Editor's note: This is part of a regular series about the courses being taught at Nebraska's colleges and universities, as well as the instructors and students involved in them.
The first two minutes of the music video for Billie Eilish's "idontwannabeyouanymore" seem, on the surface, simple enough.
Inside a plain white room, the camera slowly moves in and down on the young singer-songwriter as she begins to sing and sway in front of a mirror dressed in a white jumpsuit.
Filmed vertically, the 46-second tracking shot gives way to a series of quick cuts until the camera finds Eilish once more for another uninterrupted 30 seconds.
Recreating two minutes of the 2018 music video for a Visual Expression Studio class sounded straightforward, said Taylor Groppe, one of the first students to enroll in the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
But hours into the project, Groppe, along with Kayla LaPoure and Olivia Benson, discovered just how much thought and care goes into every frame of the short film that, to date, has been viewed more than 171 million times on YouTube.
"You'd be surprised how many different shots there are," said Groppe, a freshman from Lincoln.
Between the opening tracking shot — which Groppe filmed while standing on a dolly pushed by Benson, crouching as she moved forward to recreate the swooping crane effect — and the 30-second wrap-up, is another 17 changes in perspective.
Each change, spliced together on a computer by LaPoure, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, took a painstaking amount of observation and planning, measuring out the pause, studying the subject, the angle and the lighting.
Even as the group worked to approximate their video to that of Eilish, LaPoure said their finished product would highlight the differences in style, technique and experience between actors, cinematographers and editors.
The finished product, no matter how similar or distinct, will stand on its own as a visual expression, however.
Jesse Fleming, an assistant professor of emerging media arts at the new center, said the class places students at the intersection of art and technology and allows them to use their creativity to solve problems.
Visual Expression Studio (EMAR140) is one of three foundational classes at the new center, located in the now-postindustrial space with computer labs for game design, a dance studio and cavernous classrooms that invite collaborative learning at the former Nebraska Bookstore.
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Fleming's class, along with Story Lab and Computational Media, is designed to introduce students to explore how fine arts, the sciences, media and new technology interact and can be used to explain the changing world.
"The arts is a translator for larger culture to understand where we are and what's happening, and that's our gig," Fleming said. "We help broader culture grapple with the new challenges and what the opportunities are."
Getting to that point requires students to understand how art and media conveys meaning and evokes a response, as well as how to replicate and eventually master those techniques themselves.
Fleming, who previously taught at UCLA and Stanford and has worked with artists, actors and musicians as well as for galleries like the Museum of Modern Art in The Guggenheim in New York, guides students in the project-based class, where critiques are done in a focus-group-like atmosphere, that moves from still photography to augmented or virtual reality.
Students start by learning to absorb images through their senses, considering what was happening at the time the photographer first thought about taking it, when the image was captured, and the time in which it is being viewed.
In another project, students are tasked with cutting a feature film down into a trailer that inverts the tone and meaning of the film. Think making the Stanley Kubrick film "The Shining" into a romantic comedy, Fleming said.
Recreating a music video exposes students to film-making and cinematography without requiring them to master techniques or conceive of a unique project. The "feeder course" gives students interested in a film degree a foundation to move in that direction.
Finally, students will take what they have learned and create a video installation inside the Carson Center, creating a kind of augmented reality project that Fleming said will expose students to spatial thinking and working in coordination with architecture to make viewers stop and think about their place in the world.
If the term emerging media arts sounds abstract or amorphous, that's because it is, Fleming said.
Students who enrolled in the new center have a broad set of interests: Groppe is interested in film, LaPoure is interested in animation, and Benson said she wants to keep exploring the options available through the emerging media arts.
Fleming said the center can become a vehicle for addressing societal problems as large as climate change, or interpersonal dynamics like psychology and mindfulness, or how design can be better incorporated into the cityscape.
The goal is to "build problem solvers," Fleming said, students capable of weaving in and out of varying disciplines to create new ways of thinking and new strategies for innovation.
Emerging media arts is "both expressive and a tool for investigating primary questions of what it is to be alive, who am I, what is self," he said.