The 1990s saw the birth of many inter-disciplinary movements in the world of academia. This is one of them.


The Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) is a two-year professional masters program. During the first semester, students take several courses introducing them to concepts of Entertainment Technology. A course called Building Virtual Worlds puts students in semi-random small groups for two week periods in which they must design and implement entertaining virtual reality experiences. Improvisational Acting exercises cooperative creativity in groups, and is also considered the most useful background skill by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar.

The following three semesters have students taking one project course, and one elective. Project work usually takes 30-40 hours per week, so taking any additional classes is discouraged. Like any graduate program, ETC students can expect endless weeks of late nights and no weekends during their stay.

Projects come from one of three sources: a faculty member comes up with a particular idea, and creates a project around it; an outside corporation has an idea, but doesn't know how to implement it, and hires the ETC to help them solve their problem; or a student, or group of students, comes up with a particular idea and pitches the project to the faculty. Historically, many of the ETC's most successful projects have been student-suggested, so the ETC is usually very receptive to students' project suggestions.

The ETC offers no financial aid whatsoever. Pretty much every student will walk out with tens of thousands of dollars in debts. The only upside to this is that the ETC winds up getting only students who really, really want to be there. Also, students retain full ownership and intellectual property rights to any work they produce at the ETC. If students develop marketable ideas, then those students get the money.


The ETC is a graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), which was born into the world in 1998 as a joint program between the School of Computer Science and the School of Drama. The ETC is under the co-directorship of virtual reality researcher and human-computer interaction professor, Dr. Randy Pausch, and former Associate Head of Drama and esteemed professor of drama, Dr. Donald Marinelli. This team up of one right-brained man and one left-brained man acting in concert continues to operate under the stated goal of providing "Leadership in education and research that combines technology and fine arts to create new processes, tools, and vision for storytelling and entertainment."

Summed up nicely: "The Entertainment Technology Center is a place where artists and engineers come to learn how to work together."

Contrary to popular belief, the ETC is not a Computer Science program; it is an Entertainment Technology program. It does not teach artists how to be engineers, or engineers how to be artists. Rather, it teaches students how to build a bridge between their craft, and the crafts of their co-workers. To that end, the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University is the only place on Earth where a person can obtain a Master of Entertainment Technology (MET) degree.


As of this writeup, the ETC is still only 5 years old, and continues to suffer growing pains.

One of these pains is finding good faculty. When one is inventing a new field, it is often difficult to find people qualified to teach it, let alone finding some one who is actually gifted at teaching. You cannot simply give students a few computer science classes and a few art classes and expect them to work it all out themselves. The problem is further complicated by the fact that even the fields that the ETC likes to focus on, such as interactivity and new media, have very primitive academic vocabularies. The ETC is experiencing problems much like early film schools faced in the 1970s.

However, with these pains come rewards. The ETC is quietly making waves in the Entertainment Technology community (which includes, among other industries, video games, movies, television, museums, theme parks, and theater). ETC students are rapidly becoming saught-after as interns and employees by companies such as Maxis, Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic, Rockstar Studios, Disney Imagineering and other companies with feet in both entertainment and technology.

The ETC differentiates itself from places like MIT's Media Lab by focusing less on research, and more on development. Put another way, the ETC doesn't make the new technology, it gives people a reason to care about new technology.

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