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August 2014
Issue: September 1, 2005

MARKETABLE DIGITAL SKILLS AT NYU

By: By Ken McGorry
NEW YORK - Mike Cushny is the director of technical operation for NYU's Center for Advanced Digital Applications (CADA). Cushny has a good pedigree for such work - his resume includes broadcast graphics experience at Telezign in Manhattan and a lot more. Eight years ago CADA (visit www.nyu.edu) started off offering non-credit evening courses but "ever since 2001 we've been offering a master of science in digital imaging and design," Cushny says. "It's been very successful," he says, "because having a fulltime student on campus for two years; they get a lot more out of the experience and are able to plug into that community. As you know, it's a team sport to create computer graphics."

The degree program is "production oriented" and offers a 3D track which preps students in the workings of the 3D pipeline including modeling, lighting, shading, rigging and animation. There's also a 2D track covering visual effects, greenscreen, compositing plates, broadcast design and motion graphics. Of the 120 currently enrolled in this program, there's a mix of full timers and night students who work in the day. There are also some working pros who come to NYU's CADA for non-credit brush-up courses on "the newest enhancements in RenderMan, or how Mental Ray has been incorporated into Maya."

CADA uses students' first six months to familiarize them with the CG production process and then have the students determine their forte - where they fit most comfortably in the digital pipeline. They choose their specialization and over the ensuing 18 months work toward creating their thesis project in a "marketable skill."

In a sense, CADA is turning out specialists. "A lot of our students come in with stars in their eyes," Cushny cautions, "they want to be a Steven Spielberg, they want to work at Pixar on the next 'Finding Nemo.' The truth of the matter is, from talking to Pixar and DreamWorks and Blue Sky, they're 'not' hiring animators because the animators working on these features have been animating for 25 years. What the LA studio market needs is skilled artisans who can model the hell out of a character or paint it, shade it and light it." Technical directors are also in demand, "operators who can plug into their way of doing things," he says.

Given NYU's location, Cushny and his educators are quite familiar with the differences between the New York job market and "Hollywood." "New York is a lot more chaotic and fractured - there's a lot more companies bidding on jobs."

CADA takes both left-and right-brained students - those with degrees or experience in art and design, and those with computer science backgrounds. Tuition rates at NYU's CADA for the current school year are $11,550 per semester and part time rates are $1,155 per credit. The university offers various housing options as well as graduate career services. Cushny also says that CADA teachers are drawn form the New York pool of CG professionals and they often "cherry pick" the most apt students to come work with them.