Creative Skillset has recently been involved in research into the new imperatives in skills engendered by the ongoing disruption and digitisation of our industries. The new skills frequently needed are probably usefully exemplified by the triangulation of Creativity, STEM and Enterprise, a mix we’re calling Fusion skills. (The etymology comes from the CIHE’s 2010 report “The Fuse” which first attempted to delineate these new skills, but after research we added more emphasis on enterprise/business practice than the original document).
In its widest sense it’s the inter-mix of art, science and business drive. It’s what our industries increasingly report they need- exemplified by the demand for creative programmers, technical artists or specialists in one domain who can team up and collaborate with those from another disciplines and speak a common language. Fusion skills are increasingly needed- roles that used to be firmly pigeonholed as creative, or engineering, or business-only now need large portions of all three. Imagine if you will a Venn diagram of three intersecting circles- Creativity/Art, STEM, Enterprise and in the middle area is what we’re calling Fusion. Who needs Fusion skills? Well, not just the creative industries but everybody according to IBM’s Global CEO study (interviewing more than 1500 CEOs from 33 industries worldwide) which showed that Creativity was seen as the most crucial skill needed by industry leaders- above management skills and vision.
Also, Google and McKinsey readily admit that Data Scientists (in short supply) need creative skills, and even storytelling skills to be able to see patterns in their statistics. It’s the same in the creative industries, where engineering and mathematics are increasingly crucial. Nowadays, often at the heart of the film set you’ll find the data wrangler- an engineer who needs to increasingly understand the subjective and poetic languages of colour and light as well as the science of compression and pixel math. Then there’s all the new data analyst roles in advertising and marcomms that are needed to mine data and understand the psychology of the customer or client, and help design meaningful experiences for them. A mixture of mathematic yet empathetic, code-steeped inventive designer is emerging in the online space. Combine these art/sci mixes with the need to be enterprising and do business in an increasingly freelance or short-term project world, and more jobs than you think are gravitating towards fusion skills, especially in media.
You’ll be hearing more from Creative Skillset about fusion skills in the months to come, but one of the striking conclusions is that the subject and faculty structure (or rather unkindly, silos) in our schools and universities can necessitate against our teachers and trainers teaching these cross-disciplinary skills. So it was important to Creative Skillset that we found some outliers, examples of people teaching these Fusion skills, even if they named them differently, and had different models. A couple of names kept coming up when we talked to industry about exemplars they knew- design leaders d.school in Stanford, and ‘cross-media’ school Eucroma in Denmark.
As Eucroma were about to have their end of course show, we thought we should pay a visit and see for ourselves.
THE EUCROMA EFFECT
Commencing in February the EUropean CROss-Media Academy is an intense four and a half month european transmedia training programme focusing on synthesizing games, animation and entrepreneurial skills. It delivers 30 credits via the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) meaning existing students can apply those credits towards their degrees. It brings together students from across the EU to work in teams to develop real transmedia IP via what they term Storyworld development, and training and collaboration in new pipelines. The programme, which has just under 50 participants this year, (growing to approximately 75 next year) takes students through four phases on their way to a convincing and professional product; Prologue, Design, Production and Presentation. The website declares the outcome “is a breed of cross media professionals who can capture new opportunities and package them as “ready to roll” projects”.
Eucroma’s difference can be exemplified by its accent on firstly developing and iterating a storyworld first and foremost, with creative and business thinking springing forth from this starting point. The storyworld will then demand a particular pipeline and with it, new forms of collaboration between roles through development of a “production ready” cross-media/transmedia project produced by an international team. Within the curriculum students are exposed to a continuous line up of media experts and top games, animation and business professionals. Students also attend lectures at the Danish Film School with speakers from the film and TV industries, blending in with the rest of the school. Workshops train individuals for their roles. There are nine possible roles in the concept department- from animation or game director to level designer or production designer and music composer. There are also twelve roles in production, from animator, rigger, programmer to audio or vfx designer.
Eucroma sees its mission as adding something extra to the media professional’s armoury- resilience and adaptablilty. “By providing all the competences necessary for riding the upwinds in a market that expands at ever increasing speed EUCROMA place you at the forefront of development. And now is the time to be here because professionals who can handle the constant technological and conceptual breakthroughs are in high demand. The arrival of a new creative potential or business opportunity always creates a demand for the right people to step up and capture it”. Eucroma is supplying future-proofed new talent who it is intended will stand out from the crowds of media graduates.
One of the main objectives of the EUCROMA program is the final project. Once finished, students will have to give a half-hour oral presentation that covers the basic concept, business plan and select prototypes of their project. This year’s two project themes were a re-working of Sherlock Holmes, and Lost and Found, a kind of The-Borrowers-meets-lost-toys-living-underground amalgam. For both themes there were games, web and animation outputs, led by Games, Animation or Storyworld directors.
STORYWORLD AS THE SEED
The Storyworld concept is axiomatic to the Eucroma programme. To Troels Linde, Director of Eucroma, the seed of an original idea needs to germinate into all the environments, characters, languages, history –in other words a whole world- before a story can truly emerge. This storyworld or diagesis develops from the themes of conflict, characters and setting. No media is selected nor script versions written until this preparatory world is scoped.
A group of directors and story designers are then tasked with establishing the motivations and ethos (or values) that makes the world and its agents tick. In this methodology some kind of conflict needs to drive the story through time. All this is scoped and thought out to ensure both games and films can equally harness and leverage this world.
So often in other training courses the character or the script comes first, or a game is grafted onto a narrative when the storyworld won’t really support it. To Linde this World-first approach means ensuing games, animations and films are coherent and successfully engaging.
STUDENTS EYE VIEW
Eucroma clearly has a methodology that the curriculum reflects, but does that filter through to the students? I met three students just before their final show. I was keen to find out about their personal journeys and what the course had added to their specialist skills. As you’ll see, their personal learning histories show a broad education with several false starts before they alighted on animation or games study. This may well have informed and enriched the transmedia content they were now engaged in.
Kristoffer Malmsten (Conceptual team) had come from Stockholm. Originally he’d found his way to getting involved with computer music and dropped out of high school as he had major success with his band (which won 2 Grammys in 2001). By the mid 2000’s he had re-entered education, keeping his music going, studying Art History and Cinema History, then moving into film production. “I needed to get creative” he explains- the academic approach he experienced wasn’t close enough to the creative process. In 2011 he was a location co-ordinator for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Finally he applied to Stockholm for a Screenwriting course. Through a university lecturer he heard about the EUCROMA initiative, and how they needed Screenwriters and Story designers. He was aware through his studies of Henry Jenkins’ work and so had an interest in the possibilities of transmedia and this is what attracted him. “I was surprised how market driven the work was, but with a firm academic base” said Malmsten “there were many lectures in the first two months. We started with a coherent storyworld first, which as a script writer isn’t such an alien concept, but is crucial if you are working across media”.
“It was striking how exhausting it often is to work with ideas- sorting, modifying, leaving behind, promoting. Some people aren’t used to the amounts of energy you need to devote to this before diving in to a project. Also, listening is vital.”
Lewis MacInnes-Middleton (Production Team) was one of a number of students from University of Abertay’s Games courses. He will return to his fourth year in October. Lewis’s path started with a fusion of subjects at school- Maths, English, History, Product Design, Business Management, before a two year spell at Dundee University studying architecture. “At the time it seemed to make sense, but the pace was slow and I didn’t find it exciting. However, it’s easy to see with hindsight that I’d always made games and the thread from architecture to games to storyworlds is interesting”. By luck he found himself move from Dundee University to the city’s other university- Abertay – to study games. He got a scholarship for Eucroma, and was selected as a Game Director.
Hannah Drummond, another Abertay student, previously studied business management, English, biology and music at school, with an advanced higher in music before taking an Open University course in Psychology, and then enrolling at Abertay. “At Abertay I discovered Production management was my forte, which is what I’m doing at Eucroma, with a team of almost 50”
All three recognised the notion of fusion skills that Creative Skillset is researching. Kristoffer recounted how entrepreneurial skills had been something that previously had helped him navigate and prosper through the digital disruption of the music industry. They all recounted how Eucroma had focused their creative and technical energies on products and audience/users. “In the first 5 weeks we learnt about Storyworlds, and how this concept changes the roles of the director and production designer. In some instances we had to unlearn ways of working, and we had to be adaptable as roles changed as we progressed, and build new ways of working with animators and riggers” said Hannah.
They agreed the pace was intense. Lewis noted that “Every week we had to present our work to Danish Film School tutors, and then had a week to react and accommodate what they said” Kristoffer agreed, adding “In the conceptual team the biggest skill was negotiation- we had three directors working in different media, and two mini-teams, and lots of people floating in and out, as well as assets being shared or modified across different media, so communicating and negotiating a look or a character or a background across the team was incredibly important. Transparency and version control became key elements as our directors wanted to see everything”
Hannah remarked “there are many acronyms and phrases that only certain roles use- and there are even some acronyms that have different meanings in different media, which can be confusing. It took a while to pick these up”
When asked how the teams might be restructured or changed- possibly for the next cohort, there was a consensus regarding the need for a carefully defined producer role, and also a review of workflow at director level- who could unintentionally create bottlenecks for getting work greenlit. There was also discussion about the possible impact of including film media in the next cohort- and how the possible conflict of different methodologies might play out- (film with its emphasis on pre-planning, and games with its reliance on scrum and rapid iteration). It is planned for next year’s cohorts to set up fully working studios too. Thus it seems that Eucroma will continue to be an alembic to test out what it means to create transmedia projects, as yet there is no orthodoxy emerging. It’s a salient point to remember how many years it took from the invention of film and tv until relatively stable and duplicable team structures evolved.
Of course, Eucroma aren’t the only ones grappling with the methodologies and pedagogies of transmedia- the Media Academy Wales’ Transform@lab (an intensive cross-platform idea development lab for emerging creatives) also has a European cohort, and roughly the same duration, but moves through European locations and doesn’t focus on animation and games. However, the strengths of these programmes are somehow amplified by having a pan-european cohort- the different cultural sensibilities and the way different schools have different strengths may make for a higher degree of unpredictability and innovation in outcome. Within university courses, cross-media projects are a challenge of organisation and synchronisation, and sometimes getting buy-in from students themselves who join a specific course for that discipline and see their future in that. Interestingly, as of yet there are no Transmedia courses listed as such on UCAS . Why? Word is getting out, and prospective students will soon see the value in being a transmedia producer as opposed to a tv or film producer for instance. Into this gap private providers will enter the market. Alternatively, more University degree courses may want to see Eucroma type courses as Finishing Schools.
TRANSMEDIA ISNT FUSION…
…but I guess any new media form which hasn’t established technologies or pathways tends to use more fusion skills- for instance if there isn’t the right software around you code your own solution, or if there isn’t an established business model you need to improvise, or use rapid prototyping instead of rigorous planning. What was interesting about Eucroma is that it calls on ‘Fusion’ skills more than a single media course like film, tv, animation might do because transmedia is so nebulous as a concept. Eucroma compensates for this by having a strong methodology (Storyworld) and a narrow spectrum of media (games and animation). However, its only just finished it’s second cohort, and is in the enviable position of being able to modify the curriculum whilst still offering 30 ECTS credits.
Our investigation into Fusion skills will hopefully lead us to many more outliers like Eucroma. On 17th July Creative Skillset are launching “Fusion Skills: Perspectives and Good Practice” a research report report is based on desk research that explored a wide range of current programmes, curricula, associations and institutions active in the ‘fusion’ field, (including Eucroma). This was created from interviews with a wide range of academics and professionals who are experiencing ‘fusion’ in the workplace.
The research acknowledges the need for a framework to help make sense of what is going on, with the intermixing or collision of STEM, Creative Practice and New Business.
As a response to these aspects, the report recommends some ‘principles’ for skills development in worlds of education and business management at organizational and individual levels. We hope to create collective action to take forward some of the recommendations. You’ll be able to see more on http://www.creativeskillset.org/research/ in due course.
Thanks to Troels Linde, Gunnar Ville and the Danish Film School for their hospitality.