Class Action: COMS 274 - Intermedia I 

The medium’s rare message

By Karen Herland

Magnifying glass

Magnifying glass

Students in Intermedia I were able to rework a Girl Talk video using their ideas and software. Magnifying glass

Students in Intermedia I were able to rework a Girl Talk video using their ideas and software.

Building knowledge is more than just learning skills. That’s something that students in COMS 274 find out organically.

“It was very apparent with the undergraduate student cohort that a few always seem to know Photoshop or Flash better than I do,” said Matt Soar, who teaches Intermedia I as a complement to existing Communication Studies streams in film, video and sound production. Intermedia teaches students how to work with digital media, and to explore how digital technologies operate in culture and society.

“You may be great in Photoshop, but can you think? Students in this class learn how to be thinking makers,” said Soar, who is also a practicing graphic designer.
Each year he teaches the course, Soar finds a different medium to use as a starting point for students to challenge themselves and their abilities. Over the last several terms, they have produced a variety of digital media.

Most recently, students worked in pairs to research artists, activists or movements (like Salvador Dali or Barbara Kruger) whose work reflects an intermedia practice. The students had to produce a two-page spread that presented their chosen subject both in words and images. Soar is putting the final pdf of their project together. The result will be an ezine which can be circulated on the web.

Every year communications students show off their production work at Prodfest. On April 30, students presented their rotoscoped video of DJ Girl Talk’s performance, Each of the 64 students was responsible for illustrating over a two-to-three-second clip of the video using Flash. Although the students worked individually, Soar screened the work-in-progress each week. Seeing what their peers were doing inspired students to stretch themselves and the technology.

In a field in which media is increasingly remixed, repackaged and reworked, ownership of creative work becomes contested. Soar invited Concordia alum Brett Gaylor, who is currently working on a documentary on copyright called Basement Tapes, to discuss his project in class.

Gaylor is creating his documentary on the web. Rushes are posted at under the creative commons license. “Whereas traditional copyright forbids making changes to a work, creative commons encourages it,” Gaylor explained. Those who visit the site can add to, edit or otherwise manipulate the footage they find.

“Anyone can go online and add stuff or rework it,” said Soar. “It’s a full-on collaborative project.”

And Intermedia I’s Girl Talk rotoscope project is now part of the film, set to be released in the fall. Girl Talk’s music relies on other people’s creativity,” said Gaylor, adding that the chain of creativity stretches backwards. “Girl Talk samples the Rolling Stones, who would not be anywhere without Muddy Waters. The students are the last link in the chain.”

He sees the project as a quintessential part of the discussion on media his film opens up. “With digital media, you are not just a consumer, you have to push back.”

Intermedia 1 students have also reworked the Disney classic Steamboat Willy, layering references from the last eight decades over the familiar Mickey Mouse character.


Concordia University