A new digital filmmaking research laboratory at UMaine is expected
to be a tripartite drawing card for students, businesses and the movie
About the Photo:
"I'm trying to engage in an entrepreneurial model that brings
resources back into the program and into the state."
— Raphael Di Luzio
A growing number of professionals are contributing to the creative
economy of Bangor, Maine's third-largest city.
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"Hollywood is at a turning point,"
asserts Raphael Di Luzio. Moviemakers are pivoting away from shooting on
celluloid and toward filming digitally on videotape.
It's a pivotal moment that gives the University of Maine and the state
the opportunity to propel themselves to the forefront of digital
filmmaking, says the artist with an eye for what the mechanical can do
for the artistic.
Standing at the intersection of the technical and the creative elements
of filmmaking, the University of Maine assistant professor of new media
has proposed a practical application that could boost both the state's
economy and its artistry. Di Luzio is establishing a digital filmmaking
program at UMaine with a lab equipped with cutting-edge hardware and
software that could be used by both students and, for a fee, filmmakers
in the state.
The lab will allow students to learn the latest ways to use digital
equipment for filming, audio, animation, three-dimensional computer
effects and compositing, which is the process of using computers to
superimpose one image onto another to create a single image. Compositing
is the way much of the most recent Star Wars movies were melded.
But Di Luzio is not just looking to build an educational program; he
hopes to directly link students and the lab with filmmakers who come to
Maine. This connection — plus the potential for helping nourish the
state's "creative economy," creating jobs, and generating revenues by
teaching industry-approved software certification programs — led the
Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to provide a $201,000 grant to get the
endeavor up and running.
"I'm trying to engage in an entrepreneurial model that brings resources
back into the program and into the state," Di Luzio says.
He does not want to simply create a corps of adept technicians, or only
to produce key grips, best boys and camera operators for the film
industry. It also is about "gearing up people to be the creators and the
visionaries," he says. The idea is to "produce a healthy base of digital
content developers" who make Maine their home.
The hope is to put the state on the leading edge of a changing film
industry. "Hollywood goes anywhere to shoot. But we don't have enough
individuals out there (in Maine) who can work in the industry."
The proposal is an excellent example of adapting new technology to an
existing industry that will increase Maine's competitiveness, says Janet
Yancey-Wrona, director of MTI, a state agency charged with encouraging
and supporting technology-intensive endeavors that help multiple
industries and lead to job creation.
Jake Ward, executive director for research and economic development in
UMaine's Department of Industrial Cooperation, says that the "crossover
ground" between the artistic and the technological will prove fertile.
Already, two Maine firms that model how bodies move through fluids
(i.e., how missiles fly through air and yachts slice through water) are
interested in taking advantage of the three-dimensional computer
modeling that will be available in the lab.
A bonus is that it will be the only lab of its kind in New England,
according to Yancey-Wrona. Filmmakers will be able to use the lab, along
with students, thus helping to train the local workforce and strengthen
state efforts to boost its "cultural economy," she added.
Lea Girardin, director of the Maine Film Office, says simply, "We need
to have a film crew base. We do have one but it's small. We'd love to
expand it and this should do it."
If film production companies can hire crew members locally rather than
importing them from Boston, it saves them money and makes Maine a more
attractive place to shoot a movie, commercial or documentary, Girardin
The film office, also a state agency, on average helps bring upward of
$17 million worth of film productions into the state each year. For
example, the office was involved in the successful effort to bring the
movie production of the novel Empire Falls to Maine.
At UMaine, the digital filmmaking program and the lab will help to flesh
out the New Media Program, Di Luzio says. The interdisciplinary program
studies the systems, technologies, history, design, and theory of
information artifacts and networks. It began in 1991 as a minor in
multimedia. In 1998, the name was changed to new media; the program
first offered undergraduate degrees in 2000.
While on one hand, the 43-year-old Di Luzio says, "I'm certifiably a
cine-holic; I love movies," on the other, he says he is "an anomaly" in
the New Media Program because he was trained as a painter. Still, along
with his painting degrees, he holds a professional certificate in
It is the use of digitized information to create art that intrigues Di
Luzio. As a painter, Di Luzio says he began to look at his own work and
found that "the narrative was not moving or it was sluggish."
A few years ago, the concept of "time-based media" grabbed him. This
involves turning music or film into a digital signal, then "digitally
sampling" the piece (taking a segment, such as the refrain of a song,
out of the original). Most importantly, the duration of these digital
samples can then be altered and manipulated, Di Luzio explained.
One of Di Luzio's artistic projects involving time-based media is called
Seasonal Fugue Disorder. Di Luzio set up a digital video camera in the
Maine woods that was filming the changing seasons. It videotaped each
day from sunrise to sunset, compressing the daylight hours into roughly
1.5 minutes. These segments were then digitally fused to create four
films — one for each season — roughly 2.75 hours long. Originally done
as part of a British online exhibition of digital and time-based art,
the fugue will eventually become a video installation.
Hardware and software are needed for the new program, and they don't
come cheap. That is why Di Luzio incorporated revenue-generating
elements into his digital filmmaking plan and sought in-kind
contributions from industry.
Di Luzio is bringing in new digital cameras, one of which, the Panasonic
SDX 900, costs roughly $60,000 and was funded by the MTI grant. The SDX
900 allows students to digitally film to Hollywood standards and later
transfer their work onto film without losing quality. While the camera
videotapes footage that can be downloaded to a computer hard drive,
FireWire technology allows the camera to be plugged into a digital video
drive that can be connected directly into a computer. The shift from
film to videotape and video drives should save film programs money, Di
Luzio says, because raw film stock is expensive.
However, the digital equipment and computer programs also are costly.
Investing in new hardware and software, Di Luzio says, can be akin to
hauling wheelbarrows of cash to the lip of "a fiery pit" and dumping it
in year after year. Without a constant stream of funds to invest in new
or updated software, technology becomes a "non-renewable resource," he
So, Di Luzio approached computer software companies, Apple in
particular, and broached the idea of having UMaine offer professional
certification programs for various types of filmmaking and music
software, such as Final Cut Pro, Maya 3D Modeling, DVD Studio Pro and
Shake Compositing. The fees should provide a revenue stream for buying
the latest software.
The certification programs are to be initially offered at UMaine's
Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Maine, where the computer lab has been
upgraded with new Apple G5 computers, made possible through the support
The lab in Orono also could be a moneymaker. The university could let
multimedia and technology companies use the facilities on a contractual
or project basis, Ward says.
The certification programs, along with generating income, would also
create a corps of professionals skilled in using the newest top-end
software, according to Di Luzio, who was able to snare an array of
software as in-kind contributions to the nascent program.
The strong support of local companies, the in-kind contributions and the
money-making aspects were pluses in MTI's eyes. Yancey-Wrona explained,
"Our purpose is to develop capacity for industry."
The "real crazy" part of the whole idea, Di Luzio says, is that by
coupling those who earn the certificates with the students in the
filmmaking program, "we could set up a model of a post-production (film)
Eventually, "I would like to spin off a real company of students who
become entrepreneurs, who can do this stuff on their own after they
graduate," Di Luzio says. However, "before you can begin to ask for the
sun and the stars, you should be able to produce the moon first. We want
to see what our students produce and use that as a foil."
by Gordon Bonin
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.