By Ann Fisher
Issue: September 1, 2002

A Touch Of Class

There are 24 Art Institutes nationwide, offering students a foundation in basic art and design, and the opportunity to translate that to the digital domain.
The industry, like the rest of the country, is in the throes of a recession. What better time to go back to school?

"There is an historical trend," says Jane Kagon, director of entertainment studies at UCLA Extension, the University's continuing education arm. "When the industry is in upheaval, people go back to get their skills tuned up. Enrollment is up in our department."

Ben Kozuch
At Full Sail Real World Education in Winter Park, FL, Erik Noteboom, director of education/digital arts, agrees. "I think education increases during bad economic times. People go back to school, people rethink their lives, people take it as an opportunity or sign to change careers." He adds that the availability and mainstream knowledge of entertainment technology has been helping enrollment.

Ben Kozuch, co-founder of Future Media Concepts, a New York City training center, sees it from both the instructor's and businessperson's angles. "There are a couple of contradictory trends," he says. "On one hand, the industry's in a recession and budgets are down, and one of the first budgets to cut is employee training. On the other hand, production is slow so it's a good time to send people for training. Sometimes people get laid off in the industry and in order to reenter the workplace they need to sharpen their skills, so they come in here on their own dime so they can improve their resume. We noticed that maybe less people are being sent by the companies, but overall we have been stable."

What follows is a snapshot of some schools offering post production training throughout the US, their particular programs and philosophies.

Also, visit these schools and training centers
What it is: This 10,000-square-foot digital media training center for editing and animation is not connected to dealers or rental houses; it just jumped into a void left by manufacturers and dealers who didn't have the manpower to teach everyone how to use their equipment. Established in 1994, as the industry migrated from tape- to digital-based editing, FMC ( now has offices in New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Boston. It is the largest Avid authorized training center on the East Coast and is also the authorized training center for 13 other manufacturers' products from Adobe to Sony.

Specialty: Nonlinear editing on the gamut of Avids up to the Avid|DS, Sony Xpri, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. The five areas of study, including the most popular courses, are NLE (Avid, Apple, Adobe Premiere), 3D Animation (Softimage, Discreet, NewTek, Alias|Wavefront Maya), Web Design/Programming (Macromedia and Adobe), Desktop Publishing (Adobe) and Sound Design (Digidesign Pro Tools).

Portland's Oregon3D
Type of Students: "Most [students] here are already employed in the industry," says Ben Kozuch. "They are professional staff of TV stations, advertising agencies and post production houses. Ten to 20 percent [are] individuals, some of them freelancers: We're not in the business of getting them jobs. As far as placement, in most [studios] in New York, go to the editing room and at a certain point [the editor] went through Future Media for some kind of training." And what training are they requesting these days? "We reflect what's going on in the industry. Avid is the prominent player but Final Cut Pro is right there behind it. That migrates itself to the cross section of the students here."

Unique: FMC prides itself on small class size; the average is six students/class.

"For us, success has been a combination of very small classes, being the authorized training center that is featured on the manufacturer Web site, and top-of-the-line instructors who are also working professionals so they can share real war stories unlike professors," says Kozuch. Some of our instructors freelance on the side. We don't hire any instructor who hasn't been in the field for a few years.

Tuition/Housing: Average class cost $450/day; typical class is two days. No housing available.


What it is: The continuing education arm of LA's UCLA ( offers a post baccalaureate program, which includes many editing and animation courses, designed for and taught by professionals but open to everyone. According to director Jane Kagon, students can take one course or pursue the two-year certificate program. The goal is to give students an understanding and overview of the industry that allows them to be competitive in the field they've chosen.

Specialty: Editing courses are offered on Avid, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro (with Shake), as well as telecine and Pro Tools. Many are taught onsite in the IBM PC-based lab or Macintosh lab. Avid is taught offsite in conjunction with the LA Film School, Pro Tools is offsite at a Santa Monica facility. In Animation, a traditional animation course is offered annually, though most courses are 3D - such as Maya and Discreet's 3DS Max. Lecture courses include "Intro to Special Effects in the Industry" and "Intro to Animation," which covers lingo and software choices.

Type of Students: "We want students or people in the industry who want [additional] training, but in reality the program is open to everyone - we had a 15-year-old in the music scoring program," says Kagon. "The audience covers the spectrum of people who want to be in the business, who've just moved to LA, who've been in the [industry] a long time and want to shift or move up in their position."

Instructors come from the industry.

A good portion of grads work in the industry, she says, though they don't officially track them.

"Our program is competitive in terms of prices but they're expensive and people want to know that they're getting real-world training so they can go out there," she says. "The interesting thing we hear about our students is they're the most sophisticated and dedicated to the learning process. A good portion ends up being in the business."

Unique: "One of the selling points of our program is it's a major networking resource since all of our instructors come from the industry and are high-level professionals while they're teaching. It's a great opportunity for our students to learn not only courseware but also make connections that end up being invaluable in terms of their future careers. Sony Imageworks is a perfect example. When Frank Foster, VP/Sony Imageworks, was here in the 90s, they literally took eight students from our class. They became ground level troops as Sony Imageworks was starting to really move into the business," she says.

Tuition/Housing: Average is $800 to $900 per course (though Shake is $1,500 due to expensive software/ teacher). One-day courses are $25 to $75. A two-year certificate program is $8,000 to $10,000. Housing is not provided, though a department counselor provides direction for the large international student body.


What it is: Established in 1979 as a single recording/mixing course, Winter Park, FL's Full Sail ( has developed into a full-length program for film and video, digital media, game development/design and computer animation. The 14-month program, which some equate to a Masters program, earns an associate of science degree. Its facility is a half-million square feet with five soundstages and 50 studios, computer labs and rooms. Full Sail does not run semesters - the program starts every month, which allows graduates to enter the industry every month and not flood it every July.

"This is a 24/7 place," says Full Sail's Eric Noteboom. "You can call at 1am or 5am and get a real receptionist and ask to be patched into the lab."
Specialty: The Film and Video program goes from pre-production through production and post. There are 11 courses; students must take all of them in the proper order. They include Screenplay, Digital Cinematography (MiniDV), Set Design, 16mm Film Production, Feature Film Production, Directing, Special Effects and Post. Technology includes Avid Xpress stations, Avid Media Composers, Avid Symphonies, Final Cut Pro stations with DVD Studio Pro and Quantel Editbox.

The Animation program offers three programs. 1) Computer Animation is character design and visual effects using Maya in four labs running HPX4000, dual 1.7 Xeon machines down to a beginner lab on custom built 1.8 Pentium 4s. "We've found that if you know Maya it's easier to learn 3DS Max than the other way around. We do offer a Max crash course for anybody who is a Maya expert," says Erik Noteboom, director of education, digital arts. 2) Digital Media is interactive media, digital video, motion graphics and Web design. The small amount of animation, mainly for the Web, is incorporated with Director, Flash and some realtime environments; some of it is created using Macs. 3) Game Design/Programming is just that and includes instruction on how to incorporate motion capture data into the game.

Full Sail's Eric Noteboom
Type of Students: "The average age here is 23-24, which tells us that the biggest segment of students have one to seven semesters in another school. They went to school because they had the initiative but didn't find what they wanted," says Noteboom. Grads go into post or production, depending on their specialty. Full Sail, which does help place grads, claims a placement ratio of 77 percent. Instructors include industry vets, and much of the staff does consulting on the side.

Unique: An accelerated program - two and a half years of course work offered in a 14-month program. Students have contact with instructors 40 hours/week. "This is a 24/7 place. You can call at 1am or 5am and get a real receptionist and ask to be patched into the HP lab," says Noteboom. "That's the real world. We upgrade our equipment when the industry does, soft and hardware. And we make sure our students touch everything, like pulling apart 35mm cameras."

Tuition/Housing: Tuition is $28,000 to $33,000 depending on the degree program; price includes supplies and services such as 35mm film, processing, transfers. No housing but housing complexes are nearby.

AFI Conservatory

What it is: A two-and-a-half-year, five-semester Masters of Fine Arts degree program in editing, run on a campus set up like a studio with cutting rooms and central machine room. Phil Linson, AFI's ( director of the editing program and senior filmmaker in residence, also runs the Sony Video Center. Hand in hand, the program and facility are run on professional deadlines in a simulated real-world environment.

"We expect our editors to be [more than] just a pair of hands. They need to bring their storytelling skills to the table," says AFI's Phil Linson (standing), with fellows editing on the Avid.
Specialty: LA's AFI has five disciplines: Production, Direction, Screenwriting, Cinematography, Editing and Production Design. In Editing, the most popular course is the Editing Workshop where students analyze cuts from student productions. Two nights each week, two editing students present their work. Class discussion has been led by industry editors such as Howard Smith (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Abyss) and Farrel Levy (NYPD Blue). Though it's easier to look at the mistakes and problems of others, AFI wants its students to use those skills to analyze their own work and figure out how to fix the problems, says Linson. Systems include Avid and Pro Tools, After Effects and Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro.

Type of Students: They have worked in the field and been an assistant or apprentice and are looking for a chance to become an editor. "It's hard to make that jump," says Linson. "We give them that chance to edit lots of material so they get both the skills and confidence and demeanor. In that two and a half years you see them change, because when they sit down with a director and producer and have to deliver a finished product, after you've done that five or six times, you get much better at," he says.

Unique: The program mimics real-world situations with a team/project oriented approach. In the first year, there are three different production cycles of short films. These are four-day shoots on DVCam from original materials, which are edited, analyzed, re-edited, then finally analyzed by the entire first year class. Editors will work on six projects a year. The second year thesis project involves two projects for each editor, in either 16mm, 35mm, Digi Beta or 24p. Films will be cleared for worldwide distribution so the editor learns how to deal with a sound house, lab and other post entities.

"We expect our editors to be [more than] just a pair of hands," says Linson. "They need to bring their storytelling skills to the table. In all cutting rooms everywhere that's hard to do… to get that respect. This way it helps the editors who've been through it a few more times than the director. Hopefully, they do look to them for some guidance.

"Changing technology has also changed the editor's role and we have to deal with technology here but editing, no matter if you're cutting on film or Lightworks or Media 100 or Avid or Final Cut Pro, we really try to concentrate on those skills. and that's where the heavy emphasis is - and the tools are just tools."

Tuition/Housing: Tuition is $23,000/year plus the fifth semester at $5,000. Housing is not provided.


What it is: Amidst high profile neighbors such as Pixar and ILM, Expression for New Media ( opened in Emeryville, CA, in 1999. Gary Platt, the architect of Florida's Full Sail is president. He wanted to bring his version of total immersion - in animation and sound - to the West Coast. The 18-month program (condensing four years worth of courses) earns an Associate of Applied Science degree. The school hopes to earn accreditation status in 2003. "We're very much about work ethic, jobs and career building," he says.

The Ray Harryhausen animation lab
Specialty: Three primary disciplines are 1) Digital/Visual Media - Animation, 3D Modeling, Effects; 2) Digital Graphic Design - small-screen motion graphics, editing, Web site development/design; 3) Sound Arts. One of the more interesting courses offered is Motion Capture. Expression has a complete Vicon 8 high res mocap system and Platt thinks they are the only school certified to teach it. Animation courses include instruction in Maya, RealViz's MatchMover software, running on Dell 2.2GB workstations. Platt says they are starting to incorporate Macs.

Type of Students: "Our favorite students are those who come with two years background in traditional art because we feel they have a leg up in this environment," says Platt. "We're really designed for people who have a lot of passion, and they know this is what they want to do. These students are here over 12 hours a day. We use a lot of evaluating because in a condensed program like this you have to keep everything on track every step of the way. These people come out of here with a work ethic." Course work includes business and interviewing skills, as well as a reminder to carry a good attitude into the industry.

"Our system is different than a college. Instead of a Chinese menu, we give you a path from beginning to end," says Expression's Gary Platt
The school's placement service boasts a 90 percent success rate for industry grads.

Unique: "Our system is very different than a college. Instead of a Chinese menu, we give you a path from beginning to end. We don't close you out of a course. The very first day we put a camera in your hand and we get started," he says. The program is project-based and real-world oriented.

Students have a three-hour class/six-hour hour lab every day. The school offers Maya experts, many of whom come from the larger production houses in the area. There's also a lot of interaction with the neighbors. For instance, under the direction of Terrence Masson, an ILM alum, a group of students is creating cinematics for the forthcoming Batman game.

Platt says they are doing more and more of this. "It's a great way to get our students in internships."

Tuition/Housing: Tuition is $33,000 for the 18-month program. Housing is provided.


What it is: The Art Institutes' parent company, Education Management Corp., is one of the largest providers of private post-secondary education in North America with 40 campus locations in 26 major cities. EDMC offers Doctoral, Masters, Bachelors, Associates and non-degree programs concentrated in the creative and visual arts, behavioral sciences and education fields. It has been in business for 40 years. The Art Institutes' ( 24 locations cater to those in the design, media arts, fashion and culinary fields.

Specialty: Degree programs are offered in Audio Production, Broadcasting, Digital Media Production, Game Art and Design, Media Arts and Animation, Multimedia and Web Design, Video Production, plus Visual Effects and Motion Graphics, among others. Popular courses are traditional art skills classes, where students develop a foundation in basic art and design skills, then translate them into the digital domain, says VP/public relations Jeffrey Durosko.

Type of Students: A large percentage of students are right out of high school, though professionals who want to brush up on their skills attend as well.

Unique: "Our schools offer degree programs in career-focused programs, meaning our graduates are ready to enter the job market upon graduation," says Durosko. Attractions include small class sizes and specialization of the institutes "which offer a unique blend of educational programs that are practitioner-oriented."

The Art Institutes provides students with job search skills such as making contacts, getting interviews and negotiating salaries. Graduates are surveyed and tracked eight to 12 months after they leave the school. Historically, at least 90 percent get positions in their field of study within six months. In 2001, 87 percent secured positions, an impact of the economy, says Durosko, but still very strong. Average salaries were about $28,000.

Tuition/Housing: Tuition varies by location. Housing is available. [DING}