DENNIS Wong, 22, was in a quandary after finishing secondary school. He likes visual art but felt that he would not be able to live on his art alone. His parents believed that he was better off enrolling in a more marketable programme like Information Technology (IT).The alternative, Dennis decided, was to take up a course that combines art with IT. Herein, lies the problem.
“I knew that you can combine IT with art but was not sure what the right programme was. I only knew that there is IT or creative multimedia but was not sure what the differences are,” shares the Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology graduate.
After extensive research, he says, he discovered the right combination for him.
Dennis is one of the more prudent ones, says Chong Siaw Weii, deputy head of the Multimedia Faculty at The One Academy.
“We’ve had many students who don’t understand the principles of either fields and are then forced to abandon the programme when it does not live up to their expectations,” she says.
What is creative multimedia
As Chong explains, “If you look up the meaning of IT, you will find that it is any form of technology used to retrieve and process information such as business data. Multimedia leans more towards art and design – students have to learn some IT components but it is about how you present information digitally with various data, whether it is text, animation, graphics, video or audio.”
The word multimedia comes from two root words: “multi” which means many, and “media” that means agencies by which information is conveyed or disseminated. “Multimedia” thus means a method of disseminating information in more than one form.
Both IT and Multimedia are different, Chong adds, yet they overlap at some point, as both are involved in delivering information to the audience.
Michael Choong, programme leader for the Advanced Diploma in Multimedia at Limkokwing concurs.
“They are complementary; you have the back-end where the IT supports a programme, and the front-end, which is the content design that the user can access.”
It is important to understand both although you should specialise in one field, he adds.
Citing web development as an example, Choong says that an IT person will be involved in the “technological” aspects of the website while the creative multimedia person will be responsible for the design such as how the information is relayed to an audience.
Dr Ahmad Rafi Mohamed Eshaq, dean of the Faculty of Creative Multimedia at Multimedia University (MMU) prefers to use a television analogy.
“If you look at a television, the box is the hardware, which is related to engineering; the switch, control, and channels are the IT bits and the TV shows are the creative multimedia content.”
What does creative multimedia comprise
The unique thing about creative multimedia is its expansive scope.
Limkokwing lecturer Tan Kok Huat shares that it has opened up a whole new vista for him.
“There are various fields that you can go into – manufacturing, film, advertising, web designing, mobile industry. And it is continuously growing.”
At the One Academy, the multimedia programme is very art-based.
“Students have to do a lot of drawings and paintings every week to develop their art sense. This is also to hone their sensitivity to details,” says Chong.
The foundation year is important, she adds, so the art and design academy tries to provide a well-rounded education. Before students choose a major, she adds, they should have a good sense of art and design.
At Limkokwing the emphasis is on communication.
“A designer’s role is to connect with consumers and audiences. In packaging a product, for example, designers need to use their designs to communicate effectively,” Limkokwing’s Choong shares.
Dr Ahmad Rafi, however, argues that it is simplistic to stress on the art aspect alone, as it is constantly evolving.
At MMU, the focus is more on design principles, combined with a strong foundation in IT and liberal subjects such as psychology and language.
“Art is a subset of design; design is a bigger component, so here we teach design fundamentals. Understanding design is important as elements of design don’t change, tools change,” says Dr Ahmad Rafi.
This is particularly pertinent to emerging strands such as interface design and virtual reality.
Although traditional sketching is still used in the course, it is only to generate ideas.
“Anything is acceptable as long as students can communicate their ideas, the sketches are not for aesthetics,” he says.
He adds that statistics show that 80% of students in his faculty are from the science stream, and many have no knowledge of art.
“We believe that creativity can be developed. Mathematical knowledge and English language skills are more important.”
Types of multimedia courses
Dr Ahmad Rafi draws attention to three types of multimedia courses.
“The first is the multimedia degree or diploma where students do 70% of IT and only 30% multimedia skills. Second is traditional design where multimedia tools are applied, so students get a superficial understanding of the tools used. The third is the art and design base where students are instilled with the design fundamentals. Students need to be aware of what the market wants before deciding.”
All agree nonetheless that an important aspect of creative multimedia is industry links.
“We encourage a lot of sharing with industry people, from filmmakers and designers so that students really feel that they are in the industry, not just students in college. This exposure is key for students,” says Chong.
Eugene Foo, who just joined the multimedia faculty at Limkokwing after graduation, shares that it is a given fact that faculty members have to work on creating links with industry and develop R&D.
Limkowing has an interesting concept of business units on campus to produce graduates with an edge. Attracting well-known business entities such as Wella, Fitofly and Wings Coffee, the business centre provides students with an insight on how businesses use creativity to succeed.
MMU also stresses industry links with a few animation and multimedia production companies housed on its campus in Cyberjaya.
“Multimedia companies are constantly knocking on our doors for skilled manpower, so you can imagine the shortage.”
The perennial public hysteria of mismatched skills among technology graduates can be misleading.
The crux of the problem, opines Dr Ahmad Rafi, is the education system.
“Too many institutions of higher learning in the country offer traditional courses like computer science or engineering. So you produce the same graduates, creating a glut in the industry. There are niche areas that are in demand around the world like interface design (especially for mobile technology) and virtual reality, so we need to produce people who have this expertise instead of producing generalists. Most graduates in our country are Jack of all trades and masters of none, “ he says.
Another area that students should look out for is the gaming industry, which is booming globally.
The growing uses of multimedia across industries have created various employment openings in national and multinational companies, as well as opportunities in entrepreneurship.
Chong feels that much has been said about the shortage of the back-end of technology workers when the reality is that graduates from both spectrums are needed.
“They are interdependent. We need creative multimedia graduates as well as IT experts. When you work, everything is done in a team of specialists with specific roles. The issue is whether the creative multimedia programmes offered are well-designed, up-to-date and have good teaching staff. Also important is students’ interest and aptitude. Many just jump into a course without proper research or without understanding who they really are and what they want,” she advises.
Both agree that the local content industry has the potential of becoming a key revenue contributor to the country, albeit with a more concerted effort to nurture local talents.
Chong strongly believes that there will be no turning back, and that the stage is set for creative multimedia to grow in all industries in the near future.
“A worry now is that the industry is not ready for cutting edge creative multimedia. We’ve got a lot of feedback from our graduates about employers or customers not understanding their concepts. This is what we tell our students.To change people's mindset they need to be patient. But at the same time they also have to be leaders and try to convince clients of the possibilities. ”