All Together Now: Terrence Masson and the Coming Age of Collaboration
Being in the traditional film industry is definitely a part of it. On Hook, which was my first film experience, we were working mainly on practical stages, doing pixie dust with a combination of practical effects and an early particle system, combined with by-hand animation in an in-house system. It was a real collaboration across old world and new, new tools, techniques, and people talking together. Most digital geeks weren't interested, because it's complicated enough to do your own job. But I was running back and forth between stages, and that’s where I got the bug for collaboration. I’m an especially inquisitive guy, I need to know, I'm always looking up info and data. I was so excited when the old-timers would come and ask us what we were doing. From there on, I sought out those opportunities.
Cubicles, the gopher syndrome, frustrates me. But, unfortunately, it's essential to have that kind of work set-up, especially with increased specialization and production deadlines being so tight.
ZC: You’ve stated that integrating different media forms is not what collaboration is about. For example, you would not like to see movies become interactive, like video games. There are however, certain similarities in their production processes. Likewise, you say, there are areas in their pipeline where the two fields could learn a great deal from each other. If there are so many production pipeline similarities between the digital film FX and gaming sectors, why is there a marked difference in the amount of collaboration that occurs?
TM: Nothing is more collaborative than being on a film set. It's always a machine, everyone working together in real time, everything going into making a real film. The whole thing’s guided by a director, or producer, but there's no handing off of anything at all, not really.
In VFX, these days, I don't know if there's much difference. It's nearly identical. The added collaboration that I would point out in gaming is the added elements of a.) game design, and the b.) the interactive nature of the media.
In film, you can work on one thing, locked down, as long as you want. But in gaming, after you lock things down in a linear format, you have to work with the real-time interactive variables. What if you run? What if you don't kill the monsters? It adds a whole 'nother layer. Then you need people to optimize it, to make those changes happen as you play. Everyone who is a part of it has to speak in that discussion. So there’s an added necessity of dialogue because of constraints.
ZC: How did you make the move from industry consultant to teacher? What prompted this branch of your career?
TM: It was a very gradual thing. In the grad school lab, it was a very natural desire of mine to help others. Whenever you start out in a new company, you start out as a learner, and move to being the more experienced person in the company. I always liked being the person to share, never holding trade secrets close. I loved solving problems for my colleagues in my team, fixing it, feeling that satisfaction.
When I was first asked to do Artistic Portfolio reviews, for colleges, it seemed natural. It was a natural extension of my mentoring instinct. Talking to students, advising them so that they can chose where to go.
Out of that came some curriculum development consulting. As a person in the industry, I was getting asked, “How do our students get hired/learn what they need to know?” that sort of thing. I did guest lecturing in Berkeley, NYC, and Emeryville, where I did my first full-semester as a visiting lecturer, and caught the bug from that.