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July 2014
Issue: Day 3 - SIGGRAPH 2007

DREAMWORKS PRESENTS EDUCATIONAL SYMPOSIUM

By: Ken McGorry

SAN DIEGO - If you run a curriculum for a school for DCC professionals, you would naturally be quite interested in knowing what the top Hollywood studios were looking for in the way of hireable, trained talent. Same if you were a student. From DreamWorks Animation's perspective it behooves them to make sure that the top schools are training young talent in disciplines that they want and need at their studios.

Hence the DreamWorks Educational Symposium, held for the fourth consecutive year at SIGGRAPH and aimed at a roomful of educators and trainers from around the country. DreamWorks brought out an array of specialists during a three-hour conference that covered a wide spectrum of animation issues, including creating CG films in "3D" -  stereoscopic CG that is. (This is the next big thing for animated films and, in the future, DreamWorks plans to release its features in stereoscopic, with all the monumental additional rendering that entails.)

John Tarnoff and Marilyn Friedman, two DreamWorks stalwarts who have spent years on the mission of making sure schools are properly preparing students for professional CG content creation, presented at the SIGGRAPH symposium. Friedman says that DreamWorks and the various schools "are in touch all the time; we're on the road, presenting, critiquing and telling the schools 'This is what we're looking for.'" Tarnoff says that DreamWorks' educational outreach program is an "ongoing dialogue - stuff happens - we change, the world changes, and we want to be a part of all that."

Mike Scroggins, director, computer animation labs, at CalArts attended the symposium and says, "There's been a big change in how films are made." At CalArts the emphasis is on a soup-to-nuts curriculum that emphasizes everything from drawing and maquette-making to, ultimately, rigging CG characters and more.

Michael Hosenfeld, a professor at the Center for Advanced Digital Applications at NYU, concurs. He says that the industry has grown so complex and has such diverse needs that it's important that today's students show interest in various career paths in the CG world. That is, not everybody is going to become an animation director. "It's a pyramid," as Tarnoff puts it, and not everyone winds up at the tippy top, so be prepared to master a craft in any of the wide array of CG disciplines.

Shelley Page, a London-based DreamWorks employee in charge of education outreach, says that students in Europe, especially France and Germany, are turning out very sophisticated work that's finding success in unexpected places. One student's short film was accepted by a European TV network as a pilot for a series. Another she describes as a student-made ride animation that went on to be used at a Japanese theme park.

Tarnoff says that a big reason DreamWorks has been conducting continuing outreach is that the "bar" of quality keeps being raised and potential new hires should know how high that bar is at DreamWorks. Friedman adds that today's young people grow up surrounded by technology and they are not intimidated by new technology. CalArts' Scroggins says students should be able to write their own filter, but stresses that his program is focused more art than technology.

NYU's Hosenfeld notes that a younger student's parents also have a stake in their son's or daughter's desirability to the CG industry as a graduate. A studio like DreamWorks, he says, emphasizes talent and a good school sets that talented applicant up for the hire. Tarnoff says that about 15 percent of new hires are newly graduated from schools. Although not all can be animation directors, if they are talented, "they will find a path into the industry; there are multiple paths."