Production at IU: New and Improved!

by Ken Rosenberg

Professor John Walsh shows off the revamped layout of RTV 250.

Professor John Walsh has secured new equipment for the Telecom department. It is his vision that all students to be able to produce professional-quality media: video, audio, digital games, and other forms of new media. Towards that end, John has worked with other departmental colleagues to improve upon the production gear with which we work. We now have new light kits and grip equipment; our labs are now licensed to use Unity 3, a popular new game engine; we’ve updated the audio software from ProTools 8 to ProTools 10; and the computers in RTV 250 have been rearranged to enhance collaborative learning. A few years ago, Professor Ron Osgood brought the studio into high-definition era. Now, John and others have helped move our media-creation capabilities forward yet again. For a department that has partnerships with professional media outlets, including our in-house PBS affiliate WTIU, it isn’t enough to simply have equipment fit to learn – we need to impress real audiences.

The most immediately noticeable advancement is the new equipment. The cameras in the production lab were already more than adequate for most shoots and, as John pointed out, basic video gear has become cheap enough to the point where many students come to class with their own cameras. What most people do not invest in, however, is proper lighting – and control of the light. Earlier the lab was not equipped with grip gear. Now, we have the basic complement required for shooting on set – light kits and grip equipment. Lighting and grip work are very separate tasks on set, as John explained, and the new gear will allow students to specialize. Next Fall, in the T436: Advanced Production Workshop in Multi-Camera Performance Production, some students will arrange lights, while others will use flags and scrims to optimize the light. John says the new light kits will help students make documentaries, as well as indie narratives.

This summer John worked with Telecom professors and UITS to improve the production functionality of RTV 250. They purchased licenses for the video game engine Unity 3; a very expensive buy, but wholly necessary to stay current in game development. Game engines are the static (yet malleable) building blocks for games, establishing basics like physics, lighting, and textures. Unity goes even further, offering enough ready-made coding to bring the process of creating a game much closer to the fun (and, more importantly, “ease”) of playing a game. It is software like this that helps researchers make their own experimental treatments. It’s also a great set of training wheels for burgeoning designers, most of whom – even and especially in big, multi-million dollar studios – will use engines for the rest of their lives. Asking an M.S. student to create a game without an existent engine is akin to having an M.A. student build a typewriter to complete a term paper. In other words, this license acquisition is a glorious addition for our gaming-minded grads.

RTV 250 also got a much more tangible upgrade: a rearrangement of desks that eschews a lecture-style layout in favor of a setting conducive for group learning. The old setup was standard fare, with rows of desks facing the main projector. Anyone who has used a computer for more than checking email can tell you that learning about interactive media is a socially interactive affair. Often students learn as much from their classmates as from the teacher. Now, a four-pod desk sits up front, while most of the other desks are pressed against the walls.  That creates a roundtable-style classroom. John worked with Professor Ted Castronova and UITS to conceptualize and implement this new design. There will also be a large table for more organized collaboration. It will over the holiday break. The room is now easier for teachers too, John explained, because the new design permits a panopticon-esque method of observation and moderation. “It’s better for everyone,” John said.

Looking forward, John said he wants to look into acquiring a multiplexer. A multiplexer replaces the old-school wall of televisions with one massive screen that can be customized to fit displays for particular shows. “It empowers students,” John said. “Instructors can teach them to design their optimal layout. This is something they will all encounter when they enter the field. It isn’t uncommon for a production assistant to carry around their customized layouts as a file in their pocket, to have with them for implementation wherever they go.”

John would like to remind people that the Telecom production equipment is for the benefit of all students of production – even researchers, even amateurs, and even those who do not belong to the department. “Overall, there are more and more students that are interested in making films,” John said. “The goal is to get the gear into the hands of as many of those students as possible. The production equipment is available to all IU students, regardless of their major.” Of course, priority is given to students enrolled in Telecom production classes; it’s best to request equipment at either the beginning or the end of the semester, or even over the summer, especially for long-term projects. “Anything is up for use,” John said. This includes production spaces like Studio 5, as well.

If you have any desire to work on your own drama, soundtrack, or first-person shooter, talk to John. Anyway, all request forms for use of production facilities and equipment get sent to him. Talk to him about what your project needs – you might find that professional-level production isn’t too hard, after all! You can find out more about the production lab and its facilities, equipment, and people by clicking here.

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