HIGHER LEARNING: THE CENTRE FOR DIGITAL MEDIA
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
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
“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.