Howard Community College's television station has received two regional Emmy nominations for pieces that combine creative vision with cutting-edge technology.
The nominated public service announcement and station identification spots were made using "green screen" technology to incorporate computerized backgrounds, animation and graphics.
The addition of that capability a couple years ago has widely expanded the station's ability to produce slick-looking advertisements, announcements and original programs, said Margaret Kahlor, director of media arts, the TV studio and HCC-TV.
"I think we look so much more polished and professional because of this technology," she said. And that has enabled the station to earn two nominations in competition against much larger network affiliates and production companies.
HCC-TV was the only college station nominated for an Emmy in the National Capital/Chesapeake Bay region.
For many projects, people are filmed digitally in front of green walls in the HCC-TV studio. Then designers use computer programs to add digital elements, a process called compositing. HCC-TV staff members have used the technology for a range of effects, from scrolling words across the background of an advertisement to creating a virtual set - complete with sweeping camera movements - for the show CineMaryland.
"With the technology we have now, anything is possible," said Carl A. Merritt, a video production/animation graphics specialist. The main limitation is the time and staff required to do large-scale projects, he said.
The educational access station has four full-time staff members and receives funding from the Comcast Corp. cable company through an agreement with the county, and from the college. It broadcasts several original programs, public interest programming from other sources and telecourses for people who want to take classes remotely on channel 71 in Howard County.
Staff members also create public service announcements and other video projects for the school and teach a curriculum of mass media design and production.
The station has received numerous national and international awards, but this is the first year that it sent entries to the National Capital/Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Television Academy. The organization will award its Emmys on June 12 in Washington.
Kahlor was nominated for her public service announcement for the college.
In it, students are shown with cartoon-like thought bubbles coming from their heads. In the last bubble, the student is shown achieving a goal, such as becoming a teacher, entering a health profession or learning to cook.
Kahlor said the ability to use compositing for the bubbles, background text listing areas of study, a banner naming Howard Community College and text highlighting the spot's message made it possible to achieve a lot in one 29-second spot.
The other nomination went to Merritt for the station's first identification spots, which tell viewers they are watching HCC-TV.
Merritt said he wanted to use a person with whom the audience might identify and put that person into an unusual situation, breaking the two-dimensional space associated with television.
In one spot, a young man appears to write HCC-TV on the inside of the television screen. In another, a woman reaches over the bottom edge of the screen to connect an electrical plug that lights up the background. All of the spots feature a rotating HCC-TV graphic.
Green screen technology has made such attention-getting ideas possible, Kahlor said. And it has been a big help at the college because construction has left the studio with limited room to store sets.
The technical aspects had to be set up piece-by-piece, with lots of independent research, said Jose Tenorio, a production specialist/technician.
Other stations had green screens, but few had advice on creating complex projects, Tenorio said. HCC-TV had to use independent research and practice to achieve fewer ragged edges and more seamless combinations of live people and digital effects.
Merritt and Tenorio studied the correct color of green paint and built set walls. They purchased lighting that works with the color and set the camera to capture the best results.
Then staff members were able to stretch their boundaries with the software, constructing virtual worlds on the screen.
"I'm always trying to challenge myself," Merritt said. "We're not restricted to reality."