Museum-quality work

Posted: July 1, 2014

Animation students create game, video for Eau Claire exhibit

By Jerry Poling

Menomonie, Wis. - Two teams of students at University of Wisconsin-Stout are using animation to help bring west-central Wisconsin history to life at the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire.

A new museum exhibit, Changing  Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley, will include two important contributions from the 10 students. One is a role-playing video game of a 1789 fur trading post on the Red Cedar River. The other is a 3D video of the 1884 flood that destroyed more than 150 buildings in Eau Claire.

The exhibit will open Friday, July 4, during holiday festivities in Carson Park and expand during the summer and fall prior to a grand opening in December.

Students put hundreds of hours into their animation projects during the spring semester, working through special challenges and with new software programs. They also dealt with the added pressure of communicating with a real client and knowing their projects will be seen by thousands of museum visitors as part of a long-term exhibit.

"It definitely added a lot of pressure to make it better. We wanted to create a product we're proud of and (the museum) is happy with," said Alexandra Schultz, of Appleton.

Schultz was part of the team that made the video game, which will be part of a recreated fur trading post in the exhibit. The team dealt with thousands of details, such as the color of the chinking between the logs, to make the animated trading post look realistic.

The video game allows users to interact with the fur trader at the front counter as if they are 18th century traders. They can click on objects in the cabin, such as a musket, ax, tea kettle, tobacco and other supplies to learn more about their historical purposes. The fur trader speaks in English with Ojibwe subtitles, such as "mii gwech," which means "thank you."

Students created the male fur trader, the trading post and all the objects and environment inside. Chippewa Valley Museum intern and UW-Eau Claire graduate student Jeremy Kingsbury wrote the script.

Along with Schultz, the fur trading post team consisted of Andrew Uchytil, of Eden Prairie, Minn.; Alicia Griesbach, of Beaver Dam; Andrew Blettner, of Marshall; Justin Schmidt of Brillion; and Matthew Duerst, of Monticello.

In the other project, simulating the flood that wiped out 50 blocks of downtown Eau Claire in 1884 also presented special challenges to students.

The three-minute video, which includes a 3D city map and flood facts, focuses on a riverfront industrial area that now is Phoenix Park. Buildings are flooded as the water rises, with logs and other debris floating by.

The city was hit with 14 inches of rain in 24 hours.

Students created the video in color, although they had only black and white flood photos. "We went for a realistic coloring. Flood water has its own color," said Adam Zablocki, of Muskego, a member of the flood animation team.

They visited Phoenix Park as part of their research and spoke with museum officials approximately every other week, Zablocki said. "Every item had to be created. It's all customized."

Other members of the flood video team were Sarah Benson, of La Crosse; Spencer Kromrie of Chippewa Falls; and Jonathon Saindon of Milwaukee.

"I'm impressed with the students' ability to bring historic subjects and events to life through animation," said museum curator Carrie Ronnander, one of the project coordinators. "This collaboration will allow the museum to provide visitors with experiences that are beyond what the museum has been capable of achieving."

Dave Beck, chair of the department of design in the School of Art and Design, taught the class and supervised the students' work throughout the spring semester. "Working with the Chippewa Valley Museum has been a wonderful opportunity for my students to experience a real-world, client-focused project. Both of these are some of the best client-focused UW-Stout animation projects I've seen since I started here in 2010," Beck said.

UW-Stout, Wisconsin's Polytechnic University, has more than 9,300 students in 45 undergraduate majors and 23 graduate majors, including one doctoral degree. UW-Stout, established in 1891, prides itself on the success of its students in the workplace, with an employment rate at or above 97 percent for recent graduates. The university was awarded the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001. Learn more at

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