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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 25, No. 8, Oct. 20, 2005

On the job: Jeff Carpenter

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
217-244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Kwame Ross
Jeff Carpenter is a multimedia specialist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

When Jeff Carpenter was a theater major at Illinois State University, the aspiring actor dreamed of a career in Hollywood working with iconic directors in the entertainment industry. And that dream has come true, although it has been Carpenter’s behind-the-scenes work with videography and high-tech communications that has sparked collaboration with the producer Mikel Rouse and garnered attention at the annual conference of SIGGRAPH, an international association for professionals in the computer-graphics and interactive-programs industry. After changing his major from theater to broadcasting and graduating from ISU with a degree in mass communications in 1988, Carpenter directed evening newscasts and public affairs shows at WICD-TV, directed fund drives for WILL-TV and did free-lance work for other media, including ESPN and MTV Sports. He joined the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ staff full time as a multimedia specialist in 1996. Carpenter recently revived his acting career by playing three roles in the Champaign-Urbana Theater Company’s Production of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” He also is a member of the medieval re-enactment group, The Order of St. Sebastian, and has taken courses in makeup artistry.

Tell me about your job at NCSA.
I am very lucky to be involved in a variety of interesting projects. I do video production and streaming media for the center, and the Access Grid has become a large part of my work. It’s a collaborative environment that allows people in multiple locations to come together in real time. I call it videoconferencing on steroids. You can share your data, do presentations, and recently people have been exploring interactive artistic performances with people at multiple locations thousands of miles away. My co-producer at Boston University and I have worked together to enable several conferences on the Access Grid, including the annual Supercomputing Conference and the SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles at the end of July. The Access Grid was part of the emerging technologies showcase at SIGGRAPH.

What are other uses for the grid besides meetings?
Using the Access Grid as an interactive distributed performance space is just starting to be experimented with. Also courses are starting to be taught over the Access Grid. We have participated in computer programming classes with a teacher at the Ohio State University and students from across the country, Canada and the United Kingdom.

I’ve also been involved in the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Creativity, which blends the arts and humanities with technology.

I and others at the NCSA worked with faculty members from the School of Architecture, staff at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and producer Mikel Rouse on his multimedia opera “The End of Cinematics,” which debuted on Sept. 17 at Krannert. We provided a lot of the visual components. I took Rouse’s movie and split it up onto six projected screens, removed various actors from scenes and created the digital backdrops for the live performance. The production is now on an international three-year tour.

The experience was amazing; I really loved it. It was a chance to be creative and stretch my skills in a way that I hadn’t done before. It was very rewarding and was very well received, so I was happy to be part of that.

What kinds of projects are you working on right now?
I shot a lot of video of the NCSA building being built, and we’re putting together a promotional piece about NCSA to be shown in a kiosk.

If a scientist needs visualizations or a video on their work for a presentation, or if a student needs a video resume of their work, I also do that.

What do you do in the Order of St. Sebastian?

We portray characters from the Year 1347 that we’ve created. St. Sebastian is the patron saint of archers, so our group portrays a group of bowmen. The persona I created is named Gryffydd Saer, ‘saer’ being Welsh for ‘carpenter,’ and he is the son of a carpenter, as I am. I’ve been learning about bow making and have made two bows that we use in encampments at renaissance fairs, such as the Jubilee Renaissance Faire at Peoria.

How long have you been working with the Champaign-Urbana Theater Company?

That was my first show with them. The dancing was a challenge. In high school and college, I was in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Oklahoma” and “Lone Star.”

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