Whether the CD-Rom and other interactive media are dead or merely resting depends largely on the quality of graduates who make them their career. Tim Greenhalgh followed a cohort through their final year
As the multimedia industry braces itself for more "right-sizing", students graduating with specific skills and a vocation in the sector might be wondering if they should have chosen a different destination. The scale of the primary shake-out is alarming but at Middlesex University's Cat Hill campus, Stephen Boyd Davies has some counsel for his recent graduates of the master for interactive media at the Centre for Electronic Arts that takes a longer perspective.
He sees recent restructuring in the industry as indicative of a culture which often accepts poorly thought-out and executed products. "Multimedia, particularly CD-Roms are not a 'must-have' and people are hardened to the hype now. This means that content rich and innovative material needs to be created. But there is still scope for many kinds of interactive multimedia. People often make the mistake of thinking that there is only one," he says. He and course co-leader Gordon Davies attempt to ensure that their students do not fall into the trap of repetition and complacency. Broad criteria for a successful course are that projects look sound, behave well and the ideas are thought through deeply and innovatively .
Students demonstrate a high level of technical competence as well as new ideas. Both are essential as students go back into the jobs economy or enter there for the first time. Funding from BT allows students to develop ideas in ways that the formal course budget may preclude and also gives BT fresh points of view on elements they consider useful, particularly virtual environments. One student, Helena Athoussaki, has accepted a post at the Human Factors division, Martlesham where she will explore interaction in shared spaces. Andrew Kirkwood, who maintains the connection between BT and the course, says the loose partnership brings significant benefits to both.
"The course produces very good interactive designers who are always looking to push back the boundaries in this area. We can set students problems and they will come back with bizarre and unusual ways of seeing a solution. Out of 40 students, ten will produce something good and one will produce something fantastic."
"We can also provide students with a perspective on multimedia applied in a business environment with market values."
The course prides itself on being ahead in the realm of ideas and use of technical innovation. Its leaders developed the idea of the course from the base of short courses for industry they ran at Middlesex University. It is industry-aware but not hobbled by constraints in a culture of rapid change. Students are given a high level of personal responsibility in defining, planning and managing their projects, developing group work and project management skills. "We try to phase in what the students learn technically so that they don't feel that multimedia is an impossible task. They are encouraged to explore most possibilities and to become completely familiar with all aspects of the computer as a tool," Stephen Boyd Davies says.
There is a deliberately wide range of age and experience on the course and students say that this is the most valuable part. The multidisciplinary structure also allows students to exchange information and experience. But he is not against "the infatuation with technology" and encourages the students to explore the undiscovered potential of the media and the means. One of the projects, Unveiling Kings Cross, hopes to win funding from the Millennium Commission while others may be taken up by commercial multimedia houses. The students, whose final project work is sketched left, arrived at Middlesex from many original points and plan diverse new routes, including setting up their own companies and working outside mainstream work cultures.
"We are not just producing pixel-pushers. These students are in demand and often have previous skills that they can bring to new work as well as the knowledge they have gained studying for their MA."
Web site: http://www.cea. mdx.ac.uk/cea/dim96.html
Concept: Second chapter of ten in a CD-Rom game environment that plays on the many creature myths but is not culturally specific. Based on uncertainty and intuition with visual and auditory clues that can guide a user through the creation of a balanced new world.
Main applications: Director, Photoshop.
Authors: Matthew Greenhalgh, Julia Gloer, Sara Kelly, Mahesh Ramachandra.
Background mix: philosophy, fine art, English and drama, photography.
Concept: Platform for an alternative means of communication and a way of group exploration of musical forms across the Web. Navigation using sound and icon. Economic on graphics to emphasise auditory nature of the experience. Six sound tracks that can be infinitely manipulated, edited and shared in new form with other users.
Main applications: HyperMidi, Director, Photoshop. Freehand, SoundEdit16.
Authors: Richard Pang, Luke Thompson-Coon.
Background mix: graphic design, website design.
Concept: Rapid development project, a prototype of a multimedia email application allowing sound, animation and graphics to be contained in the body of a message. The team also worked on Mobile, the CD-Rom exhibiting the work of students on the course.
Main applications: Director (Lingo) Authors: Laura Nield, Keith Nation, Stephen Hamilton.
Background mix: fine art, design, journalism, publishing, marketing.
Concept: Website and screensaver developed from the Channel 4 programme. The challenge was to keep up with the Eurotrash sense of irony and sarcasm faced with the contradiction that the Internet is an interactive medium and TV is not. The aim was to achieve a balance between interaction and "in your face" one-way delivery.
Main applications: Director, Shockwave, Photoshop.
Authors: Shereen Safadi, Juliette Langlois.
Background mix: graphic information design.
Concept: Three-dimensional browser parody. The mega corporations have taken over the Web and control ideas through its interface. An underworld fights back with an alternative virtual space.
Main applications:Director, Strata Studio Pro.
Authors: Dinah Challen, Garry Samett, Frosoula Taliadorou, Richard Thompson, David Scanlon.
Background mix: Fine art, video production, graphics design, magazine publishing.
Concept: Enhanced CD with an Internet connection developed for the James Taylor Quartet. This CD allows fans to experience the music in an entertaining and highly interactive visual environment.
Main applications: Director, Adobe Premiere.
Authors: Claire Calcluth, Apostolos Logaras, Annabel Moffatt, Marie-Therese Wolf.
Background mix: marketing, databases, languages, computing.
Project: Unveiling King's Cross
Concept: Touch screen exploration of 200 years in a history of London King's Cross area underpinned by the epic verse "Vale Royal" of local poet Aiden Dunn.
Main applications: QuickTimeVR, Adobe AfterEffects, Director, Morph.
Authors: Mediha Boran. Mimi Escudero, Lena Hassan, Simon Pickford.
Background mix: Multimedia design, art and design, education, science publishing.
Concept: The Intranet system for film production with applications in construction and other industries which includes videoconferencing and white board collaboration. Aim is to produce a production management tool built on TCP/IP architecture that allows full cross-platform collaboration and information exchange.
Main applications: Movie Magic, Schedule+, Excel, Microsoft Word, Now-Up-To-Date, CU-SeeMe.
Author: Grethe Mitchell.
Background mix: Film production.
Concept: An adventure in language. CD-Rom format with possible Internet link. The emphasis is on intuitive exploration and fun as a means of learning languages using avatars to explore the areas. A fully animated version is planned.
Main applications: Macromedia Director, Strata Studio Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator.
Authors: Steve Chadwick, Samudra Weerasekera, Steve Woods.
Background mix: Language teaching, educational software development, fine arts, commercial animation.
Project: Sex, Lies and Binary Logic
Concept: An installation. Challenging the concept of "information as use". Entertainment and engagement in a theatrical experience that envelops the subject in a binary logic of "yes and no". A lie detector test with rich stream of invective for those caught out. And the machine is in control.
Main applications: Director (Lingo).
Authors: Mike Guida, Mark Winstanley Background mix: medical and health communications, nutrition research programmes.
Project: Time Surfer
Concept: Who do you want to be today? A play on the Microsoft ad campaign and an exploration of interactivity in virtual spaces as well as an educational tool. The visitor can adopt a personality by choosing a face and clothes for an avatar and the entering one of three ancient worlds.
Main applications: Strata Studio Pro, Cosmo Creator.
Authors: Helen Athoussaki, Taline Olmessekian.
Background mix: Technological graphic design.
Project: Virtual Visit
Concept: Web-based VRML visit to the Middlesex Campus that employs standard browser and helper application for shared spaces where avatars can be used for real-time communication. First part of a project for use as a Web information resource.
Authors: Daphne Economou, Katie Mavri, Donald Thomas.
Background mix: printing, graphic arts, visual communication design.