10 Questions with Michelle Ma


Michelle is a digital media artist and a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon with a Bachelor of Computer Science and Fine Arts. She’s currently a lab associate at Disney Research in Pittsburg. You can read more about her amazing explorations of art and technology at michelledoeswhat.com.  

While in college, Michelle worked on a HoloLens / Kinect integration project that has become the inspiration for many HoloLens sharing service apps on the market. She basically figured out how to modify the HL sharing service in order to use it as an integration backbone between mixed reality devices and other peripherals such as 3D cameras. It seems fitting that it took a mind trained to think along less traveled paths to come up with a way to adapt the HoloLens toolkit for an unintended but even cooler purpose. 


What movie has left the most lasting impression on you?
I’m an animation nerd and the movies that affect me the most always have a story that feels complete and characters that are compelling. Lilo and Stitch really made me feel the importance of these two components early on.

What is the earliest video game you remember playing?
The earliest video game I played had to have been something like Treasure Mountain or Math Blaster. But if we’re talking about the earliest video game I really got attached to it was Pokemon Emerald. It was the first game that really felt like I could explore and understand the world presented to me, and even now I compare my game experiences to how I felt when I first played Pokemon on Gameboy. Yes, graphics nowadays are always better and amazing, but sometimes the complexity of a virtual world gets in the way of the feeling of control I had playing old 90s games.

Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think?
I have so many people that played a role in shaping the way I think, but the most memorable one was my art club president from high school. As an artist I am very hard on myself and detail-oriented so I would always ask questions about how things should be done. He would jokingly respond with “Follow your heart”, which drove me insane but eventually it sunk in and that’s how I started answering other people’s questions. This way of thinking greatly helped me indulge in my whims and let my creative side do the decision making.

When was the last time you changed your mind about something?
I change my mind about something every hour. In fact, this past summer after graduating Carnegie Mellon, I’ve changed my mind about my career path once ever week or so. Its kind of hard to deal with but I have confidence in my skills and my experience so I’m prepared for the obstacles or opportunities coming my way.

What’s a programming skill people assume you have but that you are terrible at?
People make way too many assumptions about programmers and artists in general, and since I’m both its really hard to communicate my role to others. As a programmer, people assume I can write software and tools. As an artist programmer, people assume I can do web development. As an artist, people assume that I do graphic design. I have assumed all these roles for work and experience, but I must say I am pretty slow at these things compared to the work that I’m truly passionate about.

What inspires you to learn?
I learn new things in hopes of understanding more things and more people, being more aware of the current state of things, and improving myself. It sounds vague, yes, but the learning I do is also vague and all over the place.

What do you need to believe in order to get through the day?
I just need to believe that things are going to be ok. Also vague, but there are so many things to worry about that keeping myself together with a giant umbrella helps at least for the day.

What’s a view that you hold but can’t defend?
I like to think that irrational fears such as acrophobia and fear of worms can be worked through but I haven’t really gotten past them so who knows.

What will the future killer Mixed Reality app do?
The next killer MR app will probably bring people together–whether it is through avatars or something else–and focus on the social capabilities of the technology. This is important because, as great as it is to design flawless virtual worlds and interactions for each and every application, it is the social energy of play and discovery that will keep an experience going.

What book have you recommended the most?
Honestly I don’t read as many books as before. I do, however, indulge in web comics and TV series, and my current recommendation for something visually stunning, highly disturbing, and surprisingly relevant is The Handmaid’s Tale.

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