MFA Winter Thesis Show

The IMD class of 2010 is proud to present: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, an exhibition of thesis projects in-progress.

Participating Exhibitors: Lulu Cao, Ala’ Diab, Bryan Jaycox, Cynthia Nie, Taiyoung Ryu, Nahil Sharkasi, Peter Van Dyke, Brandi Wilcox.

The third years have been slaving away and it’s time to officially unveil what progress we’ve made. We are located at the IMD Collaboratory (not the former 555 space), which has limited parking available. Please come check out what we’ve been working on, play with some prototypes, and chat with us about what you think!

Sustenance, both mental and otherwise, will be provided!

Hit the jump to see project descriptions and map.


guest lecture | 20 october 2009 | ctin499

Editorial: Craft & Tools, Craft v. Tools.

James Haygood


James Haygood, one of the pre- and post-millenial decades’ most respected editors, will discuss editing process, the way in which contemporary tools both influence and impede editorial choices, and the possibility of a new workflow that first enables and then depends on a more explicit integration of editorial activity into the broader production effort.

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JAMES HAYGOOD (Editor) began working with David Fincher in San Francisco in 1985 when Fincher left ILM to direct music videos. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1989, Haygood continued working on music videos with Fincher and other directors, for such artists as Madonna, Aerosmith, Paula Abdul and The Rolling Stones, receiving two MTV Awards, a Clio Award and numerous other industry accolades.

In 1992, Haygood launched Superior Assembly, a commercial editing company, which created TV spots for clients including Nike, Coke, AT&T and Nissan. He left the company in 2001, and now is a partner at Union Editorial in Los Angeles.

In 1997, he edited his first feature film for Fincher on the action thriller “The Game,” and continued his collaboration with the acclaimed director on the hit films “Fight Club” and “Panic Room.” Haygood then worked as an additional editor on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; edited six episodes of the HBO series “Unscripted,” for director George Clooney; cut the independent feature “Lies & Alibis,” for directors Kurt Matilla and Matt Chekowski and in 2006 “The Astronaut Farmer” with Michael & Mark Polish. During 2007 and 2008 he edited “Where The Wild Things Are” along with co-editor Eric Zumbrunnen.

Haygood’s upcoming project is the sequel to the 1982 cult classic “Tron”, set for a 2010 release.

guest lecture | 22 september 2009 | ctin499

VFX: Pipeline, Bottlenecks, Workflow, Process.

John Nelson


John Nelson, accomplished visual effects supervisor of such monumental efforts as Iron Man, Gladiator, and I, Robot, speaks about the role of VFX in modern filmmaking, how the discipline has been integrated into the larger production process, and opportunities for refining elements of the effects workflow.

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John Nelson graduated with high distinction from the University of Michigan in 1976 with a Bachelors in General Studies. After college, he made several films that won awards at film festivals and moved to California in 1979 to work for Robert Abel and Associates, first as a cameraman, then as a technical director and finally as a director. He was nominated for Clio awards six times, winning twice. In 1987, he moved to Germany to help set up the German company Mental Images GMBH. Upon returning to the US John went to work for Industrial Light & Magic where he animated several key scenes in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), most notably where the shotgunned head of the chrome terminator re-seals itself.

John VFX supervised Stay Tuned (1992) for Rhythm & Hues Studios, and In the Line of Fire (1993), My Life (1993/I), The Pelican Brief (1993), Wolf (1994), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Judge Dredd (1995), The Cable Guy (1996) and City of Angels (1998) for Sony Pictures Imageworks.

In 1998 Mr. Nelson left Sony to Senior VFX supervise Gladiator (2000) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (2001). After K19: The Widowmaker (2002) and the Centropolis sections of The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003), Mr. Nelson supervised all the VFX in I, Robot (2004) and Iron Man (2008) both of which were nominated for the Academy Award in Visual Effects. John is currently working on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) and is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Visual Effects Society, the the International Cinematographers Guild and the Director’s Guild of America.

GameLayers from PMOG to Dictator Wars

Dictator Wars reigns

I graduated from this program in June 2007. Thanks to some fantastic collaborators we were able to raise some funding and we turned my IMD thesis project PMOG into a business venture. In July 2007 we founded a company, GameLayers, on two essential principles: we wanted to leverage the internet to provide content for games, and we wanted to make games that people could play even if they were busy doing other things.

This is the story of what happened to PMOG, what’s happening with GameLayers, and how we came to build Dictator Wars, our new game on Facebook:


guest lecture | 8 september 2009 | ctin499

Making Movies is Hard Fun: Building Tools for Telling Stories

Michael B. Johnson, PhD.


Making movies is a complex, collaborative, creative activity. At Pixar, they don’t pretend to know exactly what they’re doing, but they do have a process. They trust the process, but they constantly test and refine it, based on the stories they want to tell, the resources they have to tell them, and most importantly – the people who want to tell them.

Technology and art go hand in hand at Pixar – each challenges and reinforces the other. Technologist Michael B. Johnson, a Pixarian since he joined as in intern in 1993, has been involved in most of Pixar’s feature films and short films. He will share his perspective on the Pixar film-making process; one which involves both creative story tellers that want things they don’t understand how to make and flexible technologists who are more concerned with empowering their users than winning an argument with them.

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Dr. Michael B. Johnson leads the Moving Pictures Group at Pixar Animation Studios. His group is responsible for the design, implementation and support of the pre-production pipeline for Pixar features and shorts. This includes Story, Editorial, Art and the review process. His team works directly with the directors, editors, producers, production designers, art directors, artists and production folks who start the process of bringing Pixar stories to the screen.

Dr. Johnson has been at Pixar since 1993, and has has written tools for all of Pixar’s feature films (and many of their short films), including storyboarding, pre-viz, layout, animation, modeling, lighting, rendering, and editorial tools.

Prior to Pixar, Michael attended the University of Illinois where he earned his undergraduate degree in Computer Science Engineering. He studied abroad for a year in Swansea, Wales and also worked for NCSA, Thinking Machines, IBM and MIT’s Media Lab. He completed his Masters of Science in Visual Studies and his PhD in computer Graphics and Animation at the MIT Media Lab, where Dr. Edwin Catmull (founder of Pixar) was on his thesis committee. He lives in Oakland CA with his wife and daughter.

Immersive Moviemaking: Gestural Interface for Cinematic Design (CTIN 499)


CTIN 499 is a course about moviemaking and media production; about gestural interface and new technologies that immerse practitioners more completely in the work of creation; about making production profoundly nonlinear, so that its elements are brought into re-entrant contact with each other. And so it’s about process: the organizational structures and the flows of effort — human and technological — that together shape media production. Film, whose own methodologies are sliding and being pushed sideways from analog to digital, will serve as an anchor for our inquiry, but the workflows that attend animation, interactive media creation, experience design, and game production are the topic no less.

Just abutting film’s imminent transformation, human-machine interface is about to slip the bonds of the mouse-based GUI’s twenty-five year monopoly. What’s next is the spatial operating environment. The SOE’s acknowledgment of the embodied, real-world nature of humans and pixels alike enables a new style of interaction: gestural, direct, as expressive as hands must be allowed to be.

In this project-centered course, then, we’ll survey present-day workflows (with frequent guest-addresses from industry domain experts) and so form an understanding of where and how and by what forces true nonlinear production is currently impeded. In parallel, student teams will undertake three comprehensive tool-building projects. Each team will focus on one particular production domain in order to (1) conceptualize and storyboard a new tool or toolset; (2) author a proof-of-concept video ‘simulation’ of the tool; and finally (3) construct a working, interactive prototype of the tool atop the g-speak SOE.

By year end, the three-project packages from the class’s teams should provide a compelling glimpse of future production workflow.

[ instructors: alex mcdowell & john underkoffler; syllabus; flower street annex location; schedule: tuesdays 6-8.45p ]

The Pirate Bay Creates Interactive Map of Torrent Connections

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Pretty cool development: The Pirate Bay has created an interactive map of torrent connections around the world. It’s obviously not 100% accurate as it doesn’t include all torrent trackers across the internet, but it does give a little bit of insight into the behavior of one set of users. It’s separated by country and as of writing it looks like the US is responsible for 8.37% compared to China’s 25.75%.

Check out the map here.

Cultural Appropriateness: A misguided Missile!


This one comes from Techradar:

a Dubai-based game company Game Power 7 is bringing Rappelz, the korean MMO game, to the middle eastern gaming market.

In a nationalistic twist, they’re renaming the game ‘Hope of the Nations’. And did I mention that it’s 1.5 GB dowload? Local ISPs brace yourselves..

Besides the head-scratching attempt at trying to make money of a nascent, bootleg-ridden market, the company is making many changes to the games look and feel; the music and the characters’ appearance in the game, among others.

It would be interesting to see how it performs financially in a non-credit-card economy of the middle east.

Playstation 3/Gamebryo Workshop December 1st


Next Monday, December 1st will be a demonstration of the Gamebryo game engine and the Playstation 3 development kit, showing a method of creating current-generation games. You might remember the Gamebryo engine from such games as Oblivion and Civilization IV, and I imagine folks have heard of the latest incarnation of the Playstation. Both are potentially available for student use – This workshop will show how to create an animated scene (complete with shiny stuff like normal mapping), import and interact with it in a Gamebryo executable with minimal C++ code, and then compile the Gamebryo code and play it on the Playstation 3 console.

The workshop will be on Monday, December 1st from 1-4pm in the ZML and will probably end up at the Game Innovation Lab next door. Students and others interested please email

Eidos Attempting to Artificially Inflate Reviews of a New Game… Again

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In case you missed it, Tomb Raider: Underworld was recently released to mediocre reviews and even less excitement, but the kicker was this twitter message posted by Guy Cocker, UK editor for Gamespy:

call from Eidos–if you’re planning on reviewing Tomb Raider Underworld at less than an 8.0, we need you to hold your review till Monday.

It was later confirmed (and then denied, of course) by two different industry spokespeople that Eidos was indeed trying to stifle low reviews of the new Tomb Raider game in order to keep metacritic ratings high.

This is not the first time this has happened – not too long ago Eidos embroiled itself in controversy over Kane & Lynch for posting fake reviews/scores of the game on its website. This was in response to a slew of bad reviews the game received because it was – get this – not that good of a game.

The overwhelming opinion of the internet is that the best way to stack metacritic scores is to make a good game. Sounds right to me.