A little more than three months ago, North Central College senior Nick Penev was trying to figure out how to build his video production portfolio to begin his post-graduation job search.
That's when he found out about a music video contest for the 9th season of the machinima series "Red vs. Blue" by Rooster Teeth Productions. Machinima are web-based movies created using video game engines and characters. "Red vs. Blue" is based on the Xbox game, "Halo."
Nick PenevAge: 22
Hometown: Crystal Lake
School: North Central College
Who inspires you? Dick Winters, one of the original "Band of Brothers" soldiers from World War II. Also, film director George Lucas.
What's on your iPod? Weezer's Rivers Cuomo
What book are you reading? "The Wild Blue," by Stephen Ambrose
The three words that best describe you? Quirky. Calm. Persevering.
See Nick's winning video
Nick's winning video is on YouTube. Warning: Video has obscenities and sexual references.
The 22-year-old Crystal Lake resident didn't hesitate to grab his chance. "I'm trying to get out there in video work. I was thinking, 'What's best way to do it?' and what do you know, here it is and shows up in front of me,'" Nick said.
During the next three weeks, Nick feverishly worked on the video, filmed in a frenzied two days in various locations throughout Naperville. The video features Nick in the starring role and more than 20 other people, mostly North Central students.
Nick's video not only won the contest, but did so with a bang -- it was unanimously selected by staff at Texas-based Rooster Teeth Productions among more than 260 submissions from all over the country. Nick's video was the first to ever have received unanimous thumbs-up in any of the company's contests, said Rooster Teeth marketing and community manager Barbara Dunkelman.
Rooster Teeth ranked eighth among non-music channels on YouTube in 2011, with 1.7 million subscribers and almost 1 billion video views on YouTube; its podcast is the number one gaming podcast on iTunes, Dunkelman said.
"Nick's video ... really stood out. He used various songs from the soundtrack, different styles of music video, and managed to do it all with a hint of comedy, which we love. Not only was it creative and funny, but it was very well produced and executed," Dunkelman said. "We all loved Nick's video so much that we also promoted it through our videos and social media."
Nick said he knew his video was really good, but still couldn't believe he won. "I started going nuts, just yelling. I was probably on the phone for two hours calling my family, all sorts of people."
At last count, Nick's video had been viewed almost 40,000 times on YouTube. His prize was the entire Red. vs. Blue DVD series collection plus an Xbox 360 controller signed by the cast.
Nick carries a 3.7 GPA in his major, interactive media studies with a focus on graphic arts. North Central College professor Stephen Renk, who coordinates the interactive media program, said Nick has a very well-rounded set of talents.
"As a freshman, he was much more skilled than the average freshman in filmmaking. He understands what it takes to make a film. He knows how to edit, he knows how to make a shot," he said. "For us not being a film school, he's doing tremendously."
Nick grew up in Schaumburg, never missing a chance to grab the family's video camera, said his father, Christian Penev. "He liked to be the family historian. We have a bunch of tapes -- concerts, plays, school events, parades," he said.
As a little kid, Nick, who has a passion for all things World War II, was hardworking, responsible, and very, very neat, said his mother Laureen Penev. "His books were always in order. He didn't like his bindings bent when he read a paperback," she said.
Nick and his best friend, Doug Vito, now a student at Southern Illinois University, started making videos when they were about 11, the first one a skit of a pizza delivery guy who meets strange people on the job. Later the pair, who graduated from Schaumburg High School in 2008, even created their own production company.
Nick has always been very ambitious, said Doug, who filmed the Rooster Teeth music video and also appears in it for less than a second.
"He reads books, he goes online extra tutorials," Doug said. "Everything he's ever done -- whether school, cross-county and track, band -- he's always put the most effort he can muster into it. He's always been a goal-oriented person. He achieves what he needs to achieve, and he always does it with a smile."
In high school, Nick took every chance he had to turn school assignments into video productions -- even when teachers didn't give that as an option. He made videos for American studies and creative composition classes, and even for Spanish classes.
Schaumburg High School Spanish teacher Cindy Arroyo still remembers a Spanish-language spoof on the TV show "Law and Order" that Nick turned in six years ago. "He really stood out," Arroyo said. "Sometimes you see students who go beyond the assignment, beyond what they are required to do. And he always did that."
Nick said his most immediate challenge is to get the right video equipment once he leaves college. For the last four years he's been using North Central's equipment, and he's long outgrown free software available online.
"I will need a new computer, software, a camera of my own. It's maybe up to $4,000," said Nick, who works as a study session monitor at college during the school year, and helps his father during the summer. "I can't afford it yet. It's tough to look for a job in that field if you don't have anything."
Nick said he' aiming for a job in visual effects for video production. "In a perfect world, I'd love to work for Rooster Teeth Productions," he said.
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.