Senior project portrays Riley patients as tiny superheroes

Riley kids Leighanne and Jonah are superheroes.View print quality image
Computer graphics technology senior Jessica Hunt turned Riley Hospital for Children patients Leighanne, left, and Jonah into superheroes. Image courtesy of Jessica Hunt, Department of Computer Graphics Technology

An Incredible Hulk/Wonder Woman crossover film would melt the minds of millions of Marvel and DC movie fans. 

But the dream cinematic team-up could not compare to the mightiness contained in a Carmel, Indiana, photo studio this spring. Computer graphics technology senior Jessica Hunt captured two tiny superheroes in digital imagery for her senior project, which she titled "The Brave."

The photo shoot at Focus On Studio starred two recent Riley Hospital for Children patients: 8-year-old Leighanne portrayed Wonder Woman, while Jonah, 11, did his best Hulk cosplay. The kids' pictures were then Photoshopped into dramatic battle scenes thanks to Hunt's digital design skills. 

"I had Leighanne hold a fake sword and shield and edited them later," Hunt said. "I had Jonah throwing these fake rocks around. It was really fun. We had them pose together, too." 

The images were printed to resemble movie posters; they will appear at the spring Capstone event, which is set for 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, April 26, in the Idea Garden.

Jessica HuntView print quality image
Computer graphics technology senior Jessica Hunt hopes to continue to help turn Riley Hospital for Children patients into the superheroes that they are. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

Hunt will have a third poster explaining her process along with a QR code, which viewers can scan and then donate to Riley Hospital.

While she was growing up near Paragon, Indiana, slow internet speeds made Hunt rely on movie theaters in Martinsville and Bloomington for entertainment. The movie posters hung in the lobbies fascinated the young girl. A decade-plus later, Hunt wanted to re-create those posters' dual purpose -- to promote and captivate.

The seeds of Hunt's interest in digital design came from various 4-H competitions and her mother's laptop. At the same time, though, she had career aspirations to teach young children. Since attending IUPUI, her design skills have reached a new level, and she was able to include her two interests in her senior project.

With her Canon DSLR at the ready, Hunt utilized lighting and other equipment at Focus On. With their parents looking on, the tiny superheroes came dressed in costume and had no problem feeling mighty during the shoot.

"I had asked their parents who their favorite superhero was and what superhero they were most like," Hunt explained. "I had known Leighanne from my hometown, and Jonah was a natural, so both kids were easy to work with."

Hunt plans on expanding her photo series with Riley kids beyond her senior project, beyond commencement. The hospital means a lot to her; some of her earliest memories are of visiting Riley with her older brother, Josh Hunt, who underwent surgery to have a kidney removed.

"I'd like to make more for Riley to hang," she said. "It's called 'The Brave' because they're the bravest people to go through this. These kids are still smiling throughout their treatments."

Josh Polk, lecturer in computer graphics technology, became an advisor for Hunt's senior project after teaching her in a web user experience class. He said the project was inspired by photographer Josh Rossi's Justice League Kids project. He marveled how effortlessly Hunt was able to convince her young subjects to get into character.

"Jonah was yelling and screaming and having a great time," recalled Polk, who also teaches classes in Photoshop and digital imaging. "Working with real people -- real clients -- was good experience for Jessica.

"I hope it inspires other students to pick up on volunteerism options. With Riley just down the street, there are good opportunities for such things."