Fall 2006 Vol. V, No. 1
Alumni Profile: Media Master
The name Kung Fu Numerik may initially conjure up an image
of little digital people jumping all over each other on a small screen.
But Ghassan Fayad (BS 98) assures us that his interactive media
design and development company is more about mastering the field of digital
arts (think creating the next youtube.com), than digital martial arts.
Numérique means digital in French, so its
all about digital kung-fu, he explains. And, if
you come back to the real etymology and meaning of the Chinese word kung-fu,
its not as much about fighting but rather the mastery of an art
or craft. Its about precision, strength, competence, perseverance,
Fayad created Kung Fu Numerik to build cutting-edge creative web sites,
web tools, software, and interactive content for the entertainment and
Logic, passion, and an evidently unfailing gut instinct took Fayad from
Beirut to Montreal and to the head of his own successful interactive media
design and development company.
After completing his bachelors degree in computer and communications
engineering at AUB in 1998, Fayad chose to pursue a masters in electrical
and computer engineering at McGill University in Montreal. After graduation,
friends, family, a girlfriend, and a right-side of the brain desire to
be his own boss kept him there, despite a temping job offer in Californias
Silicon Valley. Plus, as it turned out, the dot-com bubble burst just
months later, leaving thousands of young engineers instantly unemployed.
So, while the tech industry was imploding stateside, Fayad was in Montreal
getting plenty of work setting up portals for Quebec-based organizations,
and preparing to launch his first company.
In 2003, he decided he wanted to be involved in the creation and conception
of interactive media. His goal was to move towards producing content for
the web. So, he registered for a six-month intensive program at Canadas
prestigious INIS (Institut National de lImage et du Son), which
is renowned for its programs in cinema, television, and new media production.
The next year, Fayad founded his first company, Le Medialab, which came
together after Fayad and his then partner won a substantial contract from
Quebecs largest institution in the field of clinical assistance,
which works with people with motor and/or speech and language disorders.
The pair worked a year on the project.
They wanted us to entirely redevelop their site and create several
interactive components and technical solutions. One of the clients
most critical requirements was the accessibility of the content to people
with disabilities, he tells me. Our solution was based on
a standard called the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) which is a heavy
and sometimes very theoretical published set of guidelines that allows
any online content to be accessible to different devices and interfaces.
So, whether you access the site via a computer, a handheld device, a screen-reader,
an eye-controlled cursor, a joystick, a touch screen, and so on, the contentor
some version of that contentwill be available.
Armed with expertise and hands-on experience from Le Medialab, Fayad soon
took off on his own to found Kung Fu Numerik, which, in less than eight
months has grown and accumulated an impressive portfolio and various prizes.
It is, says Fayad, a company dedicated to two main activities. The first
is to develop technological architectures for web platforms or, to put
it more simply, to create cutting-edge creative web sites, web tools,
and software and interactive content. Our clients for these services
are mainly advertising and design agencies that lack the technical know-how
to develop web databases and highly interactive on-line experiences,
When I probe him about interactivity, Fayad uses the analogy of video
games (Playstation, Xbox), which are the closest thing to a highly interactive
immersive experience. The big trend is to get involved with whats
happening on screen, and not just sitting back and watching. The
taste for user-generated content, like myspace.com, youtube.com,
and so many of the biggest web success stories today, has meant a reliance
on the public to generate the content that is shown. With the interactive
platforms, information can be pulled from the public instead of just being
pushed on the public.
For example, a company like amazon.com is constantly profiling its customers
and tracking preferences so that it can target its products to clients
more effectively. As Fayad explains, The information is filtered
for you and the system is learning to know you. The content
becomes tailored to your needs.
Kung Fu Numerik is currently working on two interactive user-generated
content projects. The first is an immersive visit to the great Canadian
north to discover the native Inuit culture today. We are recreating
the environment from a massive bank of images and video that a team collected
there last winter in order to almost give a sense to people of actually
being there and interacting with the locals. The other project is a portrait
of the United States where people can upload their digital photos from
their computers or mobiles, to generate a map of America as a constantly
changing mosaic composed of thousands of user-submitted photos.
The second and fastest growing of Kung Fu Numeriks activities is
the production and development of concepts, on-line content, and intellectual
property. It is here that Fayad talks excitedly about the Cityspeak project,
which has been nominated for and won several international awards. Cityspeak
works in much the same way as poetry magnets that people stick on their
refrigerator doors, with which they compose various messages. For Fayad,
the idea lent itself ideally to the web because it is a simple collaborative
concept. The added spin is that our words were not just words but
city words, which could be captured anytime, anywhere, with a digital
camera or cell phone. So in this sense, the public contributes to the
content on multiple levels: they create the messages with the words, but
they also build the vocabulary by sending their photos of words. This
is the essence of Cityspeak, he notes.
So imagine you want to say Happy birthday Mom in an
original way. You would go to Cityspeak and type your sentence and the
engine will generate the sentence in photos. You can choose a theme (street
signs, Montreal words, Beirut words, famous logos, etc.) and customize
the message. You can upload your own photo of your mom and have it replace
the 'mom' word in the sentence. Once the message is complete, it
can be e-mailed or sent to moms mobile, or posted on
the Cityspeak wall of poetry.
In the end, and in addition to logic, passion, and a reliable gut instinct,
what has helped Fayad get to where he is now has as much to do with creativity,
something that he has in abundance. Ive always had a creative
side, even during my engineering studies, he says. I was doing
music, design, and animation on the side. During my AUB years, I was working
as a designer for a Lebanese weekly and I had a rock band. I also made
certain choices in my course projects that kept me closer to multimedia
and creation. So I have never been content with being a purely technical
The possibilities are endless and we are still in the early
exploration of what can be done.