Level Up! RIT Constructs New MAGIC Center

illustration by Stephanie Chan | photography by Ramya Shankar

Get ready: RIT is leveling up! The newest addition to campus will be revealed in late fall: a state-of-the-art facility to house the Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC Center). If you’ve ever been inside of what is fondly known as "the Toilet Bowl," then you’ve been inside the MAGIC Center’s current space. The new building bills itself as a place for all majors. However, it may seem as though it is mostly for Game Design and Development students.

"It’s not in a college. It’s not a degree program. You can’t get a major in magic, although that sounds really cool," said Phelps.

"It’s not in a college. It’s not a degree program. You can’t get a major in magic, although that sounds really cool," said Andy Phelps, director and founder of the MAGIC Center.

"It’s a campus-wide thing," Phelps elaborated. "It’s really centered around digital media in the broad and so part of that is games, part of that is also apps, and film and virtual reality and a bunch of stuff we haven’t thought of yet. ... It’s really just about ‘how do we use technology to tell stories?’"

MAGIC itself was actually founded in 2013. "One of the big problems that we have is that all the labs in all the buildings are all consumed with classes," Phelps laments. "If your project goes beyond a class, where does it go to live? So we wanted a place that was very specifically a place for people to come and work that was much more free form." The current MAGIC Center has a computer lab, virtual reality equipment and a 360 degree projector. Smaller talks, showcases and student events — such as Design for Diversity — have been held in the space.

Phelps explained why he felt the upgrade to a brand new building is necessary. The current MAGIC Center can only fit about 130 people with zero elbow room for large events.

"There’s places on campus you can have a larger gathering but not in a high-tech environment," Phelps explains. "You know, if we made anything on this campus that was 4K resolution, we have nowhere to show it."

That’s really the more important reason for the new building — creating a high-tech environment for digital media creation. The new facility will be outfitted with a 7,000 square foot sound stage with green screen and motion capture capabilities, a sound mixing room, a 180-seat movie theater, a color correction room, a virtual reality/augmented reality laboratory, three computer gaming labs, studio space for all fields of animation and a host of state-of-the-art cameras and other amazing equipment — all for student use.

All this will be housed in front of Gannett, replacing the charming little avenue of trees that used to grow there. Although students in Gannett and Booth may be slightly apprehensive about watching a new building go up next door instead of upgrades to their own, having the MAGIC center five steps away is an advantage to them.

"We’re so divided into these little majors and these colleges. ... But, well, all the interesting things happen when students over here work with students over here, talking to professors over there, so how does that happen? ... You get all the toys and you put them in the same sand box so that the kids will meet each other, right? Pretty low brow strategy, but it does kinda work." The modern workforce is becoming more centered on communicating across disciplines and combining medias; design is transforming drastically as the digital world changes the way we experience life. 

Companies rent the MAGIC Center’s facilities for commercial use and employ students to work as interns for them. The new center, bigger and more advanced, will offer more opportunities for commercial use and thus greater opportunities for students.

"If there’s a particular production that comes in, they need extras and techs and grips and this and that," said Phelps. "Well, we have a whole bunch of people that are studying to be those things. But mostly I’m hoping that students will start building things for themselves and some of those will be successful enough that they become businesses. And then they’ll be employing our students."

MAGIC pays students to do their own projects that they develop and care about, through MAGIC’s program known as "Co-Up." "Instead of going somewhere else and working on your co-op, you stay here and work for yourself on your startup."

John Palermo, a fourth year Game Design and Development student, is one such student this summer. He and his team are working on a game Palermo began developing during class his sophomore year. When approving Co-Ups, however, the MAGIC Center doesn’t just look for a "cool idea."

"Part of the submission process was a business plan so what we have now, what our goals are for the summer and stretch goals," Palermo explained. "Our goal for at the end of the summer is the full game, four level packs and releasing it on Android, iOS and Steam." Co-Up enables students to learn the business side of their craft in a practical setting.

"We’re making games and we’re going to be publishing the game. ... It‘s what we’re doing, not what someone else is telling us to do, like, for a homework assignment," Palermo said. "We sought this out and now we’re doing it because we want to."

If you’ve ever felt like rolling up your sleeves up and stepping away from the textbooks, MAGIC might be for you. "RIT is a place where, first and foremost, if we want to understand something, we build it," Phelps stated. "And I think the MAGIC center is very much in that image. It’s our culture." Getting involved with MAGIC yourself may seem a little daunting.

"Just go talk to them," encouraged Palermo. "They’re all really chill people." When asked if he was pumped for new building, Palermo said enthusiastically, "Yeah, oh my god, yeah."

"People are asking, 'How can I be a part of MAGIC?' and I’m like, 'Well, just show up.'"

"People are asking, 'How can I be a part of MAGIC?' and I’m like, 'Well, just show up,'" said Phelps.