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Educating the Future of High Definition

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Educators Showcase from The Creative COW Magazine


Creative COW Magazine presents Educating the High Definition Future



John WoodyJohn Woody
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia

©2007 James Madison University, John Woody and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

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JMU faced many challenges on the way to a working HD facility. In this Creative COW Magazine article, John Woody discusses some of the struggles and triumphs experienced at James Madison University.


Our job as teachers is to help our students to meet the challenges they'll face as they graduate from our programs. We had some challenges of our own to meet before we could start helping them.

This is our story. We think our experience can help The COW's large audience of educators to have a smoother path to their own HD labs.

Now granted, many educators would love, love, love to have the challenges we have...but they're still challenges.


CHALLENGE 1: Funding a New Lab

The voters of the state of Virginia provided the first real home for the School of Media Arts and Design at James Madison University. Specifically, voters overwhelmingly supported a General Obligation Bond Issue in 2002, designed to help state parks and universities.

A portion of that was awarded to James Madison University, which used it to construct the Harrison Hall Annex Renovation, now housing multiple classrooms, a new television studio complex, and hightech teaching labs.

After the building was finished it became obvious that there was just enough money to install a Standard Definition studio complex.

The educators reading this will understand what I mean when I say that we were concerned about this. If you only have SD gear today, you do what you have to do - but buying new SD-only gear today is like buying a black and white TV.

So the faculty immediately began to campaign, requesting additional funding to build a HD Complex. Of course, it was increasingly obvious to JMU's administration that HD has been accelerating on every front, and that an HD studio complex was the best way to go. Still, it was a question of money.

One pitch that seemed to really make a difference was that if we build a SD studio complex, we would probably come back in three years and have to retrofit everything to offer HD studies and production to our students.

So the administration stepped up and funded our HD labs. In the end the key reason for this HD conversion wasn't budget, wasn't logistical concerns: it was to prepare our students for an HD work environment. I can't say enough about their vision and their support.

Effective teaching of production is directly related to the tools and formats we use. Having been with Apple since the beginning, our use of Final Cut Pro Studio for editing, compositing, soundtrack development, and interactive authoring provided the basis of our digital workflow.

As we started making plans for putting it all in motion, we developed a three stage approach to the build-up. In the First stage, we upgraded our Post Lab and purchased HDV cameras for the field. The lab came online in September of 2006. For cameras, we started with the Sony FX1 and Z1. We added a 30 terabyte xSAN system, which was completed in November of 2006.


CHALLENGE 2: Building the Lab

With the gear in hand, the real work began. We've spent the last few years updating, changing, and revitalizing our curriculum to reflect these technological upgrades. As a result, we've just merged our Digital Cinema (non-production) concentration with our Digital Video (heavy production) concentration. This will allow us to be more attuned with both narrative and nonnarrative production.

Other areas are changing especially our Broadcast Journalism and Corporate Communications concentrations. We've all been talking about "Convergence" for a while. It's something that all of us in education have been striving for. We think we're getting there. The curriculum changes that we've put into motion will provide collaborative, senior level capstone experiences for students from multiple concentrations working together.

This curriculum is exciting stuff, but so is the actual gear. The department facilities include six classrooms, three of which are all Mac labs. The HD facilities include sixteen MAC G5 stations, each with 4 GB of RAM, two 23-inch Apple Cinema Displays, and a Sony HVR-25 HDV VTR.

One of the great things about the HVR-25 is its HDMI output. After successful testing, we selected Blackmagic Design's Intensity card with its HDMI connection to capture into Final Cut Pro in the DVCPRO HD format. This provides a number of significant advantages for us. It performs much better than HDV, since the computer doesn't have to spend as many cycles processing frames as it does long-GOP.

The higher performance while editing also makes for shorter renders. The conversion to DVCPRO HD raises the colorspace to 4:2:2, which is critical for the compositing work we do with the footage once it's captured, in both Final Cut Pro and Motion.

John Woody instructs students at James Madison University
John Woody instructs students at James Madison University


CHALLENGE 3: Projection

We knew there would be some stumbling blocks along the way when we opened this innovative lab, and we ran into a huge one.

In one way, our configuration was ideal. We have full dual-monitor systems for 16 students in the classroom. At the front of the room, we have two 72" DLP flat-screens to mirror the teacher systems. Specifically, the teacher's system is on a cart, with the same full dual-monitor system that the students have. As far as I know, we're the only college doing it this way.

The Mac's onboard video wasn't enough to handle the kind of output we needed. The configuration we wound up with was two cards running 4 displays: the two for the teacher's cart, and the two at the front of the room.

This worked great for Final Cut Pro, but ground Motion to a halt. There just wasn't enough OpenGL memory to go around. This wasn't going to do. Compositing had been a critical part of our curriculum for years.

It turns out that the HDMI connections on the Intensity card came to the rescue for us here as well. We took one HDMI output from the Intensity card in the teacher's computer to the HDMI in one of the DLPs. We took the VGA out of the standard Mac video card and went into the other DLP.

So now, rather than mirror two full FCP workspaces to both DLPs, we used one of them to display the main editing UI, and the other to display the timeline output. It changed the way we worked a little bit, but it was an exact match for our students' systems.


CHALLENGE 4: Integration with Our Studio

Now THIS is the challenge that every educator reading this is dying to have, tying together multiple HD labs with a gorgeous new HD studio. It's scheduled to come online later this year, and is coming together very nicely indeed.

The easy part is going to be working with three Ikegami HDK- 75 HD studio configured cameras, a custom Barbizon lighting grid system with digital light panel, and a Chyron Duet HyperX CG Instruments.

The slight challenge comes with the Grass Valley Kayak 2-ME HD Switcher. It works best with an HDSDI signal which is easily converted from DVC PRO HD. Once again, this is where our Blackmagic Designs Intensity cards come into play: we've already digitized to DVCPRO HD over HDMI.

The performance of DVCPRO HD is going to allow us to bring one of our G5s into the studio and play out live to air, for HD distribution to dorms and other buildings on campus via cable.

We also have planned a weboriented studio built around a Broadcast Pix HD system. The storage that we're using for this playout is part of a 30 TB Apple xSAN system. This allows us to keep projects and media from all the classrooms online for sharing.

We opted against redundancy in favor of more storage space. The students provide the backup for us: we require that they purchase an eSATA drive as they enter the program. We recommend the G-TECH G-DRIVE Q for this. With our heavy post emphasis, students need to have access to all their work, even outside the classroom. This is especially true as they enter their senior years, and begin to edit their portfolios. Their eSATA drives make this much easier.

Having 30 TB for the classroom and studio helps too.


CHALLENGE 5: Sorting the Applications

As many of you have seen in your own programs, one of the ways to pay off your investments in stateof- the art labs is increased student interest. Enrollments mean money, and it's easy to identify the students that have come for your program.

The School of Media Arts and Design is a selective program with controlled enrollments, currently with 500 students. Even though our plans aren't fully in place, we've seen interest very much on the upswing already: over 300 students apply to our program every year, and we're able to accept only around 180.

The James Madison administration certainly took good care of us, but it nearly didn't happen until we could persuade them that we could do all this for a reasonable cost.

I'm not going to go through all the prices individually, although you can find them online yourself. I'll give you an example, though, for one of our very most valuable players: the Blackmagic Intensity cards are only $249, and as you can see, we use them for a variety of purposes.

Even if you don't have the resources to go as far as we did, the combination of Final Cut Studio, HDV, and BMD's Intensity card enabled us to create a facility that had the effect of changing our curriculum, and raising interest in our programs.

As I've spent time at BEA conferences, I've heard colleagues observe that their schools have invested in new facilities to meet the growing demand for media education among applicants. Others have noted that their administrations were able to see applications increase as a result of those investments.

At SMAD, we've had a popular program for years, but our upgrade is going provide us with more exceptional candidates that want to experience HD development. Our pay-off is exceptionally prepared students.

The payoff for all of us is a better educational experience for our students, who will be better prepared to meet the challenges of the world they'll face when they leave us.


John Woody John Woody would like to add: I might be a player in all this but so much credit goes to John Hodges, our School of Media Arts and Design Technology Manager; John Gruver our Technology Lab Manager; Burl Facemire, our Chief Engineer, and our School Director, Dr. George Johnson.


John Woody is a Professor in James Madison University's School of Media and Design, as well as an "Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE)" who has been active in the Broadcast Education Association. He balances his academic background with a professional production background that includes numerous post houses and a tenure at The Learning Channel. (No, not that kind of tenure.)

All of us here at the COW are proud to count John Woody as a friend and a man whom we have known since the earliest days of our community building work online, nearly 12 years ago. John is one of those whom we like to refer to as "The Old Names," a select group of people who go all the way back to the original 300 or so who frequented the Media 100 Worldwide Users Group, our original site that we launched back in 1995.



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