Mentioning the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University typically brings highly trained, aspiring actors to mind. But the school also trains the experts needed behind the scenes of stage, film and television production.
Jimmy Southworth (A'12) is a production technology and management (PTM) candidate. His goal is to go into commercial entertainment scenic production.
"I feel confident because of the knowledge and skills I have obtained from the faculty and staff. And I've watched all of my fellow students go right into their fields that they studied," said Southworth.
Southworth is also benefitting from a state-of-the-art technology called Navigator, which controls scenery in motion. Navigator is unparalleled in its ability to track multiple moving effects in complex cues with great precision and repeatability.
"This gear is rarely found in academia; we are one of a very few programs that have it. Our grads will leave having had actual hands-on experience with its implementation on real productions," said Kevin Hines, assistant teaching professor of production technology and management.
Navigator's interface allows a programmer to manipulate nearly any parameter of a move, as well as the modification of cues in real time in response to unpredicted changes that sometimes occur in live theatre. It is designed to interface with machinery of all sorts — motors, winches, pumps and valves, hydraulic and pneumatic cylinders.
The floating spheres in this video, for example, are all being individually controlled by the Navigator system.
"It can also interface with other control protocols such as MIDI and SMPTE time code, making it possible to integrate the control of nearly every aspect of live production," said Hines.
Students like Southworth are inspired by Hines because he is teaching not just the current iterations of technology and scenic construction, but "how we got there" and how to bridge between the old and the new.
"He will constantly shift approaches to the material in class, as well as challenge us with finding solutions to current technical challenges he will pull from industry sources," Southworth said. "I appreciate his unique teaching style, in addition to his knowledge of the field and mentoring abilities, because I have seen it firsthand consistently inspire students to grow and become the best they can be."
PTM students are constantly challenged to learn about all of the fields they will interact with in the real world.
"I need to know about different types of materials, how workable they are in relationship to my fabrication shops tools, and will it provide the look required through various treatments specified by a designer," Southworth explained. " At the same time, I need to know budgeting, technical drafting and design, standards by an array of organizations and how they impact what I am managing or building."
Plus, from the movies to theater, things are usually on a very fast and tight schedule, he says.
"The knowledge and tools we are gaining prepare us to be able to perform, grow and thrive in the fast pace of the industry," Southworth said. "It reinforces my belief that I chose the right school. And I can happily say, there is never a dull moment."