NSCAD’s CineFlux cutting-edge research

NSCAD University film professor Sam Fisher uses a 3D printer to make camera parts. (Photo: Mark Rendell)

Sam Fisher sits by a glowing glass box surrounded by newly printed, colourful plastic parts. He’s using this 3D printer to invent a new type of camera.

“Instead of always buying software and hardware that was configured in a way we didn’t like,” says Fisher, “we started saying, ‘well, we’re the artists, this is what we want … and as artists we can lead technology. ’”

This is the kind of innovative thinking behind CineFlux, NSCAD University’s centre for interdisciplinary research in cinema and media arts.

The centre occupies half of the second floor of NSCAD’s Victorian red-brick Academy building at the foot of Citadel Hill. Visitors enter through ultra-modern double glass doors with “CineFlux” in bold letters printed above.

There’s one spacious room with high ceilings and wooden floors where members can work together on large-scale projects. Four smaller rooms are packed with gadgets such as the 3D printer, high-definition cameras and a motion-capture system – the kind used to animate Gollum in the Lord of the Rings film.

NSCAD faculty who shared an interest in media technology and a need for research space founded CineFlux in 2008.

“We formed a research cluster as a way of formalizing that relationship,” says photographer Robert Bean. “We came up with a name and began writing grants as a group.”

CineFlux received its first Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant in 2008 to host a national conference on emerging media.

In 2009 it secured a $4-million grant from the federal government to renovate the Academy building. The space looked like a “war zone” before the renovations, says film professor Nathan Ryan.

“As important as that space, is that mental space they created,” he says.

“The idea is that we’re all there so there’s sort of a think tank,” says Fisher. “The more people who are there, you have more resources for getting ideas.

With faculty members from the film, sculpture, photography and media arts departments all working in the same space, there’s lots of opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Bean has been working with sculptor IIan Sandler on a multi-media exhibit currently at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery that looks at obsolete technology. Film professor Robert Nagel has teamed up with Dalhousie architecture professors to design moveable theatre spaces.

“It goes back to the idea that the artist’s studio in itself is a little laboratory,” says Bean.

Though it’s mostly for faculty research, NSCAD students are also benefiting from the centre.

“The research we do does come back to our classes,” says Bean. “We begin to teach things that we’re learning about on a more accelerated level.”

Last year senior students learned how to program tablets and smart phones while working as research assistants. And several MFA students are working with the motion capture system for exhibits at NSCAD’s Anna Leonowens Gallery.