Producing the City (University of Alberta)

“Producing the City” was a hands-on, theoretically grounded capstone course in multimedia installations that took the city of Edmonton as inspiration and object.  Taught within the Department of English and Film Studies at the 400-level (Fall 2009), these scaffolded assignments were designed to build students’ skills and analyses iteratively over a 14-week term.

One: Photo Essay  (Solo Assignment)

Two: Mapping (Adapted from Jentery Sayers) (Paired)

Three: Audio Narrative (Solo)

Four: Video (Group)

Five: Google Earth Installation (Major Term Production, Group)

Six: Self Evaluation (Solo)

Assignment One: Photo Essay  (Solo Assignment)

Make a photo essay of no fewer than 5 and no more than 10 images of “your” Edmonton. The series should be thematically linked, along lines like the following: a neighbourhood; an urban phenomenon (e.g., graffiti, skaters, potholes); an event (e.g., the Fringe, FolkFest, etc.); a landmark/building; a space (a school, a park, the river valley, WEM); the people in your life, in your area, on your bus, etc.; community (queer life, south Asian life, disabled life, etc.). This list is meant to be suggestive rather than exhaustive. You do not need to take new photos for this assignment, though you may.

Write a one-paragraph introduction to the photo essay, and provide a caption for each photo. Captions must not exceed 100 words. Captions should link images to each other and to the thematic thread of the overall photo essay.

The goals of this assignment are to practice the principles of visual design and to practice writing for a public audience

This assignment will be submitted electronically, but you can choose the format. You might want to do a PowerPoint; you might want to produce a simple Word document; you can use Prezi or other open-source software.


Assignment Two: Mapping (Adapted from Jentery Sayers) (Paired Assignment)

The primary purpose of this three-part assignment is to think critically, conceptually and creatively about mapping urban spaces.

Part One: The Map
Create a map within Google Maps showing some sort of conceptual journey through space. In order to create and save your map, you will need to sign up for a Google account if you don’t already have one.  The map should contain both photographic and narrative annotations that challenge the viewer to imagine space differently. The map can be a collection of conceptually linked points or it can be an actual route, taking us from point A to B to C.

The map should contain no fewer than 10 and no more than 15 points, and must contain at least 10 photos and 10 narrative annotations. Possibilities for organizing your map might include historical points of interest in a particular area; ‘local knowledge’ (what the locals know about 95th Street that the rest of the city doesn’t, e.g.); original street names in a particular area, and the story behind them; the residences of some noteworthy Edmontonians (note, noteworthy does not necessarily mean famous!); the perfect summer bicycle ride. You might also choose to map a story about Edmonton (for instance, a selection from Edmonton on Location). Try to contain your map to an area that can be comfortably walked within one hour.

Save your map by 9:15 am on 29 September and bring the URL to class to swap with your partner.

Part Two: Commentary
On 29 September, you will swap your map project with one other person in the class. Each of you is then responsible for writing a short paper on the theme of “what’s missing?” from your classmate’s map.

Explore and analyze your classmate’s map. Make sure you understand what she or he was trying to convey. Make notes as you read. Record your initial impressions and pay attention to how you think about this map after some time has elapsed. Then, visit the space that your classmate mapped and recapture it. Your primary question here is: “What’s missing?” What didn’t your peer capture? What practice or perspective is absent? What do you observe that your classmate didn’t?

Write a two-page commentary (approx. 500 words) that makes a complex claim about why what’s missing from the archive matters. As you unpack your claim, be sure to include both your and your peer’s captures as evidence. Think about how your peer defined her or his urban space. How does your claim complicate or support that definition?

Bring two copies of your commentary to class on 6 October. Your primary audience is your classmate, though the critical commentary you write will also be graded according to the criteria listed on the Assignment #2 Grading Criteria rubric.

Part Three: Revise your Map
Read and think about your partner’s commentary on your map. You will need to exercise critical judgment about which aspects of the commentary you are willing to take on board, but we encourage you to approach this generously. Consider that someone put a good deal of time and care into thinking about your work. How do the comments cause you to think about your map differently? Which of your classmate’s comments are most useful? Which are infeasible to incorporate?

You may also have ideas of your own to integrate at this point – things you didn’t think of before, visual cues you wish you’d included, etc. You are free to integrate those as well.

Save your final revised map in Google Maps by 9:15am on 13 October. Email the URL to mengel(at) and hzwicker(at) at the same time (by 9:30 am on 13 October).


Assignment Three: Audio Narrative (Solo Assignment)

The purpose of this two-part assignment is to make you more aware of your relationship to sound and the ways that sound can serve as a powerful component of any multimedia object.

Part One: Soundscape
Create an audio file of between 3 and 4 minutes (these timelines are firm) that tells a story about some aspect, component, event, etc. in Edmonton.


•          You may not use recorded music for more than 10 seconds at a time, and the total amount of recorded music may not exceed one minute.

•          Likewise, you may not use recorded speech (or anything that is recognizable as human language) for more than 10 seconds at a time, and the total human language may not exceed one minute.

The point here is for you to use sound itself as the primary vehicle to convey something about Edmonton.

Please hand in both an mp3 file of the final project, as well as your full Audacity project file(s).  Ensure that your CD or DVD cover is clearly labeled with the same information you would put on the title page of an essay.

Part Two: Response Paper
Your comment paper should be approximately 4-5 pages, although we always encourage you to let your ideas determine the length of your assignments. We do, however, expect your comment papers to include an introduction and conclusion, and to be written in full sentences and paragraphs with due regard for the conventions of grammar, punctuation etc.

Comment papers should have three components:

1. A description of the process you went through to determine your narrative, and the various steps you took to realize that plan.

2. Your own reflections on that process, including things you learned, things you would do differently next time, and/or things that were successful. These can be technical and/or conceptual.

3. A critical appraisal of the project you produced.


Assignment Four: Video (Group Assignment)

Create a 3-5 minute video that tells your viewer a particular story about Edmonton. It might tell the story of a place, a person, an event, a building, an oddity; it might be historical, contemporary, even futuristic. Use your imagination and try to tell us a story that we’re not likely to already know.


1)  Develop a storyboard. You should begin with a good storyboard that will help plan what you need to shoot in order to convey the story. A storyboard is a series of diagrams that lay out the video in its entirety. Most storyboards are very simple, with each diagram containing a sketch of what will appear on screen (even stick figures can work!), along with a description of the narrative and audio elements that will accompany it. This provides you with a planning tool before you go down the long road of shooting and editing. You might discover that you want to re-order your shots, or add something in the middle, or delete a scene altogether. Accomplishing these things at the storyboard stage will make the actual video production much less difficult.

2) Develop a loose script. If your video includes dialogue or voice-overs, write the text for those things in advance. Even professional actors sound better when they are scripted than when they are improvising!

3)  Shoot your footage. You may use any camera at your disposal to shoot the video and we ask that you do your best to find a camera that you can use. We simply don’t have 35 cameras that we can lend out. If you do need to borrow a university camera, we will need to know by Oct 15th so that we can set up a borrowing schedule. You should also know that depending on how many people need to borrow them, you may only have a camera for a day or two, and not on the days you might choose.

4)  Edit your video. You are free to use whatever video editing software you like as long as you can save your video to mp4 or .mov formats. Windows Movie Maker comes standard on PCs and iMovie comes standard on Macs. Arts 112 has Adobe Premiere.  Remember to work with the sound as well as the video in your editing.

5) Hand in both your storyboard and your final video. Please submit your video on a CD in either mp4 or .mov format. Clearly label your CD with your name and the title of the video.  DO NOT email the video files to either of us: our email server will reject large files and we will not receive them. Don’t worry about the artistic merits of your storyboard. We will be using to evaluate your planning and execution, not your drawing ability!

The goals of this assignment are to learn how to plan, shoot, and edit a video that tells a story. You will be working in small groups.

Assignment Five: Google Earth Installation (Major Term Assignment, Group)

The major group project is your opportunity to incorporate all of the theoretical and technical material we have covered this semester. Create an Edmonton-based multi-media Google Earth installation that uses at least three of the following: writing, photography, sound, video, and 3D modelling. Your project should be specific in scope – organized around a particular sensory experience, or a way of moving through the city, or a locale, or an idea, or a set of linked sounds or images, to name just a few examples – but it should also be ambitious.


1) This is a group project, so before you start building your project, discuss what you might like to produce. Listen to each member of the group, and listen open-mindedly. Build on each other’s strengths, remembering that a group endeavor usually goes well beyond the limits of a single imagination. Allow yourselves to daydream a little at the early stages. Don’t jump at the first idea you have; give yourselves enough time to make a genuine decision.

2) Once you have decided what you want to produce, start thinking about the who, the how and the when. Is one of you a whiz with a video camera? Are your skills best used for project management or for the theoretical underpinnings of the work? Put yourself forward. Thinking about the project as a whole, establish some goals with deadlines for meeting them. Your group might also want to establish a “check-in” process to ensure that everybody stays connected with the project as it develops. Will you set regular group meetings or communicate by email?

3) Build and test-drive your project. Then test-drive it again (on another system). You will have two class days to work on your project: November 12th and November 26th. In addition, on November 24th every group will demo its project. This is not a formal presentation, and it has no grade attached to it. But it is your opportunity to showcase what you’re developing and get feedback from your classmates. Determine as a group what you’d like to demo on the 24th, then use the class on the 26th to work out any bugs that showed up. Think you’re done? Test-drive everything one more time to be sure.

Your final project will be a Google Earth layer. This involves creating a .kml file from within Google Earth, and then zipping it together with all of its components (jpg images, movies, mp3s etc.) into a .kmz archive. Submit the kmz file as well as your raw files on CD or DVD at 9:00 am on 08 December in HC 2-11.

Grading Criteria:
We want you to set some of the criteria by which this assignment should be graded. When you upload your assignment to us, please include a separate note (email is fine) stating two specific criteria that you want us to pay attention to. How will you set criteria?: think about what you were trying to accomplish. Did you try really hard to integrate the sound with the images? Are you concerned, above all, to get feedback on the project’s use of the Situationists’ “dérive”? Did you put a lot of energy into making the installation user-friendly? Identify 2 criteria specific to your project and we’ll give you feedback on them.


Assignment Six: Self Evaluation

Write a report of no more than 500 words that describes and evaluates two things: 1) your group’s aims and intentions in the major project; 2) your group’s working process, with particular attention to your own contributions. What were you trying to achieve? How close did you come to realizing it? What obstacles proved insurmountable? What did you do particularly well? What skills did the group help you develop? What did you help teach someone else? Did your group run into difficulties at any point? If so, how did you resolve them? Are there things you would have done differently? What is the most important thing you learned from doing this project?

The purpose of the self-evaluation is to think back on the process and identify its strengths and weaknesses. It is also your opportunity to speak up for yourself and your role in the group. Your self-evaluation should also permit you to identify something about yourself as a project participant and a learner.