Co-founder Marinelli reflects on developing the ETC with Pausch

Stuti Pandey Sep 8, 2008

With the birth of the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) in 1998, Don Marinelli and Randy Pausch’s futures were sealed together. Drawing inspiration from the University of Southern California’s ETC, Raj Reddy, the dean of the School of Computer Science at the time, brought up the idea of forming Carnegie Mellon’s own ETC to Pausch and Marinelli who followed it to completion.

Thus, for Marinelli, a professor of drama and arts management and executive producer and co-founder of the ETC, Pausch’s July 25 death from pancreatic cancer really hit home.

Marinelli's involvement with Pausch went far beyond the “Last Lecture” and online videos. Marinelli felt a personal connection with the various transformations Pausch went through to reach the level of ingenuity and authenticity that struck so many hearts around the world.

Marinelli, in an interview, spoke particularly fondly of the affection Pausch felt for his wife and three young children.

Pausch told parents in his last lecture and in his many international interviews to take some time to go hug their children.

Marinelli smiled at this piece of advice, calling it one of Pausch’s transformations. He explained that before the knowledge of the cancer came about, Randy did not hug people and would often be boggled by the fact that drama people were always hugging each other, and at that time it did not make much sense to him to do so.

Marinelli also spoke of the transformation that he and Pausch brought about in the ETC, bringing it about from a loose idea to what it is today.

He spoke of the ETC as an amazing place to walk through with gadgets and paintings adorning the colorful walls in its many halls. Marinelli and Pausch shared an office that is brightly colored with pictures and collages hung around the room.

Marinelli laughed as he explained that Pausch’s preference for their office had been a neutral color scheme. However, following the discovery of cancer Pausch became known for telling parents to let children paint their walls however they wanted them.

“Randy was always pushing students to take risk, but as for him, he used to be a risk-adverse human being before the discovery of cancer. Randy and my wife were the only people that I knew that ate the same thing every day,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli spoke of the beginnings of the ETC before it moved off campus.

“For six years we were in the basement of Wean and the penthouse of Doherty. He didn’t want to be here [at the off-campus location of the ETC], but over here there was more room to expand and I thought it was a fabulous space,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli and Pausch’s opposing ideas and personalities were obvious to the many whom they worked with.

“President Jared Cohon asked us to start this. Neither one of us were shrinking violets so the bets were that we would kill each other,” Marinelli said.
Though, Marinelli said that these opposing viewpoints of the two were key to the success of the ETC.

“Randy and I were definitely right and left brain. We even looked like Schwarzenegger and DeVito from the movie Twins — separated at birth twins. Usually we made for an interesting pair,” Marinelli said.
Marinelli explained that the two always reconciled at the end of the day.

“Neither he nor I could be considered typical academics. We were very similar in how we viewed the role of technology in entertainment,” he said.
According to Marinelli, Pausch’s legacy will continue to resonate in the ETC.

“Two of his best contributions were hiring Jesse Schell and creating the Building Virtual Worlds (BVW) course,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli added that the BVW course is the ETC’s biggest. Students are charged with building five virtual worlds in one semester, each with a different team.
“It’s a course that revels in self reflection and working fast, hard, and smartly,” Marinelli said.

Pausch’s memory will continue to be commemorated by the ETC by the “Pausch Award,” given to a student who embodies his ideals.

Additionally, the “Pausch Prize” is given to someone outside of Carnegie Mellon who is deemed to be living out Pausch's vision of life.

This year’s Pausch Prize has already been given to Ed Catmull, the president of Disney-Pixar, particularly for his embodiment of Pausch’s interdisciplinary spirit.