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Updated 10:00 AM October 26, 2009

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Spotlight: Animation draws special appeal for consultant

Ryan N. Wilcox is a technology guru by day and his wife's comic book career manager by night.

Not unlike the protagonists in many comic books, Wilcox and his wife, illustrator Katie Cook, maintain double lives, each attending their 9-5 jobs and then rendezvousing at home for hours of brainstorming, storyboarding and illustrating.
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Wilcox, who for eight years has been a media consultant at the Digital Media Commons, says he is fortunate enough to have not only one, but two jobs that he is passionate about. Both revolve around helping others with their creative needs.

Not only is this self-proclaimed nerd surrounded daily by a "Media Shangri-La," as he calls it, but he says his off-the-job activities would make other nerds around the world green with envy. His extensive video training has become a great asset for managing his wife's career: "We both tell stories with pictures, mine just move."

Originally from Marshall, Mich., he operated the public access station that supported six local colleges, while attending North Carolina State University. However, after he was offered his dream job to work at U-M for one of the top non-profit technology centers in the world, he immediately accepted.

"At this time, I believe it's unlikely I will find somewhere I enjoy working more," he says.

Located at the Duderstadt Center on North Campus, the Digital Media Commons has an audio recording facility considered one of the top six in North America, along with an industry-level video production studio complete with Mac or PC editing stations. It also has one of only a few existing virtual reality caves, as well as rapid prototyping machines with the capability to print 3-D models as real objects. On top of that, there are podcasting facilities, a voice-over booth and teleconferencing rooms.

Wilcox often meets new people on the job since many of the facilities, which are available to anyone in the U-M community, are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For Wilcox, the most rewarding part is having a complete novice enter the studio and then later seeing his or her final project. Especially in this ever growing digital world where knowledge of technological skills is essential, Wilcox says, "I like to tell people here that, 'We teach you how to fish.'"

"It's originally from an old Chinese proverb: If you give a person a fish they'll eat for a day, but if you teach a person to fish they'll eat for the rest of their lives. We are instructing them how to use these tools to create media for the rest of their careers here at the University of Michigan and beyond."

Although he spends his day helping people reach their creative visions, he's never too tired for his double life. His wife currently is lending her artistic hand to "Star Wars: the Clone Wars," on top of past projects with Marvel, DC Comics and many other licenses.

While Cook submits all of her work online, the husband and wife duo travels all over the country to eight to 10 comic book conventions a year, including Comic-Con International in San Diego. For the last several years, Wilcox has been responsible for the organizational side of his wife's career, including booking flights, reserving hotel rooms and reminding her of deadlines.

When working at U-M, Wilcox says he has an enthusiasm for his job that he hopes is contagious to all who come in contact with him.

"I truly get all revved up when I see the look in a new user's eyes when they see all the things we offer at the Digital Media Commons," he says. "It's very rewarding to be a part of that process, and then to see what they are able to produce after they learn the tools .... it is remarkable."

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the University. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at

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