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Lander University Upgrades Digital Media Studio with Blackmagic Design

Lander University may be a small university in Greenwood, SC, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in passion. Like every other university in the country, Lander's faculty and staff want to equip students to be outstanding in their fields. Thanks in part to Assistant Professor of digital media Cory Carpenter, students in the Mass Communications and Media Studies program are doing just that. In his two year tenure working at Lander, Cory pushed for an upgrade for the digital media studio's outdated equipment, and the program's 125 students now learn about television production using three Blackmagic Studio Cameras HD, an ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K switcher, a Smart Videohub 16x16 router, one HyperDeck Studio Pro and a SmartScope Duo 4K.

Joining the Digital Revolution

When Cory first walked into the studio in 2015, he noticed an old production switcher and lots of SD equipment. As he began to teach students, he realized that they did not have a very thorough grasp of the equipment and production technologies, and that they were not being prepared for the future by learning on such outdated products. After researching numerous products on the market, Cory began to pursue an upgrade that involved several Blackmagic Design products for the Lander University studio.

"We needed a complete revolution and to jump forward into the digital age," said Cory. "The first thing we needed to address was the equipment issue. It's hard to work on equipment that is just not capable. I had used several Blackmagic Design cameras previously, and found them to be very powerful, yet approachable and easy to use. The UI is easy to grasp well and be proficient at it in a very short time. Learning curve is a very big factor here. I also did a lot of research on the ATEM. It was perfect timing with our needs and the products that Blackmagic Design was coming out with."

The school purchased three Blackmagic Studio Cameras HD, which are positioned out on the floor of the studio, with a fourth camera floating on a jib. The cameras are fed into the ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K, which is controlled through an iMac. A second iMac is piped in through the HDMI port on the ATEM to feed graphics and streaming content. From the ATEM, the HyperDeck Studio Pro is used to record the final show program out. One of the auxiliary outputs goes to the set to run background or logos, and another auxiliary output goes out to floor monitors and SmartScope Duo 4K for preview and program. Everything also runs through the Smart Videohub 16x16 which pushes feeds around the studio as needed.

A Balance of Function and Accessibility

Students in the program range from zero experience all the way up to the Senior level who have a good grasp of switching and multi camera productions. According to Cory, students across the board have had a phenomenal experience using the Blackmagic Design products and for the first time they are experiencing a production workflow that actually helps them achieve their vision.

"So far the accessibility and learning curve are proving to be spot on," said Cory. "Within two or three sessions the students are feeling comfortable enough to move through the system, to begin switching shows, and they are excited about what the products can do. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface with some of the capabilities, but they are there and the students get excited to understand the new concepts."

He continued, "For what we do at Lander, the products are perfectly scaled. They are not overly technical and hard to understand, but are technical enough to stretch or scale accordingly for different productions. I think that's why this is such a great product lineup. The students can understand them and use them, but they don't have to worry about getting caught up in it. It's just the right balance of function and accessibility."

Less Familiarizing and More Efficiency

Cory said that for students to be prepared for jobs in the real world, they must have a certain technical prowess and be able to adapt to the ever evolving and accelerating digital workflow. Being stuck using outdated equipment that required an extensive learning curve made it nearly impossible to apply the fundamental principles of storytelling, visual design, and communication. Frustration built up in both faculty and students when it took too much time to familiarize themselves with the equipment and they could not spend enough time creating content.

For example, it used to take students in the Advanced TV class a full three months to understand the nuances of the outdated products and be able to operate them with any semblance of efficiency. Today, each team of students in the class has 40 minutes of dedicated time in the studio per week and for many of them, it is their first time in a studio environment. They are challenged to produce seven as-live, original shows in one semester. 

"Over the course of two weeks, or approximately 80 minutes total, these groups have gone from absolute zero to near completion of an entire practice show," said Cory. "It will take more time for them to become really fluent, but all things being equal: three months to 80 minutes is an amazing difference, and their energy and confidence is palpable."

Cory summed up his experience thus far by saying, "Lander often gets overlooked because of its size and location, and thus it doesn't get the same kind of attention as bigger schools. But that's OK. I tell everyone that Lander is like a private, state university. It's a very intimate place. I know my student's names, their career goals, and a little about their personal lives. It is the kind of environment that is designed for personal excellence. However, this familiarity makes it that much harder when I can't give them what they deserve because of a lack of resources. So it is difficult to adequately summarize the remarkable effect Blackmagic has had on our department and our student body. We went with Blackmagic for our studio because I believe they understand the balance of quality, creative control, and simplicity in their product design. I want to change lives, I am doing that at Lander, and Blackmagic Design has enabled me achieve my goal faster and better. My hope for my students' future is brimming."

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