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August 2014
Issue: April 1, 2008

HIGHER LEARNING: THE CENTRE FOR DIGITAL MEDIA

By: Marc Loftus
VANCOUVER, BC — The Centre for Digital Media opened at the Great Northern Way Campus (GNWC) in Vancouver last fall and is currently instructing its inaugural class through its Masters of Digital Media Program.

The GNWC (www.gnwc.ca) is a collaborative university campus environment that draws on resources from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design and British Columbia Institute of Technology. As such, those who complete the 20-month Masters of Digital Media Program receive a Graduate Degree that bears the seals of all four academic partners.

Dr. Gerri Sinclair is the executive director at the Centre for Digital Media, a government-funded institution that grew out of lobbying efforts by local digital media successes — such as Rainmaker and Electronic Arts — looking to attract top quality talent to the region, which claims to have more game developers per capita than anywhere else on the planet. Two years ago, the government awarded the school a one-time economic development investment of $40.5 million dollars to get its start. But unlike other schools where tools are the focus, Sinclair says the Centre for Digital Media’s purpose is to develop talent that can eventually step into leadership and management roles in an industry that is changing dramatically as a result of the Internet, the convergence of mobile, user generated content and everything going digital.

“We assume that our students are already expert in their chosen field or core discipline,” says Sinclair. “We do not see ourselves as technology trainers in that sense. We provide a technology infrastructure. We have an amazing rendering farm and a high- speed network, and students are given a state-of-the-art laptop. We have HD cameras and surround sound capabilities. Our whole facility is built in a multi-modal jack in/jack out capability where AV, the network and projection is pervasive.”

The inaugural class is made up of 21 students, some from as far away as India and China. That student body, says Sinclair, will grow to 35 with the next class when it comes to session in December 2008.

Students come from a multi-disciplinary range of expertise, Sinclair notes. Approximately 40 percent have an art background and another 40 come from the tech side. The remaining 20 percent come from business or any other number of disciplines.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, project management, business development, and we give them a lot of real-world experience, as well as a number of intensive courses, mostly project-based, team-based courses,”explains Sinclair.

WHAT TO EXPECT

In the first semester, students take a “Foundations” course in digital media that covers subjects such as social media marketing, Web design, videogames, theme parks, post production, television, digital films and interactive TV. The class also looks at career possibilities, as well as the business and management of digital media. It is instructed by Electronic Arts’ Tom Frisina, a former head of partner publishing at EA, who brings in a range of people from the company to talk about careers within the game industry.

Other courses include “The Visual Story,” which provides an interdisciplinary grounding in historical, theoretical and applied issues related to storytelling for digital media productions; “Building Virtual Worlds,” where students learn about building immersive 2D and 3D environments; and “Improvising Story and Character,” in which techniques of improvisational acting are used to develop collaborative and creative skills.

Paid internships are available after the first semester. During the second year, students study “Foundations of Game Design” and participate in team projects.

HOT DESIGN WORKSHOP

Recently, the Centre for Digital Media partnered with Autodesk and EA to develop a two-day “hot design/pre-pro” workshop that was offered to students in January, right before they began their second semester. Glenn Entis, senior VP at EA, and Auto-desk fellow Tom Wujec developed the curriculum and taught the workshop, which was designed to help visualize workflows and cut down on time wasted during development. Students were taught not to get tied down or to formalize or rigidify ideas too quickly, which could lead to costly problems down the road.

The Centre for Digital Media is not a resident campus, but students do have 24/7 access since their intense course structure often leads to long nights working on projects. “The students are so ambitious and really want to put a dent in the digital universe,” notes Sinclair, “and they want to push the envelope as far as they can.”

Once students complete the graduate program, the school can help them with placement — it has dozens of affiliate partners, such as NBC Universal, Microsoft, Propaganda Games, Radical Entertainment, Relic Entertainment and Reach Games, to name a few, and Sinclair says they are seeing interest from abroad as well.