The “new” media is the message

In Arts & Life /

By Dorin Grunwald

A gigantic, slimy green fire-breathing monster with blazing hot coals for eyes is about to roast a colony of hysterical screaming peasants, their corn crops and their pitiful village of thatched hurts. Your heart races as the creature moves in the obliterate the miserable village in one hot breath.

You want to hide your eyes from the terrible destruction about to occur on the big screen, but are quietly alerted by the movie to determine the fate of the villagers by selecting one of several scenarios on a touch-screen computer console.

A moment later, the ugly monster and the villagers … well, that’s for the audience to decide.

It’s a concept called interactive theatre (or a virtual experience) and it’s just one example of what Ryerson’s new media students are exploring in their program.

There is much debate about what exactly new media is. The new media program, which is barely known by other Ryerson students, is difficult to define in one sentence. Even Mark Lannutti, a fourth-year new media student, says head n his classmates can’t pin it down.

“New media is in the middle of defining itself and a lot of us have felt lost because of that,” says Lannutti. “But at the same time [Ryerson] is a great place to be, somewhere where you can actually help define a program.”

So far, “new media” means combining photography, film, and digital media with the technology of computers while studying what such media integration means.

Lannutti is in the first graduating class of the program. It was created in 1995 becoming the third program in the School of Image Arts. Image arts students did new media work before, but only as part of a film or photography degree.

Alexandra Bal, the director of the new media program, says that in the past four years the program has undergone drastic changes as new technology has been incorporated into the curriculum.

“Every year we do tend to tweak and start tightening what we do,” says Bal.

Taking this into consideration, it isn’t surprising to hear Lannutti refer to his class as the “guinea pigs” or the “problem year.”

“A lot of us struggle with the way our program is structured because we don’t really know who to compare ourselves with,” says Lannutti. “We’re not a technical school and we’re not a pure arts school, we’re somewhere in the middle.”

The challenge of the new media program, like many programs at Ryerson, is to combine the use of theory with the practical application of technical skills.

Bal says the program puts practical training and education hand-in-hand, essentially preparing students for any number of responsibilities in the workplace.

“If we were only doing practical [training], we wouldn’t be doing [the students] a favour,” says Bal. “It would be great in terms of getting a wonderful job as soon as you graduate but not really allowing for advancement within their own field.”

It is difficult to measure how Ryerson’s soon-to-be-new media graduates will fare when they venture out into the real world. Like Lannutti, some might bring their expertise to the world of interactive commercial entertainment, while others will work in areas like web design, commercial animation, and the film industry.

Until then, Lannutti says he’s going to get as much out of the program as he can.

“I think that what Ryerson’s trying to teach us is how to produce these intellectual pieces that can really enthrall people and entertain them but at the same time make them think about things.”

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