it into media files that I can edit.

My laptop, if I can get to use XP, will become very important as well. Even without it, almost everything that I have to do with digital media I do through my laptop. I play my games and listen to my music and pretty much everything besides make my movies.

Software-wise, I've worked with Sony Vegas a little bit, but I'm trying to get a real purchase copy that I can actually play and use. That definitely makes editing my films a lot easier, and it gives me a lot more choices.

When did you first start using digital technology?

My first was a video game, and I've been doing those all my life. At six or seven, I got my Game Boy, and that was just the start of it right there. I had a Game Boy Color. I had the original Pokémon, and that was the beginning for me.

What excited you about it? Why were you so interested?

When it comes to games or digital media, within those, you create things, and that really resonates with me -- the fact that you're making a game, you're creating a world, almost. You're creating characters. You're creating all these different things, and that's what appeals to me. I want to show people what I've created, in that sense.

How much time do you spend online, and where do you go?

I spend maybe two or three hours a night. I talk to other people who make movies. I have my friends who I talk to online if they live in different places. I play online games, and that definitely is where I spend most of my time online.

What games do you play?

My favorite right now is called Fallout 3, and it has in the game a kind of an alternative timeline, a world that's become a complete wasteland from nuclear war. And so you're just a random settler, and you live out your life, and it's almost just like you're a real person in this world, and that's what really interests me about it: You're living your own life inside of it.

I've played World of Warcraft. I just got off of it. And right now, the online game I'm playing is called Ragnarok Online. I run around and I socialize, and I do all sorts of things on that, too.

What are your favorite movies, television shows, or books?

Oh, there are so many. My favorite TV show is Firefly. I love that show, a fantastic show. The characters and the world that they made and the culture of it all, it's just fabulous. I have to say probably my favorite movie right now is Pulp Fiction, or The Prestige. I say Pulp Fiction just because you can see the roots of so many other movies in it, and that's really fascinating.

How about books?

I love reading. If I'm not doing anything else, I'm definitely reading. I spend a lot of my time reading. The books I usually read are thick fantasy novels, sci-fi, that sort of thing. It can change your outlook and your own stuff, too. I've definitely been influenced by the books that I've read.

Give me an example of a favorite book.

Probably the Black Jewels trilogy. The author was able to mix fantasy with this dark everything. It was very interesting. The characters are fantastic, too. Another one is the Wheel of Time series. That's fantastic, too. It's huge, thousands of pages each book, and there are 13 of them. Those are just fantastic novels. Everything is just so original.

So, tell me about cell phones or iPods.

Pretty much all my friends have one. There's been an interesting set of events. One of my friends ended up selling his cell phone, and he still hasn't got a new one. It makes things irritating. I definitely use my cell phone to communicate with people. I'm always texting, calling people. My calendar is in it. I set little notes for myself if I don't have pen and paper. That's definitely important to me. I always have my cell phone with me.

And my iPod is important to me, too, because I use music to visualize what I want to make, and so whenever I have time by myself, I have my iPod in and I'm listening to music, and I think of new scenes, new ideas, new characters. Music is very important to the whole process of filmmaking for me.

What do you listen to?

I listen to Muse and Radiohead and mostly a lot of the bands that mix rock with electronica. And I also listen to a lot of classical music and music from other videos.

Do you compose?

No, I do not compose. I have a few friends who do compose for me. I have a stepbrother, and he makes beats, and I've had him make a few beats for some of the live-action films that I plan on making, but, no, not by myself. I've thought about it, though. I might dive into that.

Do you think you have a different relationship with technology than adults do?

It depends on the adult, but for the most part, yes, I think I have a different relationship with it than most of the people I know, because I don't know anyone else who makes films and does what I do. Most people use it to see other things -- to view movies or play games. But I don't know really that many people who use it to actually create.

What's your future? What do you see?

I'll probably be a script writer or a director. I've even thought about doing some game design, too. I need to be in a place where I can tell other people what I want done, tell them my vision, and also, I need some control over it.

Tell me about the mentoring you do on Saturdays.

I'm a mentor for Be The Game, from the Institute of Urban Game Design. High school students are teaching younger, underprivileged kids how to do what we do in the sense of basic modeling. We have a game maker, programming, and all sorts of things like that.

And how that works is, we have the main teacher, and he tells five or six mentors what they need to do, and then the mentors pick individual students or pairs, and through that, we're able to teach a lot more effectively.

It's kind of confusing when you see people who pay to go here, and they're not taking it seriously, and it's also kind of disheartening. But there are always the kids who are really into this sort of thing, and you feel good when you're able to teach someone something and they're so passionate about it.

Do you make online tutorials or use online tutorials for anything?

I use online communities and online tutorials for when I step into new mediums. One of the first things I did, because I used to be into game design, was join a big community of other people who were into game design.

When you have other people who are doing what you're doing, everything is a lot smoother. You go up, and it's like, "Oh, I'm having this problem." And there's probably going to be someone else who has your problem, and there's going to be someone else who knows how to fix it. It just makes the whole learning curve completely go down a bit.

I always join communities, always. And tutorials, if I need them, I'll use them. I haven't made any. But if there ever is a person who needs my help, and they ask for it, I'll give it to them.

Talk about online learning communities.

Everything is a lot smoother when you're with people who are learning what you want to learn, you're learning, or you have learned. And they are completely focused, because when you're doing something on your own free time, you're not going to do something necessarily that you don't want to do.

There's little distraction, and you can always find someone who knows the help that you need, and so everything goes a lot smoother, and you learn things faster and sometimes even better than if you are just with a group of people who aren't really interested in what they're doing. So interest is key.

What I'm learning out of school, I learn at a much faster pace and more effectively than what I usually learn in school, and it all has to do with the community and the interests that I and other people that I'm learning with have in the subject.

Ken Ellis is executive producer of Edutopia video.

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