All Together Now: Terrence Masson and the Coming Age of Collaboration
"The inter-connectivity of social media, the web, the interdisciplinary work between artists, programmers, and educators, all point to one thing; we're no longer in the Computer Age. We're in the age of Collaboration." So proclaims Terrence Masson, Keynote Speaker at the ISEA 2011 conference in Istanbul. This intriguing prophecy is hardly a surprise to those familiar with Masson's talks. Over the last few years, Masson has taught and traveled as a speaker, bringing his decades of experience in the film, game, and VFX industries to bear on evolving discussions of collaboration across the academic and professional worlds, and how technology is developing that bond.
The name Terrence Masson may not be familiar, but you’re sure to have seen his work. A creator, consultant, and teacher of VFX for more than 20 years, Masson boasts an impressive resume that includes credits on major features like Hook, Interview With the Vampire, True Lies, Batman Forever, Titanic, and many more. As a Sequence Supervisor at ILM, he helped oversee the 1990s re-release of the classic Star Wars Trilogy, consulted with Dreamworks SKG on a new cinematography pipeline for Aardman feature Flushed Away, and is credited with developing the now-iconic CG animation technique used in the television series South Park. Masson also has significant credits in the gaming field, having worked as Visual Effects Supervisor on high-profile games, including Batman: Dark Tomorrow, Alter Echo, and Midnight Club II, for Rockstar entertainment, as well as serving as Creative Director and Executive Producer on Sim City 4.
Now an Associate Professor and Director of Creative Industries at Northeastern University in Boston, Masson is pioneering a new approach to interdisciplinary collaboration in order to prepare educators, and their students, for this brave new world of ours. Recently, Masson took some time to let me pick his brain on convergence, academia, and where he thinks we’re headed.
Zoe Chevat: Let’s jump right in. One of the points you focused on in your talk at ISEA2011, and one you seem to return to, is the difference between cooperation and collaboration. Specifically, how to move back to collaboration, which has been overtaken by what you called "digital cooperation." What’s been the general reaction?
Terrance Masson: It's a fine point for some people to get, but it gets a lot of head nodding. It's not immediately obvious, especially with the democratization of software, making it both cheap and available, and creating specializations among artists and technicians. But, as someone who’s been a producer and director, you’re looking at [the production process] from "50, 000 feet." Having worked across so many different media types, short film, animation, video games, online media, film, VFX, having come up through the trenches, I can see where [the process] does and doesn't work. The variety of my experience provides me with a real lateral view.
ZC: Why the personal drive to collaborate? Where in your biography would you say is the genesis of this idea, the essential importance of collaboration, not just cooperation? Mostly from working in the mainstream film industry?
TM: A lot of it has to do with my undergraduate BFA. William Paterson was the only Computer Design program that was housed in the Art Program, which was very appealing. This was 1991; there was hardly any commercial software available, and accessibility was very limited. So I was exposed to critique, but that's true for anyone in a fine arts degree, being part of critiques. Being able to realize how my work stands against and compliments others’. It was a big influence.