Ekaterina Doronina is a graduate of ITMO’s Multimedia Technologies for Theater, Cinema and Television program. During her Master’s studies, she managed to participate in productions of the FLAME student dancing club, take part in various theater and dance festivals, travel to Israel, Spain, and Portugal, as well as do an internship at the New Media Laboratory of the New Stage of the Alexandrinsky Theatre.
ITMO.NEWS met with Ekaterina to learn more about her career, self-discovery, and her thoughts on uncertainty being an integral part of life.
On choosing a career and first education
I am an interdisciplinary designer specializing in graphic design. For nine years, I have been studying interactive media, and for three and a half years, I worked in the museum, education and theater sectors. Now I live in Moscow, work as a freelancer, and am engaged mainly in graphic design.
At first, I studied at Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University and received a degree in Applied Information Science in Design (or Digital Design as I would call it now). This program is initially intended for those people who plan to make computer games. There was a wide range of disciplines such as design and composition, academic drawing and painting, 3D and animation, programming in C++ and Java, etc.
I always enjoyed expressing myself through body and movement. I have been dancing since I was a child but I have never seriously thought about going to a theater school.
Besides, I was in a physics and mathematics class and saw myself – and still do – as a person with a technical mind. In my opinion, something creative would hardly suit me, but my soul still begged for self-expression. It was then that I realized that I would not be able to study physics or mathematics. So, I found something in between.
Even though I had never considered leaving my hometown, Kaliningrad, I had to. I have always loved it so much and I still think it is a great place to live but when I came across a degree program that moved me so much, I had no choice but to leave for St. Petersburg.
Of course, I never had any regrets because the move opened up a whole new world for me – the world of grownups, where you had to learn to be independent, build social connections, understand yourself, and have enough courage to admit that you don't know or understand something.
On studying at ITMO University
After I graduated from the Polytechnic University, I felt like I knew a little bit from each field and had no idea what I could do with all this.
I wanted to have both the technical and creative aspects of my life. Then, I came across ITMO’s Multimedia Technologies for Theater, Cinema and Television program. It was a perfect balance of such seemingly different worlds. When I was applying for the program, I believed that I would not only be closer to the theater but also become better at programming because IT is ITMO University’s main specialization.
I imagined that I would simply go to classes and gain new knowledge. However, this Master’s program actually teaches you to be more independent, to set tasks for yourself, find ways to complete them, and, above all, to present your results to others.
There are definitely mentors and assistants, but no one brings knowledge to you on a silver platter. The coolest thing is that you can communicate with professors as equals not because you don't respect them anymore but because you feel like a more self-confident person, capable of solving problems on your own. It empowered me and brought me a feeling of real life.
The experience of such communication came in handy in my future work, when I had to learn how to correctly communicate with customers. That is, interact as equals and not from the position of an all-knowing expert or, on the contrary, a willing performer for everything.
On the importance of social connections and passion for dancing
People that I encountered at ITMO made this time especially valuable for me. Back then, I was about to quit one of the most important parts of my life – dancing – because I thought that I grew out of it and no longer needed it. However, the balance between technical studies, career, and creativity turned out to still be extremely essential for me.
I decided to give a regular class at ITMO's FLAME club a try. I didn't expect anything special. Before that, I already had a dubious experience of participating in a dance club at the Polytechnic University. But when I got to this class, I was amazed by the people who are passionate about their work, open, and willing to share everything they know. This is the energy I was lacking all this time, and I immediately became part of the team.
From the very beginning, the team trusted me and even let me work on a performance for the competition. Later on, my colleagues (who are dance trainers at ITMO) and I launched and judged the ITMO Dance Festival. Together we also participated in city festivals and theatrical performances on behalf of the university.
Our head trainer was Liza Nekrasova, and somehow I ended up in her dance team called “Naprimer” (Russian “For example” – Ed.). We came up with serious and complex productions, for which we prepared for four to six hours a day. I was terribly thrilled and happy that I found these people at the university.
While studying at my Master’s program, I was also engaged in the layout of graphic materials for educational videos and earned enough money for a dance trip to Israel with world-class choreographers. After that, I went to Barcelona and Portugal a few times thanks to the DASS program (Dance Academy Season School).
On the New Media Laboratory and virtual performance as a thesis
When I enrolled, I thought that we would do an internship at a theater as there was an agreement with the New Stage of the Alexandrinsky Theatre. But it turned out that this program was no longer available and we had to look for other opportunities to get there. And we managed to do so with the help of New Media Laboratory. Still, I can't say that ITMO didn't help me in any way, because it was thanks to the university that I got into this field – multimedia in theater – and, generally, became interested in this.
There were, of course, many interesting things happening in the New Stage. In general, we all felt as if we were some kind of magicians: everyone around us was so creative, immersed in art, and far from everyday things. We created projects that were as abstract and incomprehensible as possible, learned to work with VR, video mapping, video art, and motion capture. Here, the skills I gained at the Polytechnic University were of great use.
One of our directors (we worked on one of the productions together) and I collaborated to make a virtual play based on Kafka's Metamorphosis. The idea was to create it in such a way to let people wearing VR glasses actually feel their metamorphosis.
However, the director quickly went off this project, but I decided to continue working on it as my Master's thesis. The point of the experiment was to find out how much people in VR are sensitive to changes – when the picture increases or decreases, will they really feel that?
My supervisor was also very passionate about this research and actively helped me. When I was in between a highly creative and highly technical field, I realized that I was drawn to something more structured, that I want to see the result of my work, and understand that it will definitely happen and that I need more specifics.
On the first work and cooperation with museums
During my internship at the Alexandrinsky Theatre, we went on a tour to the Ascreen company, which supplies all the equipment, including projectors, interactive tables, etc. It turned out that the staff is engaged not only in developing equipment but that they themselves make multimedia content for various communication spaces: from trading floors to exhibitions and museum expositions. I was eager to participate in this field, too, but I had my thesis and was extremely busy at the dance studio. That was my main focus at that time.
After graduation, I wanted to take my chances with this company, so I went for an interview and they offered me a job. And I have been here for the last three years. Throughout this time, I performed different tasks and my multidisciplinarity and multitasking turned out to be very relevant as I had to make presentations, concepts, and think through a project’s ideology. The skills of animation, 3D, and layout also came in handy – that is, I used everything I knew.
For the first six months, I worked as a creative designer: we thought over concepts for spaces, proposed design for expositions, and thought over projects’ ideology. There were tight deadlines, we constantly stayed late at work, and almost always fell behind because of the excessive workload.
Then I switched to content creation and started to work with clear concepts and technical specifications, that is, these were already real things that people used. I felt much more responsible for my work.
Last year, I worked on my largest project – for the Museum of Cosmonautics. I designed an app for interactive panels and an interactive table. I really had to delve into the topic with a wealth of information and huge archives dedicated to Soviet cosmonauts.
Then I realized that the depth of the project, as well as freedom and independence in work, were important to me. Above all, I am fueled when I feel that my work is valued and needed.
Moscow and the Ladies, Wine & Design community
In 2020, I decided to move to Moscow. Of course, it wasn’t easy to leave my past life of eight and a half years behind, but it was the beginning of a new stage of my life. It so happened that my boyfriend and I moved right at the time when everything got closed (because of the pandemic – Ed.). We were working from home and went out only once a week.
That’s when I realized how important it is for me to socialize. For me, the lack of exchange with other people causes an inner crisis. Those months were hard, so eventually I decided that remote work is not for me and I want to immerse myself in the local environment.
In early summer, I quit my job and in September I started to look for a new one in Moscow. That’s how I joined the Ladies, Wine & Design team. It’s a community that examines the industry from a woman’s point of view. We work with psychological issues that women often experience, such as self-criticism and impostor syndrome, and teach them how to take care of themselves and pay attention to their well-being.
Being a part of this team helps me see what’s happening in the industry, make new contacts, and understand other people. I got into psychology and the synthesis between our bodies and minds.
I mainly work on the project related to management and psychological consulting – I’m responsible for all the visuals, from the logo to the website. I feel that that’s what inspires me most right now. I even consider creating my own project on improving one’s health through psychology and healing exercises.
Design as communication
Today, I’m not only interested in design aesthetic-wise, but also business-wise, from the analytical point of view. That’s what professionals call UX/UI (User Experience/User Interface design – Ed.). About two years ago I attended a course on UX/UI but back then I thought it was too analytical, whereas I wanted to see something visual. However, now I look back on the things I learned there a lot. It’s one of those cases when you thought you’d never apply something but it actually turns out to be quite useful.
It may seem that it’s enough to create cute bright pictures, especially for social media, and things will work out. But for me, it’s important that the visuals reflect the content. Basically, that’s what I’m engaged in these days – I try to connect these two aspects. In the past, I just wanted to create beautiful things but now I want them to have a purpose: why should it be there? Is it necessary?
Tips for students
I’m more into sharing my observations than giving advice. This year’s key theme is uncertainty and ways to perceive it and deal with it. My life changed when I realized that uncertainty is always there. There’s no need to try to avoid it and look for 100%-certain ways.
Each person who begins their studies doesn’t really know who they will become afterward, so what should they choose from a wide variety of courses? Can you really plan it all in advance? In order to achieve your goals, it’s great to have a path and follow it, or at least try, even if the steps you take are tiny. At the same time, once you gain an opportunity to look beyond this direction, you feel relieved – there are so many more things you can try.
That’s why I’m all for facing uncertainty. The more flexible you are, the more skills and knowledge you have – the better, as everything may come in handy. Whatever you’ve learned, whoever you’ve worked as – it’s your experience, and one day, it will be of use.