What It's Like Being a Media and Production Practicum

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Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is now accepting applications for the Audio Post Production Engineer Practicum, due November 23. The practicum positions are open to recent undergrad and graduate students and offer hands-on experience in a varied work environment featuring our state-of-the-art equipment and world-class faculty. Here are some stories from a few of 2016’s practicum participants. 

Check out some of the practicums with upcoming application deadlines and apply! 

Roland Eksteins, Former Video Practicum Sept. 2014 – Jan.  2016.

What’s your favourite memory of Banff Centre?

My favourite time of year has always been the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Meeting all the athletes and filmmakers and being inspired by these awesome films and being in that environment— that’s definitely been a highlight for me both times I attended.

What was your favourite project to work on at Banff Centre?

I enjoyed being given the opportunity to spearhead, produce, and direct the “How-To” video series because it was an opportunity for me to grow into a bigger role. It wasn’t necessarily the coolest project that I worked on at the Centre, but in terms of personal development it was probably the most memorable. I had to come up with all these different concepts, go out and talk to everybody around the campus, and network with people to find out what their niches were. It gave me this opportunity to knock on all these artists’ doors and ask them about their art form and their mediums. So I was directing, producing and shooting the whole thing, while learning about these different art processes.

What are you interested in exploring in your field?

There’s a connection with the mountains and the Canadian Rockies. Before I came to the Centre I lived in Nepal for a few months and spent a lot of time trekking through the Himalayas and living in the mountains. I think that was a very influential period in my life. I fell in love with the mountains. When I came back to Canada I got this opportunity at the Centre and it was fortunately right in the Canadian Rockies. So working in film and working outside in nature and the outdoors are two things I’m in love with and being able to combine these two things has been incredible. Banff Centre definitely encouraged that. It provided that bounce board.

How did Banff Centre change how you think about your work?

It motivated and inspired me to keep pushing through in my career because in my early 20s it was rough. There’s not a lot of money, you have to start off from the bottom without any reputation, or clients, or portfolio and it’s easy to want to hop into a more comfortable, stable position somewhere, maybe doing something a bit more boring. But Banff Centre gave me this opportunity to develop my portfolio, take the lead on all these different projects and learn all the aspects of production whether it’s the organizational side of things or the artistic, creative side of things. I learned how to balance between the two. It gave me the confidence to build on that in terms of my career.

Where are you now?

I work at Sherpas Cinema in their Canmore office. It’s incredible, I was lucky this was the next step in my career. It was a move directly into the mountain culture, adventure film industry and community that I had been exposed to at Banff Centre with the film festival. It’s one of the few production companies that specializes in outdoor adventure film. It’s a really small company so it’s got a family vibe to it. It’s a great environment for me to be working in because I’ve always done better in smaller environments.

Since I’ve been here it’s been a whirlwind of productions and that’s pretty cool. We do commercial productions and then we also do artistic documentaries and short films, so the company itself and the projects we take on have this interesting blend.

Nicolas Bergeron, Video Practicum – arrived April 2015

What is involved in your practicum?

Quite a lot, actually. It's the front end of production, so shooting video-oriented, but kind of everything associated with that—grip work, lighting. We do shooting in the field, kind of run-and-gun type work, also more reflective pieces, and short documentaries, so a whole range there. We could be going outdoors somewhere on location, we could be in a studio having set up an interview, or musicians may be performing a live piece. We do a lot of live coverage in that sense. We do video coverage of pretty much all the goings-on at the Centre.

What’s your favourite memory from your time at Banff Centre?

It's really some of these incredible artists that have come through that I've got to meet and work with in the flesh. At one point a musician named Zakir Hussain was here. He's one of the world's preeminent tabla players, who I was very much into prior to coming to the Centre. So getting to meet and interview Zakier Hussain was a huge moment for me because his music's been a big part of my life and he was this down-to-earth, humble person. It was a great vibe. Another good memory was having the opportunity to shoot an interview with Salman Rushdie. I was just behind the camera, but experiencing that was pretty exceptional.

Other than that all of my coworkers that I met at the Centre and hit it off with and made a lot of great friends.

What was your favourite residency or project you worked on at the Centre?

The Convergence residency was a huge highlight for me. We haven't released the bulk of the filming we did yet, but just having been involved in an entire residency, meeting most of the musicians, working with them, and seeing their process was incredible.

I am very much into music, so an experimental electronic artist who I am a big fan of, Keith Fullerton Whitman was a member of the faculty during the latest Convergence residency, and I got to work with him extensively. He was super chill and welcoming. We had some good chats—he recommended some music, so I felt privileged to experience that.

How has Banff Centre changed how you think about your work in video?

Before coming here I had a few years of video experience, and schooling, but coming to the Centre has definitely taken it to the next level. I've learned a lot beyond the camera, like grip work, lighting, set-ups. It's been an incredible experience because we just shoot so much. We're shooting constantly in all these different situations and settings, and that's what I was looking for coming here.

Being here has helped me focus what I am looking to do. I love editing but since coming here I've been focusing on shooting. I want to be a well-rounded videographer, so this has helped me round out with directing, writing, producing. In my own time I've been working on some short films aiming to strike a balance between artistic work and more documentary news style shooting. I’ve developed a whole new skill set, proficiency with new gear, and awareness of the field.

I've been able to shoot concerts, dance, theatre, opera, and visual arts projects. I've been training to shoot in all these diverse artistic disciplines, so I feel like I am well prepared to cover most things. Motion for example, being able to follow dancers or actors across a stage, can apply to other settings as well.

What’s special about Banff?

Banff Centre is the reason I'm here. It's amazing, but the area itself is also amazing. The natural environment is so gorgeous. I'm enamored with it. I feel strangely powerful here, there's just a great energy all around. I've come to a better understanding of myself and I'm probably in the best physical shape of my life, just taking advantage of all these mountains around me. Solo or with friends. I've achieved a clarity here in my personal and professional life that I had yet to experience. 

Rebecca St-John, Animation and Designer Practicum – arrived September 2015

What does your practicum entail?

We work as animators, motion designers, and graphic designers, so it combines a lot of different departments. Often we're working with marketing, for instance to launch the new branding, we created motion graphics and collaborated with editors for the reveal video. We also strategized layouts for how sponsors should be presented in this new format and created showcase slideshows that will be played at the Midsummer Ball. There's also collaboration with artist residencies that come here. For example during the Digital Narratives residency, we were partnered with the writers-in-residence to create illustrations and animations to enliven their stories.

What’s your favourite memory at Banff Centre?

There's so many. I think one of my favourites was driving into the Bow Valley with a bunch of the practicums. The way the landscape opens up was  gorgeous and overwhelming. We were discussing the Maira Kalman talk we'd just attended, she's a New Yorker illustrator who gave a really interesting talk about her work. She was here working on a dance production as part of the Concert as Theatre residency. So that day, we were in the car discussing the lecture and Freddie Scott's "You got What I Need" started playing—it was just a beautiful moment.

What was your favourite project to work on?

During the Digital Narratives residency there was a writer, programmer, and multidisciplinary artist here, named Crystal Chan. She's a really extraordinary person and the focus of her writing project while she was at the Centre was her grandmother's story as a refugee in China in the 1930s. She's written it beautifully from a very child-like perspective. So one of the creative challenges for me was creating a world through the illustrations that was both evocative of a story where violence and conflict are present, but also has this sense of wonder and a child-like perspective on the world.

What was your favourite residency you were a part of?

We had the opportunity to sit in with the Convergence residency during Markus Heckmann's lectures about TouchDesigner and the incredible possibilities that that program offers. It's a node-based software and you can use it to manipulate video, images, and sounds, but it has multiple inputs and outputs and can really create interactive projects. We got a taste of what was possible with TouchDesigner. Being integrated into the residency and acquiring that new skill set is exciting and really enlightening.

Can you describe your personal practice?

My current practice is evolving, but I am interested in how traditional media can connect with the most sophisticated technologies. For instance, with Crystal's project I started with ink brush drawings on watercolour paper, but then manipulated them through Photoshop and After Effects, even some 3D softwares to create dimension within the work. I am able to create something that's really a merger of traditional technique and something really high-tech. I like that tension in my own visual art and my animation work.

What’s special about being in Banff?

In this unique and sublime setting there is this constant changing and renewing of different artists from all over the world. So at once it can be very stimulating and also very emotional because people come and people leave and you have to get used that change. It's like being a port town almost, the ships launching and the ships coming in. It's the best part about being here, but perhaps also the worst part about being here.

I don't know another place in the world where I could be in the morning animating, in the afternoon be on a mountain top in pure wilderness looking down at a herd of elk, and then in the evening going to see a contemporary dance show.

How has being at Banff Centre changed how you think about your own work?

Because of the variety of projects that I've worked on, it's become clearer to me, what aspects of art direction I really like. My love of collaborating with individual artists has really shone through. It's also been a great opportunity to work with amazing software and equipment that I otherwise wouldn't have had access to. It has broadened the ambition of the projects I can see myself undertaking. I can see them having a larger scope or I can see myself being part of a larger team.

What is next for you?

I know that I want to continue working in motion design. I am also interested in public space in animation, for example projection mapping is something that I've explored here. In addition Crystal Chan and I were hoping to continue the project we started here in Banff, so we have applied for various opportunities to collaborate again on the project.

Ed Renzi, Former Audio Post Practicum  –  March - June 2016

What practicum were you in and what’s involved?

I was the audio post practicum. It involved recording some scoring sessions and doing all of the sound design and mixing for the video projects we do here at Banff Centre.

We get to work on some pretty incredible pieces here. There’s a great animation department, which is great for sound design. The video content is very interesting and exciting. You often get to go out on a number of shoots and do remote records for anything from dialogue and conversations to full symphonies.

What’s your favourite project that you worked on as a practicum?

I would say a beautifully animated piece about the filmmaker Diana Muftic speaking about her experiences following the ice field doctors on Mt. Everest. They’re called ice field doctors because they have to construct the route on the Khumbu Icefall. They actually have to go out and build the ladder bridges over this ice field, just so the climbers can reach the summit. It just had some beautiful animations which required some pretty cool sound design, like dozens of avalanches going off at once and the sound of a terrified ice field doctor climbing a ladder for the first time over a 1,000 ft crevasse.

What was your favourite memory as a practicum?

I would say it was having world-renowned composer Darren Fung lead me through a musical piece. I was asked to play the spoons for a Celtic fiddle and drum piece, and it was a particularly intense spoon track, so he had to conduct it. So we were recording the symphony pieces and one of the pieces was an east coast settler. It’s a tune about the settlers that came to the Banff area in the late 1800s, and a lot of them were of Irish and Celtic descent, so being from the east coast, they assumed I would be a good spoon player. Turns out it’s just something that comes naturally to me.

What do you do in your personal practice?

I mix a lot of records for people, I do a lot of sound design for various TV shows and films, I do a fair amount of music recording as well for a number of Halifax bands in jazz, funk and rock. A lot of east coast stuff, hip hop, everything. And pyrotechnics. So much pyro. It’s a great job to get into if you want to sound cool at a party. On Canada Day, I set off the fireworks in Canmore.

How has working at Banff Centre changed how you see your own work?

It has certainly kicked up my skillset when it comes to operatic and symphonic recording. There have been a number of unique recording challenges with different locations and events, learning how to work in all the studios and use the space as effectively as possible. Luscar is probably the pride and joy of Banff Centre because it has a very large live floor, very Abbey Road-esque in its styling, and it’s filled with a beautiful Steinway. And so much beautiful outboard gear that makes everything sound amazing. We’ve done some indie bands, we’ve done symphonic recordings, and small string arrangements.

What’s next?

Having spent a decade as a film mixer and sound designer and working in education, it turns out that Banff Centre was hiring someone that had that particular skill set, so I’m now an audio engineer with a focus on post-production.

Brendon Wilson, Editing Practicum – arrived September 2015

What practicum are you in and what’s involved?

I’m part of the Editor Practicum program and I do both the offline and online video editing of all the projects that come through here. A lot of the content pieces and service pieces for clients. Whatever’s needed.

What’s your favourite project that you’ve worked on at Banff Centre?

My favourite project here was working for the Banff Media Festival, because it was a very intensive week working with a client in a very real world work environment. It was a great experience watching the project develop throughout the week and then watching the final gala show that following week was really neat. Actually seeing your work displayed in that kind of environment is really awesome.

What’s your favourite memory of your time here?

Just getting here was really amazing, not only being in Banff, but coming to Banff Centre. Just the facilities that we have here are like nothing I’ve ever worked on before. All the help from the mentors and other staff at Banff Centre has made it a really great experience.

What do you do in your personal practice?

I am a photographer as well, and I do a lot of nature photography, a lot of landscape work. I also work on video projects a lot with musicians, filming live video sessions and really anything else I can get my hands on.

How has working at Banff Centre changed how you see your own work?

My work has definitely progressed a lot during my time here due to the facilities and the help. It sometimes being a fast-paced work environment is also helpful to have deadlines when you’re working with clients. At the same time, it’s great when you don’t have immediate deadlines and you really get to work on your project for a while and watch it develop. You really have the time to explore new options and be creative with your work, which is something I hadn’t had before. Time is really essential, whether it’s having a lot of it or not.

What’s special about being in Banff?

I mean, the mountains and all of the activities that you can do here are amazing. I kind of came here and just picked up anything that was offered to me, whether it was skiing or mountain biking, what have you. There are just endless opportunities here.

What’s next?

I’m planning a road trip all across North America, down the east coast and back up the west coast, working on both my photography and video work, making some short films, and visiting some national and state parks. Really just exploring the wilderness and documenting it along the way.

Senem Pirler, Audio Engineering Practicum  – arrived May 2016

What’s involved in your practicum?

I’m an audio engineering practicum, so we are basically sound engineers for the concert recordings. We record them and put them in the archives, and then we also have different workshops. We focus more on the sounds. In our private time, we go through the recordings and analyze them. We do demos and productions that are different from the concert set ups, so you have more time to get the perfect time in studio. With production, you get to do multiple takes and the editing.

What’s your favourite project that you’ve worked on at Banff Centre?

We’ve recorded some really good concerts. One of them was the Mozart Trio, which I’m really proud of the recording. It came out really well. I work on my own stuff too, and I really like using the studios for my own projects. We have unlimited access to the studios, so it works out really well with my own research and my own projects. What I’m working on right now is mixing my own performing and also going back to work more on some of my old mixes. We do have a lot of analogue gear, which is great to use. It’s not just the digital system, we have actual knobs to turn and play with.

What kind of personal projects are you working on?

I’m very multi-genre, but the music that I compose and the sound art that I do is electro-acoustic. I work with a lot of field recordings and I make compositions with those. Sometimes I use acoustic instruments. I work with capturing space and spatialization, moving sound objects. I do a lot of installation performances, so they focus on creating a sonic space. Sometimes it has visual or dance components.

What’s your favourite memory as a practicum?

We plan weekly jam sessions in the studio with all of the audio engineer practicums. One week we jammed all night. We just put all of the instruments out in the project room and recorded ourselves. It was really fun.

How has working at Banff Centre changed how you see your own work?

Almost 12 years ago, I was in a similar situation working with recording a lot of classical music, but more in a studio environment, not in concert. Going back to that idea, but also seeing how the whole institute works around that, has influenced me. I think the whole institute focusing on art and other fields is important. Having visual artists around or interdisciplinary things happening in one centre, I think that’s precious.

What’s special about being in Banff?

It’s beautiful. I think having a centre just for arts is really special. All of the people that you are constantly seeing or contacting are in an art field, whatever discipline they are focusing on. Having not only conversations with your colleagues, but with other artists is also nice.

What are you doing next?

I will go back to my PhD and I will focus on my own research, which is on 3D audio. Before my PhD I was doing sound work, now I’m doing audio-visual work and finding a way to put engineering in audio and using it in a creative way to perform in a space.