Media Sandbox Michigan State University

New Learning Spaces Up Experience and Professional Skills for ComArtSci Students

February 14th, 2017

Immersive experiences within new spaces at the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences are empowering students with the acumen they’ll need to excel in competitive, tech-driven media careers.

The college’s new Spartan Newsroom and Immersive Media Studio invite students to collaborate, gain real-life experiences and build professional skills. The newsroom welcomed its first students in fall 2016 and went “live” during the General Election, while the immersive studio opened for classes in January 2017. The innovative, cross-functional spaces equip students for 21st century jobs by engaging them in the development and delivery of news, animation, game design and immersive interactive media content involving motion capture, augmented and virtual realities.

“Having the experience to work within a professional pipeline facility will make a student’s transition into a real-world situation smoother and more successful,” says Stacey Fox, professor of animation, mixed realities and immersive journalism in the MSU School of Journalism. “It also teaches students the importance of respecting a production space.”

JRN_Motioncapturre_5The expansive learning spaces sit in the middle of the first floor of the ComArtSci building. Students and faculty are free to move seamlessly from one area to the next when producing or creating content, or when working on collaborative media projects. Many high-activity areas and broadcasting studios are viewable through glass walls, giving passers-by a Today Show experience.

Fox says students often remark on how lucky they feel to have such a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility in which to produce new works. She adds that the new space and studio places ComArtSci on the forefront alongside major universities like Arizona State University, California Institute of the Arts and New York University in offering curriculum and training in global media production.

“Our space is unique in that it has the latest in motion capture and learning technologies for classroom collaboration, production and immersion,” says Fox. “Spartans and the general public are able to see the whole process in real time when they walk by and look through the floor to ceiling glass windows.”

Learning by doing, learning with others
Julie Dunmire was in the initial group of students to experience the power of the new spaces. The broadcast journalism student worked in the newsroom on Election Day 2016, and was the first person to read a live report from the news anchor desk. Dunmire currently takes a class in the newsroom and sometimes interacts with students from other ComArtSci disciplines who are learning and working within the immersive spaces.

“News is not in ‘silos’ anymore,” says Dunmire. “We have to stop thinking about ourselves as ‘photojournalists’ or ‘writers’ or ‘anchors’ because we will all have similar tasks and roles in a digital age.”

Like Dunmire, other students believe that what you learn in a traditional classroom is far different than what you can learn in an immersive or real-world environment.

Media and Information undergraduate Michael Grassi focuses on 3D animation studies and is applying his craft through the immersive studio. His big take-away, he says, is learning to operate advanced motion capture systems and apply motion capture files to 3D animation.

“The new systems we have access to are professional grade equipment, and the products professionals use to make a living,” says Grassi. “Knowing how to operate them and having access to their benefits as a college student preparing for the professional workplace gives us invaluable experience. It shortens the learning curve potential employers would face if they were to hire us.”

JRN_Motion_CaptureCreative Advertising undergraduate Michael Cagney echoes the sentiment. Cagney is continuing to learn the ins and outs of the studio’s motion capture system, and has begun to integrate motion capture skills into his other animation abilities. Those experiences, he says, have strengthened his confidence, and are shaping the direction he will take when he graduates in May.

“I’ve learned how to operate the motion capture system for myself and for others in a professional setting,” he says. “I would like to pursue a job in animation and possibly mocap.”

In addition to applying their skills in news, animation and motion capture arenas, students and faculty can design and produce virtual reality broadcasts and 360 animation renderings for immersive storytelling. The center opens up possibilities for cross-campus collaborations in almost any area, including those underway in athletics, health and medicine and theatre.

“Along with offering our courses in the space, we will also be utilizing the immersive media studio to host events such as game design jams, animation festivals and this February the Cultural Digi Summit in partnership with the Smithsonian Latino Center. We will have industry leaders in technology and culture in residence for two days utilizing the new spaces,” says Fox. “It’s a very exciting time to be at the MSU School of Journalism and ComArtSci.”

By Ann Kammerer

Indigenous Language Games are launched by MSU Faculty

January 24th, 2017

Media and Information’s Elizabeth LaPensée and Jon Whiting paired up to create two new games called “Manoominike” and “Mikan” for the Duluth Children’s Museum in Minnesota. With the help of the museum and a committee of Anishinaabe community members, these games pinpoint specific teachings about the practice of ricing in Anishinaabemowin (Anishinaabe language). These games launched at the free Manoomin Exhibit Opening in Duluth  on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.

“I’m blown away by seeing the Manoomin exhibit at the Duluth Children’s Museum, which will be up for several years complete, with the games Manoominike and Mikan in wiigiwaam,” said LaPensée.

thumbnail_manoominWith assistants of the committee and contributions from Ojibwemowning Digital Arts Studio, this collaboration involved design and art by Elizabeth LaPensée, programming by Tyler Coleman, and sound by Jon Whiting. The game, Manoominike (meaning “wild rice”) in Anishinaabemowin, gives users a motion-controlled experience that is surrounded by elements and imagery of modern ricing in a fabricated wigwam, a real-life look and feel. The second game called Mikan (meaning “find it”) is a mobile game that intends to pass on phrases about ricing in Anishinaabemowin such as jiimaan (meaning “canoe”).

mikanThe greatest challenge of all involved creating games that could be played in short experiences in a museum, while honoring the vastness of the ricing tradition,” said LaPensée.

The Manoomin exhibit and the Manoominike and Mikan games were made possible through support from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Legacy Fund and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation’s Anishinaabe Fund.

“I’m grateful for input from the committee as well as community members who see what I hope to pass on through these games –the importance of ricing and sustainable harvesting practices directed at youth, the next generations, who will continue these teachings,” said LaPensée.

By Emmy Virkus


January 18th, 2017

The story of Chinatown Fair the last arcade in New York City and the community that made it legendary.

Written and produced by Irene Chin and directed by Kurt Vincent, THE LOST ARCADE, is an intimate story of a once-ubiquitous cultural phenomenon on the edge of extinction, especially in New York City, which once had video arcades by the dozen. These arcades were as much social hubs to meet up and hang out as they were public arenas for gamers to demonstrate their skills. But by 2011, only a handful remained, most of them corporate affairs, leaving the legendary Chinatown Fair on Mott Street as the last hold-out of old-school arcade culture.

Opened in the early 1940’s, Chinatown Fair, famous for its dancing and tic tac toe playing chickens, survived turf wars between rival gangs, increases in rent, and the rise of the home gaming system to become an institution and haven for kids from all five boroughs. A documentary portrait of the Chinatown Fair and its denizens, THE LOST ARCADE is a eulogy for and a celebration of the arcade gaming community, tenacity, and Dance Dance Revolutionary spirit.

Hosted by the Department of Media + Information and the Media Sandbox!

ComArtSci alumnus Geoff Johns named President & Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment

January 13th, 2017

Many people dream of turning their passions into a career. For Geoff Johns, his love of comic books and their iconic characters – Superman, Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern – was all the fuel he needed to pursue a career in media and entertainment.

In 2016, Johns hit superhero status at DC Entertainment when he was promoted to president and chief creative officer of the company. Johns is now leading a new era for the DC Universe, revamping the stories of his favorite childhood superheroes – including Wonder Woman, who will be at the center of the first female-powered superhero movie, set to release in summer 2017.


Geoff Johns

Becoming Geoff Johns
Johns graduated from Michigan State University in 1995 and studied media arts, screenwriting, film production and film theory. As a student, he took advantage of the unique opportunities at MSU, from film club to physics classes.

“I’ll set aside the fact that it’s a beautiful campus, that the culture is amazing, that it has the biggest comic book collection in the world, which is awesome,” Johns told us, while reflecting on his time at MSU.  “But, the thing that was so valuable to me is that you find that whatever you’re interested in, they have something for it.”

Johns was drawn to classes in film and media production, and crashed MSU’s library of comic books, as he worked to develop a better knowledge of film, screenplays and characters. He also found value in the basics like economics and physics, ultimately preparing him for the business side of his budding career.

Two physics classes in particular made a lasting impact. “The physics of light and color and the physics of sound. Those two classes were really valuable to me both in my storytelling as a writer, as well as in production, because they actually taught me how light works, how color works, how we interpret sound and how sound works.”

He continued, “If you want to be a screenwriter, my advice would be don’t just take writing (classes). You need to study production, accounting, history, everything that you think will help you tell your story. I think that the more you can broaden your horizons the better, and you can do that at MSU.”

Meanwhile, across the country…
After college, Johns started his career in Los Angeles, working as an intern alongside the original Superman director, Richard Donner. He later became an assistant to Donner, wrote alongside him, and picked up industry insights along the way. In his professional career, Johns has become one of the most decorated comic book writers of his time. He has written highly acclaimed stories starring Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Teen Titans and Justice Society of America and is a New York Times best selling author for his comics.

As a hero in the halls of his office, Johns will play a crucial role in DC Entertainment’s current rebirth, aiming to bring DC Comics back to the basics and focus on storytelling first. Ultimately, striving to minimize the gap that lies between diehard fans and movie critics.

“At the end of the day, the thing I’m most interested in and the thing I’m most passionate about is story and character,” said Johns.

One idea Johns picked up from Donner that stuck with him is the concept of superheroes as “healthy junk food,” promoting a positive message while also entertaining. Johns told us that Donner believed, “you never do entertainment under the guise of a message, you do a message under the guise of entertainment. Whether it’s Superman’s inspiration and hope, or Batman’s justice – they all have these wonderful moral qualities to them and I think that’s why people respond to these characters so much.”

According to Johns, superheroes aren’t just fun to watch. It’s more about why they do what they do and how they do it that matters and is exciting to the viewer. When asked what superhero was most like him, he said it changes everyday.

“There are some days where you think you feel like Batman, where the world is dark and you have to fight back. There are days when you want to inspire like Superman. I’d say (I’m most like) Green Lantern. I love Green Lantern, I wrote him for 9 years, he’s all about willpower and perseverance and that’s how I got to where I am. I’ve got a lot of willpower and perseverance and I love what I do. And if you want to succeed that’s what you need to have.”

Wisdom built and shared
Perseverance, willpower and the ability to learn from past mistakes are all traits of popular superheroes – and even Johns himself. These traits have allowed him to face challenges head-on, working and learning as his career progressed.

“The truth is that the hurdles that I’ve faced in business and in my career have just been learning experiences. There are times when you try a new project and it doesn’t work or you’re working with someone and the chemistry isn’t producing the best work,” Johns told us. “Any kind of hurdle or challenge, as long as you keep working at it and try to learn from it, it’s ultimately a very good thing.”

Johns’ positive outlook on professional experiences – good or bad – has helped him to grow in his career. Never expecting a handout, always working for everything he’s received, Johns set out to prove himself and encourages current students to do the same.

“Being in the real world, in the job, you’re not going to be promoted just because you’ve been there a year. It’s not like school where you move on and you move up. You’ve got to prove yourself. You’ve got to work hard,” said Johns. “I loved Michigan State. I got so much from it and learned so much from my time there. And the one thing that they can’t teach you is when you’re in it. Get out here and really be a part of it.”

Sparty the next superhero?
Johns gave us some insight into what Sparty might look like as a comic book character, sharing how he would draw him.

“If we were going to draw him, he’d be as broad as Superman, maybe a little taller. We might want to give him a flowing cape, a green cape would be cool. I think he’d definitely be on the Justice League, though. He’s kind of a cross between a superhero and Popeye.”

And we’re sure that just like Johns, Sparty’s superhero would show the world how Spartans Will.

By Nikki W. O’Meara


WKAR Offers Student Hands-On Experience

December 7th, 2015

During a class taught by Media and Information Instructor Lisa Whiting Dobson, Elishia Johnson took a tour of the WKAR studios and students were encouraged to apply for positions with the network. Johnson filled out an application that night and now is an intern for WKAR-TV where she does set staging, runs cameras, edits TV promotions and floor directs.


“Being able to travel and work staging for live productions like Silver Bells in the City and the Michigan Blues and Jazz Festival are a few of the most interesting things I have done at WKAR,” said Johnson, a Media and Information senior. “Being involved in these productions from set up to tear down prepares me to be able to do these things on my own for future jobs.”

After graduation, Johnson hopes to attend graduate school and find a job in video production.

“I am especially interested in documentaries and nonprofits,” she said, “I want to be able to tell the stories of people whose stories need to be heard. I also would like to instruct classes on video production. Most of all, I hope that after graduation I will be able to use my skills to give back to the community.”

But first Johnson is getting the opportunity at WKAR to work on real sets and experience the flow of real productions. She said the WKAR staff is committed to students and take the time to help guide them.

Before working at WKAR, Johnson had a video production internship at Peckham Inc.

She says her Communication Arts and Sciences classes have helped with her internships by giving her hands-on experience in the classroom.

“The coursework in ComArtSci classes mock real life situations,” Johnson said, “and our professors and instructors push us to strive for no less than professional standards.”

Johnson has long had a love for media and technology and was involved with media and technology activities all throughout high school. She says she enjoys the connection of expressing yourself while telling a story and provoking emotion from an audience.

“I like video production because it allows you to express yourself in many ways,” she said. “You have to be able to think logically, critically, analytically, but you are also able to tap into your inner creativity at the same time.”

WKAR offers opportunities for student employment and internships in media production (TV, radio and online), fundraising, marketing and promotion, and office administration. More than two dozen students are employed or hold internships each semester.

For more information on internship opportunities at WKAR, contact the WKAR main office, Communication Arts and Sciences Building Room 212, at 517-884-4700.


Media and Information Department First at MSU to Partner with Coursera

September 2nd, 2015

The Department of Media and Information will soon be the first at MSU to offer online courses through Coursera, an open online education provider.

A Game Design and Development Specialization taught by MSU Media and Information faculty is set to launch Tuesday, Sept. 15, on Coursera. Accessible to anyone, this online program will include a series of four courses – modified versions of Game Design and Development courses taught in person on MSU’s campus – and end with a final capstone project.


The MSU team – including Brian Winn and Casey O’Donnell, both Associate Professors in the Department of Media and Information, and David Wheeler, Director of Media Sandbox – competed against other institutions for the opportunity to partner with Coursera on the Game Design and Development Specialization and won the contract.

“We’re taking part of what we do physically here at MSU with our Game Design and Development minor and turning it into a specialization on the Coursera platform,” Winn said. “It’s not the complete experience of what we do here, because obviously there are certain things you can do when you are together physically that you can’t do online, but its borrowing a lot of the things that we’ve built and refined over the last 10 years in our top-rated program.”

These will be the first massive open online courses (MOOCs) in Game Design and Development offered by Coursera, and the first time MSU has partnered with the company.

“We are thrilled to offer a Specialization in Games Design and Development from Michigan State University, a leader in this field,” said Daphne Koller, President and Co-Founder of Coursera. “This specialization is expected to quickly reach hundreds of thousands of the 14 million registered learners from around the world on Coursera, many of whom would never have had access to MSU’s high quality instruction.”
Winn and O’Donnell are developing the courses. Students from the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab and the Media Sandbox are helping with the project.

“We’ve got a really solid curriculum here that only touches about 80 people a year, so we are scaling from 80 to thousands and potentially more,” Winn said. “One of the huge differences between our physical program and the online program is I’m not there. In the online version, I have to make sure it’s a complete course experience that stands on its own.”

David Wheeler
David Wheeler, Media Sandbox Director

The first class will be available Sept. 15. The second on Oct. 15, the third Nov. 15 and the fourth on Dec. 15. The capstone course is expected to launch in January. One or more companies will be partnered to offer the capstone. Wheeler is helping develop industry partnerships for the capstone course. The first confirmed partner is the online game portal Kongregate, which will provide an avenue for distribution and even monetization for aspiring game developers taking the course.

“I think this will really will help push MSU’s brand as a location that does game design and development and teaches about it, out to the world,” Winn said. “It is sort of staking our claim over that area. I hope it will build a lot of positive PR for the university and our program. I also think it has the potential of attracting students to MSU in the future.”

The courses will be offered on demand, so students can start them at any time.

Students will receive grades based on two types of assessment – multiple choice, computer graded quizzes and peer review where others in the class grade your projects. Students won’t earn college credit, but can receive a certificate for completing the entire specialization.

The ComArtSci team sees the target audience as professionals, including programmers, designers and artists, who already have a college degree who want to move into the game industry, or high school students who are curious about making games.

“I think this will really appeal to high school students,” Winn said. “It’s a way to get their toe in the water, decide if they like making games, and then hopefully some of them will decide to come here to MSU to pursue it as a degree.”

Anybody can take the courses for free, but to take the capstone and to get the Michigan State University certificate learners need to pay for them.

Coursera has partnered with more than 120 universities and educational institutions to offer hundreds of online courses and specializations in topics ranging from computer science to social psychology and beyond.

For more information, visit the Coursera website.

Michigan State UniversityCollege of Communication Arts and Sciences


MSU Media Sandbox is a creative CURRICULUM and COMMUNITY in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University.