In keeping with Italy — My first anniversary of returning to the USA

Today marks the one-year anniversary of when I returned to the United States after an incredible four months studying abroad in Florence, Italy. They say that studying abroad will change your life — and whoever “they” are, they’re right. (You can read about my time there in older entries of my travel blog, Lizzie in Firenze).

When I first set out for a semester in Florence, I had some ideas about the academic goals I’d planned to take away from the experience. With taking an architecture class in the heart of Florence, I intended to return to Marist in New York with enough knowledge, familiarity, details, and texture shots of the Renaissance City to successfully 3D model a game level environment based on it. (I know…Assassin’s Creed wannabe). While this 3D environment project didn’t play out, my time in Italy has busted its way through other projects of mine during this final school year…

First, there’s my most recent project, “Revival” — a personal, video expression of my dreamy study abroad memories throughout Europe, compiled with footage and photographs captured while abroad that are intertwined with motion graphical animation. Make sure to watch it in HD! (After clicking the play button, click the gears icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the viewer, and choose 720p).

I’ve continued to study Italian language since returning, too. I’ve taken two more courses, I’ve gone to Italian language-speaking Meetups and practiced with waiters on Mulberry Street of NYC’s Little Italy, I’ve written letters in Italian to my relatives who speak it, and I listen to Italian music all the time. (The modern group Il Volo is amazing btw). Thankfully there was room in my schedule to substitute Intermediate Italian II for the core liberal arts credits of a mathematics class. Italian is such a beautiful language, and one which I hope to keep practicing beyond college. With the end of final projects and more of la bella lingua now under my belt, I’ll finally have time to read one of my souvenirs from Florence — the book “Novecento,” which a Florentine friend recommended to me.

The MosaicI’ve also used my photography and writing in graphic design projects like the “Festina Lente” travel booklet, an Italian wine guide, and a typography self-portrait composed from my journal entry “La mia ultima notte.” I was also happy to see a cool surprise of my photography featured as the cover of the Marist Literary Arts Society’s publication, The Mosaic!

Finally, there’s Daorba, which I’ve mentioned on here before — the location-based, game-based learning experience for iPhone designed to help Marist College students who are planning to study abroad in Italy, to be more confident and prepared to overcome the culture shock, social etiquette and basic language obstacles that could hinder their study abroad experience. You can see samples of the design doc here.

mockups1

I’m glad that my study abroad experience has carried through some of my projects and education this school year. But now that finals week is here and these projects’ deadlines are coming to an end in school terms, I finally have much more free time on my hands. Last night I spontaneously cooked a big chicken parmesan meal for a bunch of my friends. As we all crammed around our little table enjoying the food, wine, laughs, and distraction from final projects, I realized how much these simple joys have slowly slipped away over the past year… Now, with all this free time, I am suddenly rediscovering what is easily the most valuable lesson from studying abroad that I could possibly take back with me: living la dolce vita.

Did you know that there is no Italian word for “stress?” …The Florentines I met were hard-working people. But couples still took rendezvous to the beautiful sites. Students still spent their free time in piazzas with their friends. Busy restaurant employees still took off a few hours of the afternoon to walk their children home from school, and then the whole restaurant staff would sit together for a meal before reopening their business. It’s no wonder why so many of my Italian professors and friends had jokes about miserable Americans and their workaholic lifestyles.

So much joy comes from having some personal down time…It alleviates stress, it prevents stress, and it improves our overall happiness. And with that kind of mentality, we are affected in such a way that we might often find ourselves cooking dinner for the elderly woman who lives below us, playing poker with our friend’s uncle until 2am, sketching palaces on the Arno River, or baking biscotti for our favorite bartenders. The good deeds, good friends, and good memories all come from learning to embrace the people around us more than we embrace our work or our smartphones or our constant worry of not being good enough in some way.

Santa CroceNow, I know that part of my lifestyle differences between a semester in Italy versus a semester in New York simply has to do with the fact that I was in an exciting foreign country, and was mostly taking liberal arts classes. But I still had a full course load of 15 credits which I put the work in for an A, I still had the household chores to do, I still had travel & financial logistics to take care of, and I still had obligations to stay connected with my family and friends back home. I was walking miles per day, grocery shopping every other day, building a laundry clothesline in my TV-less living room, taking 15-hour bus rides around Europe, sleeping two hours per night in foreign cities…it was a pretty exhausting lifestyle. Yet, the joys that came out of this exhausting lifestyle — even in balancing with the work, chores, duties and inconveniences — made my life feel more energized than ever before. On a typical day in Florence we’d maybe walk a few miles to Fiesole (the bordering city), whereas here  just walking 15 minutes across campus to the Hudson riverfront might be too much of a time commitment…sadly.

In the United States, loving what you do comes with the price of losing the other parts of life you enjoy — if you don’t keep that balance in check. In such a high-speed, high-potential, and high-stress society, it’s far too easy for someone truly passionate about their work to let it take over their life. And it’s even easier to let that happen when you’re surrounded by like-minded people driven by their own ambitions. I will never stop being ambitious. And I will never stop getting joy out of accomplishments with the work I do, projects I create, causes I help with, and organizations I run. But I will also never forget Italy…its value for beauty, family, love, humanity, and taking it slowly. Within a month I am going to graduate, move, and begin a job; the next chapter of my life is about to begin. In keeping with Italy, I plan to begin it fully.

"Festina Lente" was inscribed on the doors in the Palazzo Vecchio. It means "make haste slowly."

“Festina Lente” was inscribed on the doors in the Palazzo Vecchio. It means “make haste slowly.”

The Gaming Day legacy, and how I’d plan it with endless means

Artwork by Isaiah Miller

Artwork by Isaiah Miller

This Saturday is the semi-annual Gaming Day at Marist College — a traditional all-day gaming event that goes back for decades.

I love this event for its remarkable community. Hundreds of students come out for the event. You might see the same students there for 10+ hours of the day. You’ll probably see alumni who I call “the Gaming Day guys” because I only (but always) see them twice a year, at this event. And you’ll always see students carrying 32″ TVs and a box overflooding with game controller cables from dorm rooms to the Student Center. My goal is always to achieve that unique gamer energy in the atmosphere — the kind that pulls you in at E3 or MLG or ComicCon — and to keep it going alllllll dayyyyy longgggggg.

This will be my seventh and final Gaming Day that I’m helping to organize, so I’m hoping it’ll be bigger and better than ever. We even get to take over the largest Student Center space this semester! I’m expecting to see an overflowing PC section of League of Legends players who I will be SO proud of, and I’m looking forward to trying out a WiiU!

Our Planning Committee is invested in every little detail — from developing a fluid floor plan, to doing paperwork for funding a plethora of pizza, to guaranteeing enough power & network access, to assuring a Magic the Gathering Draft will run smoothly, to painting glittery signs for the room.

GamingDay-FloorLayout_Spring2013-final

We’ve done immense planning, but I think the only thing I’m not prepared for is the “Beat former MGS President Liz in Counter-Strike” contest…

While we do the best we can with the time, budget and administrative rules that restrict us, we often come up with fun “I wish we could” kind of thoughts. I thought I’d share a few.

GamingDaysignsThings I would do if we had an endless budget:

  • Line up a wall with oldschool arcade systems
  • Purchase Stormtrooper costumes for security
  • Set up a laser tag arena
  • Hire Video Games Live to play a video game orchestra concert
  • Invite Peter Dinklage
  • Recruit panelists from the gaming industry
  • Hire booth girls that do not have to wear short-shorts, hair extensions, 24 layers of make-up or a ridiculous cosplay lingerie outfit
  • Have cases of Bawls to freely give away
  • Hire Major League Gaming crew and broadcasters to host a LoL tournament

Things I would do if we had endless planning time:

  • Bake 36 dozen cookies and decorate them as PacMan and his ghosts
  • Create a giant disco ball that is the Death Star
  • Unlock all the characters on the school-owned copies of games
  • Build Peter Dinklage a King’s Landing out of Legos
  • Do an epic cosplay promo when handing out fliers around campus…as…..Halo characters?
  • Paper mâché a 50-ft piñata of Gandalf raising his staff whilst riding an eagle to hang from the ceiling.
  • Practice playing Counter-Strike

Things I would do if we had no restrictions:

  • …On second thought, let’s not go there.

How Gaming Day would ideally look:

Credit: extremetech.com

Current Projects of a Senioritis-Immune Student

Well, it seems my mental immune system has been fighting off the infamously crippling disease of Senioritis quite well…so far. As we plunge (or plummet) into the mid-point of this final semester of college, I thought I’d share some of the projects I’m primarily working on…

HTML, CSS & jQuery – WEB DESIGN

First of all, I’m brushing up on HTML and learning CSS & jQuery through the aid of Codecademy (which I’d highly recommend for self-learning beginners of computer languages). In the coming weeks, I will be releasing a new website portfolio to replace this WordPress blog!

JAVASCRIPT (COM357: VIDEO GAME PRODUCTION)

Also with the help of Codecademy, I’m learning Javascript during the second half of the semester. In May I will complete a small game development project to put what I’ve learned into action.

TRAVEL MUSIC VIDEO (COM369: ADVANCED VISUAL EFFECTS)

advfx-travelmusicvideo

I’m very excited to use this independent study towards personal creative projects — the most significant of which is this music video. During my semester abroad last year, I captured quite a bit of video footage which I’ve been itching to apply towards something since. A concept has come to mind, which will involve the integration of my European-adventures footage along with newly-recorded set footage and a whole lot of motion tracking in After Effects. I plan to complete the final project by mid-April to submit to the Marist Silver Fox Awards of film production. As for now…I’m engrossed in the pre-production stages — Organizing, annotating & documenting my footage, then creating a storyboard and shot list.

STUDY ABROAD APP DESIGN (COM356: INTERACTIVE MEDIA II)

The obsession with studying abroad seems to explode its way into many of my projects since returning to campus. Perhaps the most exciting (and demanding) project I’m working on is a highly-targeted, location-based mobile app design to create an interactive, cultural learning experience. First, I am creating a full design document in — with the concept overview, user personas & scenarios, storyboards, primary & secondary research, competitive analyses, inspiration & mood boards, feature sets, wireframes, etc. I will also be graphically designing the screen graphics & mockups. Then, I will be prototyping the design (or an aspect of it) using the ARIS engine, and user testing it on campus.

Here's a sneak peak of some pages of the design doc so far.

Here’s a sneak peak of some pages of the design doc so far.

The purpose of this design is to help Marist students enrolled in the Florence study abroad program (70+ students each semester) to become better prepared to overcome the social, lifestyle, lingual and cultural challenges they will encounter upon arrival; essentially, it aims to provide confidence, knowledge and awareness that will help them immediately start taking full advantage of their study abroad experience upon arrival. Based on the enthusiastic & positive responses received by students during the initial concept testing phase, I’m really determined to do all I can with this in the time I still have here.

AVID & FILM PRODUCTION (COM310: BROADCAST COMMERCIAL)

While I am an avid Adobe Premiere & After Effects user, this semester I’m learning to use Avid for video editing. In a team of four, we plan the commercial strategy, storyboard our execution, create shot lists, film the commercial, and post-produce it in Avid. We’ve been thrown into the world of studio sets, green screens and Avid — so far producing commercials for Regal Cinemas and Ponds Make-Up Remover Wipes, along with a radio spot for Febreze.

EXP (MCTV)

expEXP, the geek news & entertainment series on Marist College TV, is an ongoing project I’m still quite involved in. Last week we released Episode 4, which is the last episode that I will be heading the editing and special effects on. It’s time to teach the underclassmen on the team how to edit to the style we’ve established thus far. However, I’ll still be co-hosting the show for the remainder of the semester (assuming my co-host doesn’t kill me for accidentally punching him in the face on camera and deliberately leaving it in editing last episode), and writing pieces here and there.

MARIST GAME SOCIETY

Along with training new editors & producers for EXP, I’m additionally transitioning out of my position as president of the club Marist Game Society. Since co-founding MGS my freshman year, the club has grown from 15 to over 100 active members who meet each week to nerd out about games, demo their own game design projects, and, of course, play games. This club is my baby, but I have full faith in the new executive board members transitioning in. Plus, I’m still heading a few big events of the semester — the 12-hour campus Gaming Day on April 20th, the first ever Marist student Game Design Expo on May 8th, and the “Marketing in the Gaming Industry” panel presentation next week.

mgs-marketingingamingindustrySo, those the are the big things going on this semester for me. The imminent job hunting shall begin soon….since I seem to live & breathe busy projects in my life.

EXP: Episode 4

Episode 4 of the MCTV show I’m part of, EXP, was put on the air today. To step up the editing, I created some abstract backgrounds in After Effects to cover the blue screen throughout the show and I started to do a little more pre-production with the planning of asset dimensions & timing for the motion graphics effects.

Oh, and I also punch my co-host in the face on camera. This was an accident, I swear. It was supposed to be a fake punch, but I guess I just got a little too amped about filming our closing sequence. Our producers insisted that we use the footage…so, that’s that.

In this episode, we cover news about Star Wars IV, The Last Of Us, returning TV Shows, and Knights of Badassdom, the first ever “Caiti’s Corner” ranting on “gamer girls,” and reviews of Aliens Colonial Marines and Dead Space 3. Enjoy! And remember to watch in HD.

This particular segment was primarily planned, edited and organized by Caiti.

EXP: Episode 3

Episode 3 of the MCTV show I co-host and edit for, EXP, was produced in November. It’s now up for online viewing. This show and its team are too fun to give up, so as I head into my final semester, I’ll be continuing to work on this show by tying it in with an independent study in advanced visual effects. So you can except many fun surprises in future episodes and shorts 🙂

FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/EXPonMCTV
TWITTER: http://twitter.com/MCTV_EXP
YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/user/EXPonMCTV

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MoMA posters

MoMA-AmanitaDesign1

These posters were created for a fictional exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art called “The Art of Indie Games,” featuring the game design company Amanita Design as the main artist. (Amanita Design really does have beautiful indie games that truly are art, so you should definitely check them out if you’re into that).

The style was driven by the company’s symbolic Amanita mushroom, along with their signature style of earth tones, textures, and layered 2D art with an almost hand-drawn quality.

While I began this assignment prior to reading this article, apparently the MoMA will be opening a Games as Art expo in March! — Guess I’m not the only one hoping to see games appreciated as art in these kinds of ways. Hopefully it can move beyond the classics and into the indie scene, where there is so much talent and creativity!

MoMA-AmanitaDesign2

PROCESS - I started out by scanning my drawing and digitizing it with the pen tool in Illustrator. Then I brought it into Photoshop to add the textures and effects.

PROCESS

MoMA-AmanitaDesign3

“Festina Lente” (Travel Booklet)

Festina Lente is a travel booklet I designed with the aim to motivate good travelling mindsets. Its content is about “embracing the bella vita of Northern Italy” and it is driven by the photography I took in Italy and the experiences that inspired these mindsets and advice. It’s not so much a travel guide for places to go and things to do, but a guide for how to embrace the beautiful life of Italy, as a tourist.

This was based off a travel brochure/magazine assignment in my Graphic Design class. We had to create 12 pages including a cover page and an advertisement for the back cover, and we needed to narrow in on a certain audience or purpose. I was very luckily assigned Italy, which is why I went with a photography-based approach with the aim to inspire good traveling.  The goal of the assignment was to learn Adobe InDesign, experiment with grids, and practice layout design.

(Note: A few frame boxes that should not load do show up in this PDF display — please disregard them).