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CDIA's Bob Daniels on Digital Imaging Trends

By Elizabeth Millard MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 25, 2004 11:52 AM PT

Some people assume digital film got its start with Finding Nemo, considering how often that film is cited -- and rightly so -- as a firestarter for change in the industry. But creative professionals have been gravitating toward digitization for years -- and now, academia is catching up to them.

CDIA's Bob Daniels on Digital Imaging Trends

At Boston University, a new program has been created specifically to teach digital imaging arts to tomorrow's filmmakers and photographers. The program's executive director, Bob Daniels, talked with MacNewsWorld about the changing culture, the creative industry and why his instructors insist on going Mac.

MacNewsWorld: What got you interested in starting the Center for Digital Imaging Arts (CDIA)?

Bob Daniels: I was talking to a friend who had been a classmate of mine in the Boston University photojournalism program in 1969. He's been bringing digital technology to National Geographic, and he and I were chatting about the need for an educational program that was digitally conceived.

A number of the existing programs were dragging their feet into the digital age, and both of us saw tremendous power in the digital reincarnation of photography. We thought starting an educational program would be an opportunity for people entering photography to get a strong digital foundation.

The same thing is happening with filmmaking, as more people use digital cameras and edit with applications like Apple's Final Cut Pro. There's a real convergence of traditional filmmaking with digital tools right now, and many professionals are asked to bring a camcorder with them when they go on assignment. Someone shooting a documentary might be asked to shoot some digital video as well so that it can be put on a Web site, for example.

MNW: What's your background? Before starting the CDIA, were you working as a photojournalist?

Daniels: Actually, while my friend went on to National Geographic, I went into the computer industry, creating educational programs. So I had a certain knowledge of the media culture, and I watched the computer culture merging with that.

MNW: What does an education in the digital-imaging arts give a student in today's computer culture?

Daniels: The lines that traditionally separated traditional media are becoming fuzzier. That is, there used to be specialization in terms of photography or filmmaking or graphic design. But they're now coming together because they have digitization in common. In order to be a professional in today's market, and especially in the future, you need to have a base of knowledge about these technologies and some skill in using them. You need to have a number of imaging arts addressed in the same program, so that you feel comfortable switching from traditional techniques to digital tools, and you get a range of experience in areas like 3D animation and Web design. That's what our program aims to give students -- a thorough grounding in digital imaging, that they can take with them no matter what their direction in the future.

MNW: What kind of hardware and software tools do you have at the program?

Daniels: Right now we're predominantly Mac, with G4s and G5s. We're slowly phasing completely into G5s. For software, we use Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro on the editing side. There's no way we could not teach with Final Cut Pro, because it's becoming the standard in the industry. At the same time, we include Avid Xpress because it's another leading, popular tool. For photography, we use Photoshop. There's a great deal of excitement at the school about all these applications and what they can do.

MNW: Why did you decide to go with Apple computers and software?

Daniels: We wanted to go with what's being used by leading people in the industry, and the majority of them are using Macs and Apple software. We also did a content analysis of a broad range of help-wanted ads, to look at the kind of tools that people are expressly asking for. Another reason is that Apple gives us tremendous support, which is always important in an environment that relies so heavily on technology.

Another important factor is that many of the people who come here to teach are working in the industry, and since Macs are the standard platform there, they have a great deal of familiarity and loyalty to them.

Finally, we feel that the nice thing about Apple is that it really addresses the needs of creative professionals in a way that other companies just don't. Part of this is because they're so involved in creating the software as well as the hardware, as in the case of Final Cut Pro. So not only are you working on a Mac, but also you're using Apple software. That makes it hard for them to point a finger at a third party if anything goes wrong, and it shows that they've done a lot of work to make sure that everything works together. That's not always the case when you're putting together a multivendor solution.

MNW: How is the program organized, in terms of hands-on time with the technology?

Daniels: We want to be very hands-on, all the time, very craft-focused. At the London Film School, they're very close with the craft unions, and they put cameras in their students' hands on the first day of school. That's the way we're organizing ourselves as well, with active practitioners of the craft teaching in the school and incredible access to technology right away.

MNW: The program launched in January; since then, what kind of reaction are you seeing from your first batch of students?

Daniels: It's very interesting to see the excitement that's generated in different areas of the program. People have been interested in using digital equipment to make films, which we knew, but what's fascinating is to see how they use their passion for expression and put that into film using a digital medium. So it's not as much about the details of using Final Cut Pro as it is about tapping into this passion and seeing how easily digital equipment allows for that to happen.

The number of people that we've seen who want to tell their story with digital filmmaking and photography is incredible, and there's been much greater interest than we'd anticipated.

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