It’s difficult to describe what exactly one does as a Media Designer. Prior to this first semester of graduate work I would have likely explained that the work of a media designer is centered around creating artwork that in some way represents and supports the world of the play. I also may well have said that a Media Designer is a person who works to erase the boundaries between the set and projection. A designer who works with light that isn’t light in the strictest theatrical sense, a scenic designer who doesn’t work with sets in the strictest theatrical sense.
Now, after assisting on a production at Arizona State University, I might be more hesitant to describe a Media Designer the same way. In many ways the work is so much larger than I could have imagined. In hindsight I’d say that my vision was limited by a full understanding of the challenges, obstacles, and options. These things are difficult to understand abstractly, and only truly become obvious when they are manifest around a particular issue that needs to be solved.
It is interesting that I would have imagined that the primary work of the designer would be in the creation of the artwork itself. This is a beautiful and romantic idea, but in reality the work of creating content is only a small part of this particular role. Instead, central to the successful implementation of a mediated space, the designer is challenged to resolve issues of how to cover surfaces with projection (read as: using angular geometry to calculate the position of projectors), designing an interconnected system of computers and projectors to realize an artistic vision,consistent playback (read as: determining the most advantageous use of playback systems in regards to questions of stability and ease of use for an operator), programming said media systems, mapping the geometry of surfaces for projection, blending and masking the edges of projection, and of course creating the artwork that fills the surfaces.
This is complicated, of course, by the fact that it’s difficult to see these as independent variables. Instead many of these exist as dependent variables – each problem and solution nested or connected to countless others. Each solution or problem with consequences that are difficult to anticipate your first time around.
All of that to say that this particular work is more than meets the eye, which stands as a rather ironic statement given how much actually does meet one’s eye. It’s not unusual for the invisible challenges of a particular role to be larger than one expects, but the challenges I continually find myself facing are ever more surprising in their dependency on mathematics and computation for solution. I suppose that it some come as no surprise that mathematics would be a useful tool in regards to operating a computer, but it has surprised me that understanding the computational problems of these challenges provides for the best insight about their solutions.
This has truly been a whirlwind of an experience. I think I’ve learned more in working on this production than I could have learned in any class on the subject. Educationally that makes for a compelling case in favor of project based learning. That said, in terms of assessment it’s difficult to capture and measure what precisely I’ve learned. Further, it’s difficult to determine outright if these problem-solving skills with transfer to other domains or even other similar projects. I suppose in that sense I’ll be my own longitudinal study.
Though, in truth that’s really what education is for any individual. That’s what education is trying so desperately to unpack, to standardize, to measure, and to reproduce. Does solving problems in real-world scenarios with high stakes make for the best learning? Sometimes. Does abstract conceptual exploration and investigation work to make creative thinkers? Sometimes. At least in this case I got to make some art out of it.