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Micro Production

The production of films, ads, books and so forth used to be a big deal. Making a film used to require cutting the processed film stock and taping it together in bits and pieces before making a final master print. Graphic designers used to hand-rub Letraset type from mylar backing onto layouts by pressing and scratching at it. Photographers used fragile Pantone paper sheets for background on a product shot. And last but not least videographers in the early days used to need huge expensive computers and other bulky video gear to create a final bulky video cassette for distribution. Compared to using a computer for manipulating digital media and streaming video today, those days seem pretty medieval. But advances in computer technologies have not saved us from two universally unavoidable challenges: Our own creative minds, and technological taxation.

Most creative minds sloshing around in the skulls of researchers, artists, or designers know that the creative process will always disrupt the best informed production time-line. Designers struggle for hours over aesthetics of a design. They scrap earlier efforts based on new content, and so forth. And they should be allowed to do that regardless of the technology that they use. Creativity just takes time, sometimes a lot of it. This is a truth that should be accepted in any creative or educational effort. It should also be respected even in fast paced corporate or commercial efforts. But except for Hollywood movie projects with monstrous budgets, the need and means to cultivate the creative process slowly is under-appreciated or seemingly out of reach.

So here is a mouthful; One of the biggest myths we need to debunk in any endeavor touched by technology is the one that says new technology relieves us of having to worry about production as a process that exists outside of the technology that is used to execute the project. Even the smallest media projects now have huge aspirations and yet the people involved usually LOATHE the idea of taking time to break the process up into design & production steps and milestones. A “just add water” expectation permeates our world that gadget making companies continually promote. That’s not a bad thing per se. We can all hope for a world of instant perfection and expect it as consumers, but we shouldn’t give in to it without first understanding what we lose in the process.


Muybridge Animation Frames

What we lose in the process is just that…process. There are essential ingredients to the production process in any media which don’t go away just because the software involved fits on your phone or a watch, or the head of a pin. It’s a real problem in creative work environments because the hyperbolic equation as presented by Apple or other tech-toy makers goes like this: The smaller the tool, the less you have to work at using it.
But true designers and artists know that all the preparation, attention to detail, content creation, editing, proof-reading, designing, dwelling and stressing that go into good creative projects still stares us squarely in the face even when we try to just make small stupid things that supposedly nobody will ever see. Start fooling around with video footage of your dog, cat, or kid’s third birthday party and three hours later you may still be working on it. And then your phone rings and it’s time to pick that same dog, cat, or kid up from the vet or school.

A more accurate tech slogan that holds more water than the “instant tech” slogan is this; Hidden in the wonders of technological tools is a kind of taxation without representation. As red blooded Americans we won’t tolerate that in our government so we shouldn’t put up with it on our hard-drives either. Nobody wants to spend thirty minutes looking for the buried preference setting that stops that stupid animated dog from asking us “Are you writing a letter?” whenever we type the word “dear”. But it keeps happening and whenever it happens we suddenly lose focus. That’s a kind of random mental tax we pay for each computer snafu or bad software feature. Loss of concentration, loss of momentum. We’ve all experienced that no matter how tech savvy we are.

And ironically in all the new innovations that have emerged, technology becomes a time drain on the very things it’s supposed to speed up. Here’s another example: Anyone who has thought that a blog would be cool on their website quickly realizes that there is not much point in having or promoting a blog unless you frequently add new content, regardless of how many readers you actually might have. That content will not write itself, and if you have a life outside of blogging all day the new blog will quickly become the bane of your existence, or become a monkey on your back that you pretend to ignore. Or if you don’t put any real effort into it, everyone else will be sure to ignore it. Because of all this madness, one of the best pieces of advice I can give any designer, teacher, or artist dabbling in technology is to simply respect the mental tax that goes with any technology and learn to work both within it and outside of it.

Working within it means respecting the micro-production needs of it all. Don’t be afraid to talk about your project as a production, involve others, or make productions schedules. Get into the computer programming lingo that permeates our culture. Don’t think of it just as lingo, because behind each geeky word is a concept or process that might not be so alien to you after all, or might actually become useful to you at some point in your life. Parents raising kids certainly already know the value of an “If….then” statement, they were using them for centuries before programming languages came around. Embrace the irony.

Working outside technology means not allowing students, Applesauce, Microswift, Gurgle, Twister, or FarceBook to pressure you into feeling inadequate because you don’t create award winning feature films on your 20 minute commute home or while you are shopping for food. It also means protecting the educational integrity of your content from being clouded by the false promise of revelations in your field through using bluetooth instead of houndstooth. That's a common pressure of faculty. In other words, be mindful that communicating an idea or topic can be achieved in a plethora of ways, some that include electronic technology, and some that don’t depend on the power grid at all. There isn’t just one way to teach or learn something, and the quality of any process should never be judged ahead of the learning. The trick is to have good justification for the methods you do use, depending on the goals.

Overall I think that if educators and researchers can encourage students to both embrace technology, and respect the full potential of a creative process that works independent of technology, future generations will be able to make more innovative, complex and strategic uses of the amazing technology and information that they inherit.

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