"There's a Science to Art, an Art to Science." Don Marinelli at SIGGRAPH

By August 06, 2010

Everyone remembers Andy Pausch's famous "Last Lecture," which the computer science professor gave a couple months before he died of cancer, and which  became hugely popular in the U.S. Andy was the co-founder of the Entertainment

Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon University.

In the Last Lecture, Pausch refers to the "Tornado" he founded the ETC with. This Tornado happened to be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s SIGGRAPH: Don Marinelli, Executive Producer of the Entertainment Technology Center.

What is it about these two professors and their Center that made them so influential?

Two men, two opposite backgrounds: Randy the geek, Don the crazy theater professor. They each represent one side of the binary system our society has established between Arts and Sciences/Technology: right and left brain, the creative versus the rational. Why do we have to set the arts and sciences in opposition?

This socially constructed binary is one of the "brick walls" Randy and Don's ETC is meant to tear down.

The Entertainment Technology Center is a professional graduate program that reconciles arts and technology in many different ways. Students come from extremely diverse backgrounds - there are engineers, architects, musicians, dramatists, computer graphics students, and so on. The goal is to have them build projects together and use their diverse backgrounds for challenging team projects.

Because innovation happens, according to Don and Andy, at the convergence of arts and technology.

During his keynote, Marinelli explained how similar theater and animation are. There's a storyline, a plot, characters, a virtual world, a structure, and an architecture. They’e both about experience.

"There is a science to art, and an art to sciences," he says. To him the rehearsals for a theater play are like algorithms for math.

If you consider an innovator, here is the question Don Marinelli would want you to ask yourself: are you ready to paint your office walls?

This question might seem a little overstated, but it is interesting when you think about it. If you want to think out of the box, the first thing you should be able to do is paint your office walls: first, in order to build a more creative environment, and second, because an innovator should be able to transgress the codes and act out of the box.

And that’s exactly what Don and Andy did with the ETC. The building looks like Disneyland.

Not only are their walls painted, but the entire curriculum of ETC is based on this original vision the founders had about connecting arts and technology. The students go rafting to experience risk, they learn Aristotle, try improvisational acting to work on creating a narrative with a team, build virtual worlds and learn game design. What a program! As well, the ETC has official agreements with some of the best actors in the industry – such as EA and Pixar – for them to hire ETC students upon graduation.

So … can you paint your walls?

(Photo: Carnegie Mellon University)

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