1953–1958: Systems of organization
Charles and Ray Eames’s initial use of film for educational purposes was A Rough Sketch for a Sample Lesson for a Hypothetical Course (1953). Introduced to the Department of Fine Arts Chairman Lamar Dodd by the industrial designer George Nelson, the Eameses were commissioned together with Nelson and exhibition designer Alexander Girard ‘to study and suggest curriculum revision’ for the University of Georgia art programme.1 Expanding their brief to the development of an optimal approach to learning in general, Nelson, Girard, and the Eameses created A Sample Lesson to clearly communicate maximum information in the least amount of time. Operationally complex, a single lecture required eight people to run because it combined various media and technologies in order to coordinate the material being presented. Using synthetic aromas, music, narration, film, slides, and graphic panels, the lecture flooded the audience with information in a highly synchronized manner. For instance, A Sample Lesson ‘used a lot of sound, sometimes carried to a very high volume so you would actually feel the vibrations’, creating an immersive environment.2 One lecture given by Charles utilized their first ‘fast-cut’, three-screen photographic presentation, which quickly became the standard format within the Eameses’ office, facilitating cross-comparisons between photographs presented simultaneously. Graphics filled the walls with an assortment of genres, origins, and purposes, extending well beyond the audience’s usual frames of reference (Figure 3.1). They fashioned a new kind of educational experience within the classroom by allowing the audio-visual information to serve as the primary method for communicating speculative concerns, synthesizing multiple sensory experiences that saturated the students with a surfeit of information. The pamphlet advertising a second presentation at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), aptly stated that ‘a Sample Lesson is more of an experience than a tangible solid’, to ‘be seen and heard and felt and smelled’ (Figure 3.2).3 Although Charles stated in an interview that the intention was ‘to supply a very broad range of material upon which the teacher could then base his arguments’, every instructor was seen as a possible contributor, as
the material developed by one lecturer could be shared and augmented by everyone else.4 Applicable not only to the fine arts, the example multimedia presentation method could be used as a teaching method in many disciplines.5 This early synthesis of methods prefigured an approach in which the Eameses would consolidate and perfect their filmic technique to engage the audience by developing associative networks of a unique type of cinematic language.