Studio Visit is a Q&A with an artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with Steve Drake of Urbana, creative specialist at the Beckman Institute in Urbana.
Q: Congratulations on your three consecutive Mid-America Emmy awards. I noticed you've won other awards as well. Which are the most meaningful to you?
A: The regional Emmys. But we used to live in New York, and I worked for The Discovery Channel's "Assignment Discovery," and we won a Daytime Emmy.
I was one of two writers on that show. It was very much a group effort. That was a national award, and we went to the awards ceremony. That was probably the most memorable one.
All the regional Emmys are specifically for me because I'm pretty much the only video producer on them, working with the researchers directly. So that is a much more intimate, personal thing. It's really a story I'm telling with these videos.
Q: Are you the only video producer here at the Beckman Institute (at the University of Illinois)?
Q: How long have you been here?
A: Three years, although I worked at WILL five years previous to that. Part of that was working with Art Kramer (now Beckman's director) on his Center for Healthy Minds. I was the video producer for that center.
Q: Do you have a background in video and/or science?
A: My degree is in political science. I thought I'd get into law, but I worked in billing for two years in a law firm in Irvine, Calif., and decided it wasn't for me. That was my first job after school (University of California-Irvine).
Q: How did you get into video production?
A: I was always a big film buff and was hoping to get into film and TV. After Irvine, my wife (Diane Beck), who's a professor here, did her graduate work in Berkeley, and I worked in the film archive at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
I was in fundraising, and some of the friends of the Film Archive were big filmmakers, like George Lucas, and I got to meet him. That's when I really got the bug, you could say.
Q: Where did you pick up your video production skills?
A: After my wife finished graduate school, we moved to London and I worked at the BBC. That's where I learned everything. I got in as an accountant, but once I was there, I met people. I met a radio producer and he hired me to work on a radio show there. Then he hired me to work on a TV show, and I worked on some other TV shows at BBC.
They wouldn't let me work on higher-level shows, so I left to work at the Network of the World, also in London. That's when I got into making my own video segments.
Q: What kind of software do you use here?
A: I try to do almost everything in Final Cut Pro. There are other programs like Adobe After Effects and Photoshop that I use too.
One of the great things about the Beckman researchers is they have a lot of expertise in visualizing and animating their research, and I get to use that in my videos. Because my job is to highlight their research, I try to make it look as good as possible and as accessible as possible, and I try to find the human stories in the research.
Q: Have you ever worked or will you ever work on a feature-length movie?
A: No, so far I've done pretty much video segments, including when I worked on that hourlong Discovery Channel show. I don't know. We'll see. That was my idea early on, that I would be the next George Lucas. It hasn't turned out that way, but this is good, too.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The next video we're doing is an iCub holiday greeting card from the Beckman Institute. It will probably come out in a couple of weeks and be sent to Beckman staff, employees and supporters. It also will be on YouTube.
Editor's note: Drake's videos on research projects at the Beckman Institute may be seen at beckman. illinois.edu/video.