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Back to the Future: How I manipulated past events to become faculty at the Centre for Digital Media

Apr 16, 2015 By Dave Fracchia

Warning! This blog contains references to the 1985 movie Back to the Future. If you don’t know it your parents will…do you want them knowing more than you?

Last night, Darth Vader came down from Planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn't take the CDM Faculty position, that he'd melt my brain.

I clearly had no choice. I had to find a way to infiltrate the Centre for Digital Media. But how? I hadn’t taught since 1999. I had long ago traded my academic robes, elbow patches, and pipe for the rich industrial world of t-shirts and jeans. Gone were the days of heady research and grant applications, replaced by cascading spreadsheets and the joys of mergers and acquisitions. When I first took leave of my SFU Computing Science position in 1997 to join Mainframe Entertainment (now Rainmaker), my intention was to apply my academic expertise to real-world problems, and in turn bring back that industry experience to the classroom.  And in 1999 I did…kind of. After working both positions part-time for one year (SFU 3 days a week and Mainframe 4 days a week), I made the decision to join Mainframe permanently. And between Mainframe and then Radical Entertainment, I would stay away from academia 15 more years. Whether I left for industry because of the fame, the fortune, the free soft drinks, I can’t recall. But I knew that one day, I would come back to academia. And I didn’t want my brain to be melted.

Left: Dave at Mainframe Entertainment (1997); Right: Dave (right) at the Paris Games Week promoting Radical’s Prototype 2 (2011)

1.21 gigawatts!

Let me provide some background. Located at the heart (but don’t quote me as I’m not a physician) of the Great Northern Way Campus, the Centre for Digital Media is truly a unique place. It boasts exceptional faculty, staff and students, state of the art classrooms, video production facilities, student apartments, and individual project areas that include projection systems, 3D printers and a 3D holographic display. At its core (but don’t quote me as I’m not a geophysicist) is the Masters of Digital Media program, which is accredited by UBC, SFU, BCIT and Emily Carr University. Currently located within the bowels (oh please don’t quote me) of the CDM is myself, also described as unique or “special.” I boast 17 years of entertainment media experience, 8 years of academic experience, 6 years of acting lessons, and 50 years of life experience. Where did the time go! And how do I get it back? Oh yes, the 1.21 gigawatts!

Bulletproof vest? How did you know? I never got a chance to tell you.

So what qualified me for a place comprised of outstanding faculty and staff with an impressive breadth of academic and industry experience that attracted an inspiring mix of talented and diverse students (artists, designers, software developers, project managers, storytellers, etc.)? I was a former academic and computer scientist who, for the last 15 years, had been a technology executive. Then it hit me… I needed to go back in time and accumulate a breadth of experience beyond my various roles. I went back to Mainframe and not only oversaw technical groups but also more creative departments such as motion capture, video post, and sound. I then pushed myself at Radical, becoming interim executive producer, point on story, worldwide stage presenter, and finally studio head. Did I succeed? Yes! And I learned a lot from it.  Did I fail? Many times! And I learned even more from that! And it helped me land a faculty position at the CDM!

Mental note: do not let the kids borrow the time machine again…

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

So did I manipulate the past to become faculty at the Centre for Digital Media OR was I perfectly suited for its unique mix of artistic/technical talent and academia/industry education?

Only time will tell.

Note the year 2015…coincidence? I had to fix something this coming October…

Sorry Richard, you want me to teach what? Hmmm, where did I put that darn flux capacitor…?


Dave Fracchia is a Professor of Professional Practice at the Centre for Digital Media and a digital media consultant. Prior to this he was the Studio Head and Vice President of Technology at Radical Entertainment, Vice President of Technology at Mainframe Entertainment (now Rainmaker), Associate Professor in the School of Computing Science at Simon Fraser University, and Postdoctoral Associate / Lecturer in the Mathematics and Computer Science Departments at Yale University. Dave has authored over 50 journal and conference papers, and has over 35 credits in video games (such as Prototype and Destiny), direct-to-video movies, and television series (such as ReBoot). He is currently a member of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, the International Game Developers Association, and ACM SIGGRAPH.