male with his arm around cartoon bear

A winning idea: Nick Stevens creates, voices new TBR character

male with his arm around cartoon bear

A winning idea: Nick Stevens creates, voices new TBR character

cmills4 November 22, 2019

TBR, the largest system of higher education in Tennessee, held a contest last year to choose a “virtual character” to star in a series of videos about Perkins V Basics. Perkins V is shorthand for the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. The 2018 legislation continues Congress’ commitment to provide nearly $1.3 billion annually for CTE programs for youth and adults.

Three Pellissippi State students entered the TBR contest. Brooks the Bear, created by Pellissippi State animation student Nick Stevens, was chosen, snagging Pellissippi State a $5,000 Perkins reserve grant to create five videos for TBR.

“I decided to give it a shot because I think 3D animation is the coolest,” said Stevens, who graduated in May with an Associate of Applied Science in Media Technologies with a concentration in Video Production Technology and a certificate in Animation.

Stevens grew up in Anniston, Alabama, but moved to Knoxville in 2013 and graduated from Central High School in 2016. Influenced by his time in Tennessee, Stevens said he immediately thought the virtual character should be a bear because of the Smokies.

Choosing a name for the bear took longer.

“It took me an hour looking for names,” Stevens laughed. “Brooks just sounded twangy.”

While Stevens’ character was chosen, it took a team of Pellissippi State students to pull off the five videos contracted with TBR, noted Engineering and Media Technologies Instructor Kent McQuilkin. The animation team included Stevens’ fellow Visual Effects Fundamentals for Broadcast and Film classmates Asma Al-Arika, Jacob Bickers and Kyle Bumpus.

“It was amazing how much work they had to get done in a short amount of time,” McQuilkin said. “This was the first time they had animated a (3D) character, so there was a lot for them to figure out about mouth shapes and phonics. It was a great experience for them.”

Because Stevens animated the first segment with Brooks the Bear, he set the tone, McQuilkin added. Stevens also voiced Brooks the Bear, using scripts provided by TBR.

“People don’t understand how long it takes to make just a 40-second video,” Stevens noted. “The animation itself took a day working with other students. What takes so long is the modeling.”

To bring Brooks the Bear to life, Stevens had to create a physical model of his character. It all started with a simple cube, Stevens explained.

“The modeling took the (spring) semester,” he noted. “You have to extrude certain parts. There’s a geometry to it. Kent helped me with the mesh, to make it articulate well.”

The first of the five-video series debuted at a TBR meeting last spring, and McQuilkin and Engineering and Media Technologies Dean Margaret Ann Jeffries were on hand to hear what board members thought.

“We got great feedback,” McQuilkin said. “They loved it.”

The Pellissippi State team completed two of the five videos before Stevens graduated in May, but he came back over the summer to help complete a third one.

“The team finished the three videos we received scripts for, and they were all really well received,” McQuilkin said. “We are still waiting for the final two and have no idea when they will come. Whenever it does happen, we’ve got a team poised to get them done.”

As for Stevens, he’s completed a couple of freelance designs since graduation, but he’s still looking for a full-time job. He’d like to find a company to work for, he said.

But no matter where he ends up, he will always have his alter ego of Brooks the Bear.

“It’s been really fun, and my mom loves it to death,” Stevens said. “I’ve learned a lot more about animation and character modeling – and also not to underestimate myself!”