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Samuel Dong Saul

Episode 131 – Now in 6K: New Integrated Media Arts Program

Our host Katie Nord discusses media and art in our society, with Samuel Dong Saul, assistant professor at the School of Art and Design as well as learns information about the upcoming opportunities in the Integrated Media Arts Program and how students can register

Our host Katie Nord discusses media and art in our society, with Samuel Dong Saul, assistant professor at the School of Art and Design as well as shares information about the upcoming opportunities in the Integrated Media Arts Program and how students can register. (Running time 15:52)



Katie: Hi everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of The Bear in Mind Podcast. I'm your host, Katie Nord. Let's get started. We're currently living in an age that's completely consumed with media, but how can we combine that with art? There's animation, video game design, motion graphics, and even VR. The School of Art and Design has announced a brand new area of focus called Integrated Media Arts. Today we have Assistant Professor Samuel Dong Saul   joining us today to talk about all things art and media in our culture, as well as how students can learn from this curricular pathway. Welcome. Thanks for joining me. 

Sam: Yeah, thank you for having me. 

Katie: First off, I'll just have you introduce yourself real quick. I'd love to know a little bit about your position, how long you've been in the arts and anything else you'd like us to know. 

Sam: Of course. My name is Samuel Dong Saul. I'm an assistant professor here at the School of Art and Design at UNC. I guess I've been in the arts for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I was always drawing, and when video games came out, I was also interested in the concept art, the concept side of video games. And now that I have an opportunity to build a program based on those passions as a kid, it's just really exciting. 

Katie: Exactly. Kind of like providing something you wish you could have done when you were in college. 

Sam: Absolutely. It's a way of how can you make your hobbies work. It's a great opportunity. 

Katie: And making it accessible to everyone too, which is even more fun. Let everyone else enjoy it too. 

Sam: Absolutely. 

Katie: What inspired you and your team to create this area of focus, and what was the process like for designing and getting it all approved by the school? 

Sam: The idea originally came with collaboration with the director of the school, Donna Goodwin, and graphic design professor Mark Fetkewicz. There's been a lot of classes to be rebuilt and updated towards more contemporary type of curriculum. I think I would attribute that most of this research was done by Donna, since she's been in the school, understanding what the students needs are, and she's been going to a lot of conferences and knows where this direction could go. When I started here in fall of 2022, that's when we started to building a plan. Some of my expertise on contemporary design with Donna's research on what the students need really was a gateway to create this type of project. Now, the interesting part was that this was a highly collaborative initiative. The one thing that is really incredible working at UNC is that I was able to talk to a lot of different departments on campus. English, journalism and communication, music, theater, technology. With meeting with them individually, I started to gather information of what some of the areas and gaps that they're looking for in their programs at the same time, also some commonalities that they already have. A lot of the integrated media art and digital media in general is bits and pieces on different departments. We didn't want to create a program that will duplicate the work of other areas, but rather enhance the existing courses at the university. 

Katie: Exactly. It's always so exciting to hear that there's new things up and coming and things that we haven't had before getting added. It was also a worry of mine that since I'm not an art major, I was hesitant to take art classes. But it's cool to know that this program is something that feels accessible to anyone and everyone, which I'm really excited about personally. 

Sam: Of course, the way that it was built, because such a highly collaborative program, students from journalism and communication and English, they can take these classes. 

Katie: And that's the way to do it, honestly. Since you mentioned earlier that you're a pretty big fan of video games since you were a kid, up until now. Is there anything about video games that inspired you to learn more about Integrated Media Arts and the style just as a whole? 

Sam: Yes, that's an incredibly loaded question, but I think if I can simplify it, it it's just the storytelling part of it. I think video games is one of those fields that it requires so much collaboration. You have musicians, you have programmers, you have artists, you have project managers that it's such a large endeavor that at the same time is daunting but inspiring. Having an opportunity to develop classes that focuses on cross-disciplinary collaboration between students from different areas and departments and within artists themselves. I think it was a big inspiration and buying from a lot of the faculty to develop classes that would truly enrich the students with experiences that parallel professional current practices in the industry. 

Katie: Yeah, and who knows, maybe somebody taking these classes will end up being one of the developers for a new future game that ends up being really big and popular. I'm a pretty big fan of video games myself. I've always been really inspired by the more indie games. So like, Celeste is really pretty or Hollow Knight. I just love the art and the style, and you can tell how much love and passion was put into the game by the team and the animators and the artists and the writers. It's really impressive. I love that part of it. 

Sam: Yes, and that's the kind of knowledge that you will be gaining in some of these classes. Right? We have game design one through four, so game design one, two, three and four. In this path you can truly gain that experience of whether you want to go through concept art or you want to go more of the programing direction. We're really trying to curate and adapt to the students individual needs. 

Katie: Yeah. And what are the courses that will be offered in this program? 

Sam: Yes. So like you mentioned within the focus area there's different pathways. One of the pathways is game design. So in game design we have classes that we really want to solidify the foundations like life drawing. Why would you think life drawing is a class that you should know for game design? The biggest part of it is understanding movement. We really set up a set of classes that would help you understand how video games work. There's also classes like digital illustration and storytelling within the game design pathway that build more on the illustration skills, focus towards digital media, in this case computers. The other pathway, it's called digital and time based arts. I think this one addresses a lot of popular choices like animation, which animation itself is a very, very big field. But we do want students to experience what it's like to be an animator and understand all the principles, so that they have a solid foundation of what it is to become an animator. And if they ever want to pursue this path, they have the knowledge they need within Digital Time-Based Arts two, we have two new classes. One of them is called Emerging Technologies, and I think this is a class that truly encompasses all of the department. This class is focusing towards the development of augmented and virtual reality and digital mapping and projection, but this class will be continuously evolving with technology itself. So if there's technology that are new and in the forefront of technology, they will be included into the course. The one that I think I'm particularly excited about is called advanced image making. Advanced image making is, imagine the final stage of Photoshop, because there's a lot of classes on campus that teach you the basics of Photoshop, but this class truly allows you to expand on developing images digitally. Or if you're interested in pursuing more of a traditional pathway with the help of digital media, whether it is using video or digital illustration, this class is a space for students at UNC to finalize their creations using digital media. 

Katie: That's so cool! It's like one of those magic hats that you keep pulling the infinite scarf out of, and there's just so much unfolding out of it. There's so many opportunities for students to choose from, so I'm really excited to see how that goes. 

Sam: Yes, the last pathway that we have is called immersive media. This media is really guided towards computer arts. There's ways in which you can interpret the digital media works, whether you're doing video games or commercial type of work. Immersive media encourages students to go a little bit more of the fine art side of things. Now, the one class that I believe a lot of the students of journalism and English is going to be really interesting for them, is we have a class called Video Production for film. Because of the grant that we obtained to develop this program, we were lucky enough to purchase cinema cameras. So we have a few Blackmagic cameras that shoot in 6k, some film lenses and lighting equipment. 

Katie: 6k? 

Sam: Yes.

Katie: I thought the highest was 4K. 

Sam: No, the highest is like I think it's 8k but we can shoot out at 6k. 

Katie: That's crazy. Oh my gosh. They're gonna see every detail on that screen. 

Sam: Yeah. And it's fascinating. I'm really hoping that this class in particular serves as a magnet for the students from other areas to join in. I think the collaborative effort of bringing people from that know different kinds of production for film, whether it is from the planning side or artistic side. I think this one is definitely one that I'm excited for. 

Katie: Yeah, a lot of the classes tend to hit left brain and right brain, so it's good for a nice balance and you can learn the artistic side as well as the computer science side. That's so cool. I would love to take the animation class. Something about doing rotoscoping, even traditional art or 3D animation sounds like a lot of fun to me. 

Sam: Yes, animation, for those of you that are brave enough to go into this adventure, it's just a highly rewarding result. 

Katie: Yeah, when I was younger, I would take a stack of sticky notes and I would do like a hand animation of a bouncy ball. It would take maybe 30 minutes just for a two second clip, but it was so fun to look at. 

Sam: And that is the basic principles of animation. Now if you want to add complexity to it, then you put it in perspective, then you add textures, you add lighting, but as you can see, if you know the very basics of it, you just keep adding on to it. You get a really complex result.

Katie: And you can really see it come to life, which is, I'm sure, really rewarding for the many hours of manual labor.

Sam: Yes. 

Katie: Which of the classes would you say do you think the students would most be excited for versus what you're really excited for? 

Sam: I think all of them are really depending on what you want. One of the reasons of building this three different pathways is so that we can we can meet all of these diverse needs. Game design is a very specific type of career that it challenges to very specific type of mindset. But I think having a really solid foundation of what emerging technologies and emerging technologies class, it's something that students will definitely be encouraged to find out more about what is current with technology at the moment, and once they have this curiosity inside them, then they can take their own adventures. 

Katie: Exactly. That's so fun! I'm so excited! I really wish I wasn't graduating because I would take all of these classes. In your opinion, how do you believe media and arts, combining over the past few decades have impacted our society, especially mixing with the VR and AR and new emerging technologies that will be taught in these classes? 

Sam: You can take it in different ways. Media is something that has existed for a long time. If you think about the first photographic camera, it was something that people thought that you were stealing their souls, right? As culture evolved, our acceptance of technology has evolved. It's something that you cannot imagine your life without. Digital media, whether it's video, whether it's audio, whether it's visual communication has a massive impact on your everyday decisions. If you're a social media user, it's really difficult for you to not see all the curated content that's being created specifically for you. Our objective with building this kind of program, this program specifically, is for you to get a better understanding on how media has a big impact on yourself and as a society. So overall, I think there's a moral side of creating things that we're hopeful to create things for the better of humanity. 

Katie: When students are taught these really intricate technologies and arts, it's really exciting to think that with all of the access to media and information we have, that there are still new things that can come out and change the way we view and the way that we interact with people and with media. One person could be just one step away from making the new big technology or new big social media that will really just change the way we view ourselves. 

Sam: Absolutely. And I think the biggest thing to take away from all of this is the technologies that you've seen are in use today, they've taken decades for them to develop. I think the idea of the iPad, it's a concept that started in the 80s, so it took about 30 years for it to be implemented. So virtual reality, augmented reality, it's something that it's just not necessarily completely new, but it's something that has been accepted throughout this past years. 

Katie: Exactly. I remember when I was younger, I had a BlackBerry, Nokia. One of those really tiny flip phones that you had to press the key three times to get it to hit the letter you wanted. It's crazy to think how far technology has come from just being a small flip phone to having your phone with access to literally anything on the internet, just at the touch of your fingertips. 

Sam: Absolutely and at the same time, it's very intimidating. 

Katie: Oh yeah. 

Sam: And daunting of having so much power in your hands.

Katie: I know, right?

Sam: Literally. And don't even start with AI. 

Katie: Yeah, I know right. I can see the benefits of AI, but I also still am a little bit skeptical about it. So with all of these classes being available soon, what would you say are some of the practical and professional career benefits that students will be taking away from these classes? 

Sam: The biggest takeaway of determining these pathways is to give you a little bit of a glimpse of what these industries look like. So with the game design, depending on whether you want to go on the programing side or you want to go the concept development side is a building portfolios and connections, which we're currently building with different businesses in Denver and in the Colorado area, to make the students build a portfolio that will help them get a job eventually. The practical side of these are all self-driven projects that will curate towards your end goals. We're really trying to make, even though this is an institution, we try to make all of the assignments and the projects really guide towards what the industry is looking for. Now, one of the biggest benefits of, for example, the emerging technologies is having knowledge with augmented and virtual reality, is you have to learn software that is cross disciplines. If you learn AR and VR, then you also have a little bit of knowledge of game design. You also have a little understanding of film composition because you have to show things visually. That's one of the biggest takeaways of being an art school that although we do show technical things, our objective always will fall under the artistic side. We want to make sure that the students are capable of making their own choices and making the creative choices that will help their teams, that will create their projects come to fruition with very expected and creative results. 

Katie: When will the program be available for students to sign up, and if they need help with registration, who can they reach out to? 

Sam: The program is already open. They can sign up, for example, all of the game design pathway. The classes already exist. All they have to do is sign up. If they have any questions, they can always contact me. It would be good to talk to their advisors or Aisha Gallion. It would be a good place to start. You can also contact Donna Goodwin, who is the director of the School of Art and Design, and if you have any questions about the program, all of us would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the courses, about the opportunities, or if there's any way that we can connect it to your program. 

Katie: Yeah, every member in the SoAD department is so kind. So if you do have any questions, don't be afraid to reach out to really find out which classes might be the right path for you. And also, when this episode comes out, Sam's having his own gallery feature in the UC Campus Commons. If you would like to go see it, it's available and shown up until February 15th. Would you like to tell us a little bit about what your artwork is being displayed about? 

Sam: Of course, this exhibition is called Form Follows Movement and it's based on a collaborative performance with dancers, programmers and sculptors. The main idea is to use the body as the foundation of art. The sculpture is now displayed in the Campus Commons Gallery are a translation of this research. I would welcome everybody to take a look and have a good time looking at some art. 

Katie: Yeah. Oh, that's so cool. I'm gonna have to go look at it. I'm so excited about both your gallery and this program. It's been taking so long for you guys to develop, so I'm excited to see it all in action. I'm bummed I won't be able to sign up for any classes since I'm graduating, but I'm excited to see that other students enjoy it and really get to show their creativity. I can really see how much passion you've put into the project, you and your team, and I'm so grateful that I got to chat with you. Hopefully this episode provided some insight about media art and helps any students learn more about the program. Thank you again for joining me and it was wonderful having you. I hope everyone enjoyed this week's episode of The Bear in Mind Podcast. I'm your host, Katie Nord signing off. 

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