I started at Nottingham Trent in September 2001. This was only the third year the multimedia courses had been run. The multimedia production course was sold to me on the grounds it had been designed to bridge the gap between techie guys and artists. Because of this aim there had been discussions about which department should run the course, the university art department or the computer science department. It was decided the computer science department should run the course.
The mix of arts and technology meant the university accepted a wide range of students onto the course. Considering I had done maths, physics and geography at A-level, and had done a year of physics at The University of Nottingham I counted myself as techie. I had done graphic design GCSE but my high school teacher was a bit behind the times and expected us to draw text by hand and paint images in watercolour instead of using Photoshop. There were others on the course who had done arts foundation courses and hadn’t done maths or science since GCSE.
There was a wide range of modules. Some were obviously technology based, like the programming and optics modules, but others had room for more creative input, like the audio production, video production and Flash modules. Unfortunately in a lot of cases, because the course was run by the computer science department, even these modules became a lot more about the technology rather than the creativity. This would have been acceptable if we had got to go deep into the tech, but because half of the students had no science or maths background the classes moved slowly and never got advanced enough to be useful. This became really frustrating as it felt we were stuck in the middle of the technology and creative sides of the topic and not doing either properly.
This wasn’t the case with all of the modules. The video production classes were run by two teachers who had plenty of experience in the profession and they covered the whole gamut of disciplines from camera work and lighting to interview technique, editing and sound recording. The 3D Studio Max module was the one topic that was taught by a member of the art department and they did a good job of getting the art/tech balance right.
Because most of the teaching was about the technology, a project would get full marks if it technically worked, regardless of how it looked. One example was a project where we had to make an interactive CD ROM (those were the days). We had had very little guidance about interface design so the lecturers could only give marks on how well the disc worked and not on how it looked. In some cases the interface design was so bad you had to search for the menu items but as long as it worked once you found it you got the marks.
One of the most obvious signs of the lack of influence from the creative industry on the course was the almost complete use of Windows PCs. To start with we only had Adobe Premier to edit with. I know you can do creative work on a PC but at the time most of the creative media companies I had visited or worked at were predominantly Mac based. I had a Mac myself but most of the students left their multimedia degree having never used a Mac.
In the second year I put myself forward as student rep so I could raise student issues about the course to the course leaders. They asked us what new equipment we might need for our final year projects and over the summer they got three Final Cut Pro suites which they set up in individual soundproofed booths.
Our final year project was worth a large part of our degree’s marks. We were allowed to work in groups or as an individual. I teamed up with Andy Needham. We always wanted to produce a music video but the lecturers were reluctant to let us. They wanted us to show we could shoot technically good video. Previous music video projects had used effects to cover bad camera work or claimed it was part of the style. We agreed to storyboard the whole video before shooting and shoot a planned, well lit, video. After a few false starts we found a band willing to be part of our project, Leicester based trio Misterlee.
One of the disciplines you needed to demonstrate to get a 1st class degree was to show self learning. We had not been taught anything about DVDs so we decided we would learn how to author a DVD of our project. As part of the DVD we thought we should produce a 5.1 surround sound mix of the music. We also filmed one of the band’s gigs and interviewed Lee, the lead singer. We took photos and designed all of the artwork for the DVD menus, packaging and a full colour booklet that was included. We also recreated most of the DVD content as a hybrid audio CD and interactive CD ROM.
Our music video required some visual effects so we also had to teach ourselves After Effects so we could create those. The new edit suites were reserved for final year students but surprisingly not many of the students decided to do video work for the final year projects. This meant we had one of the Final Cut suites to ourselves for the final 6 months of our course. No one on the course had used After Effects, Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro so we often had members of staff looking in and watching while we worked.
You can see our finished music video below.
One of the things our course did take from the art department was the idea of a final year show. The students had to organise and promote the show and everyone’s work had to be ready to display to members of the public and industry professionals. The organisation of the show was supposed to be shared between all of the students, with marks awarded to their final degree. In the end only a handful of the students did their share of the work and the exhibition didn’t quite reach its potential.
I have been quite critical of the course, but like I said, a lot has changed in the department since I was there. I went to give a lecture there at the end of 2009 and I was pleasantly surprised with the new facilities they had. I did learn a lot from the course and I don’t regret doing it.
I think the idea of trying to teach the topics in the gap between technology and creativity is a pretty big task. The range of topics in a multimedia course is massive. While I was on the course I felt that if I was making a music video I should be the one to shoot it, edit it, do the VFX, make the packaging, author the DVD and mix the audio. I’m glad I did it all at uni but in reality that never happens. Professionals tend to be much more specialised.
Now I know where I have ended up I look back and think I would have been better off doing a more specific degree, but at the time, and even for several years after I graduated, I didn’t really know what I really wanted to do.
I look back at the visual effects on the music video with a bit of a cringe but when I meet up with Andy and talk about what we are doing now (he has recently worked on Take That, Coldplay and Fun Lovin’ Criminals music videos) I can’t help but think about our months working on them with a smile.