A ‘moveable feast’ for students

By CiaraShook

For the first time in its 120 year history, Columbia has commissioned an entirely new academic building in Chicago’s South Loop.  After years in the making, the groundbreaking new building, known as the Media Production Center, opened its doors to Columbia students today, kicking off the start of the spring semester.

Making the MPC a reality has been in the works for seven years and after a quick 12 months of construction, it is complete; with two sound stages, a motion capture studio and other facilities to deliver an optimum education to Columbia’s media students. The building is designed to  fit the needs of students in the Film and Video, Interactive Arts and Media and Television departments.

The one-and-a-half story building sits at the southwest corner of 16th and State streets, with every other

window a translucent color reflecting thecolor bars of television test patterns.

The MPC is eco-friendly, as it was built with a green roof containing 50 percent vegetation for energy efficiency, a measure taken to achieve a LEED certification.

The vegetation sitting atop the sound stages will also serve as a sound barrier from outside noise.

Jeanne Gang, of Studio Gang Architects in Chicago, designed the complex around her knowledge of filmmaking.

“She asked me what my top 10 films were,” said Doreen Bartoni, dean of the School of Media Arts. “She studied those films and incorporated her knowledge of film into the design of the building.”

Gang created subtle learning experiences for the students by emulating a frame within a frame, a long shot and a wide-angle shot.

“As you walk up the ramp, you think, ‘I want to get a camera. I want to start shooting.’ That’s what she’s trying to trigger,” Bartoni said.

Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, said the building of the MPC has been an incredibly successful project, as the $21 million building was built on schedule and under budget.

“We worked diligently with the architect [Gang], making sure we got a building that will be not primarily an architecturally significant building, but a building that will be a fabulous place for students to learn the art of filmmaking and the art of interactive arts and media and creating a space that a lot of different departments can work together [in],” Berg said.

Annette Barbier, chair of the Interactive Arts and Media Department, said the opening of the MPC will give the department more opportunities to interact with people from various fields throughout the college.

“We’d like to work with dancers and artists both from our department and from other departments on creating art from data capture or one means or another,” Barbier said.

Bartoni describes the way the students will learn at the MPC is through a “moveable feast.”

“Oftentimes when people are using a soundstage or any sort of studio, a lot of the production doesn’t have to be shot for 15 weeks,” Bartoni said. “What we’re going to be able to do is utilize that space on a needs basis. They will be in the appropriate space for the appropriate teaching experience.”

Film and Video Chair Bruce Sheridan said Columbia has the largest film program in the country, but the students have no means of producing their work on sound stages, and most, if not all projects needed to be shot on-location in a limited time frame. Bruce Sheridan compared on-location film shooting to guerilla warfare, and how after the shooting is done, filmmakers need to pack up and leave. He said all of last year’s production occurred in two months because it was all on location and was subject to permitting weather.

“You don’t know what’s going to go wrong next,” Sheridan said.

With the opening of the Media Production Center in January 2010, the Film and Video Department will be able to produce and practice filmmaking year-round at every level or scale, Sheridan said.

“We suddenly go from an effective window of two months to 12 months for our students to be able to work at that level of filmmaking, and to be a filmmaker you’ve got to practice it a lot,” Sheridan said.

Bartoni said Sheridan’s approach is to let students experience filmmaking from the very first day.

“When the students are taking foundation courses, they’ll have an opportunity to view what’s going on, on the screen and stage,” Bartoni said. “We have sound stages, but they’re connected to TV monitors in classrooms, and we have bleachers in the main sound stage so students can watch.”

Michael Niederman, chair of the Television Department, said because the department now has access to sound stages, instructors will be able to provide a different learning experience to their classes.

“In addition to normal sound stages, we designed the MPC so the School of Media Arts remote truck will be able to be pulled up to the MPC, hooked in, and you can literally turn one of the sound stages into a multi-camera studio, which gives us the opportunity to do all sorts of things we couldn’t do before,” Niederman said.

Niederman said with the new resource of the MPC, the Television Department has started planning on shooting a sitcom in April from one of the sound stages.

Columbia President Warrick L. Carter said though it took the college awhile to erect the MPC, it was done right.

“It will be a facility that will clearly be the envy of media arts education in the country and probably around the globe,” Carter said. “It makes [it] possible to integrate instruction the way we couldn’t before. It will positively impact our students and provide them with a curriculum that’s better related to the industry.”