Schools are offering students hands-on learning and the skills needed to make the transition from student to pro. Young, talented, and trained people are a hot commodity these days, but competition in the professional fields is fierce; schools are recognizing this and addressing that issue in their course work.
Furthermore, training centers know that even working professionals can’t rest on their laurels. As software changes, the need to learn the tools and all they offer is imperative. Whether you are just starting a career or growing it, the need to continue learning is vital to your future.
In this piece, representatives from educational institutions and training facilities paint a picture of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and “threats” they perceive that may help, or hinder, budding artists and those looking to expand their knowledge and succeed in the marketplace.
School of Motion Pictures & Television
Academy of Art University
The School of Motion Pictures & Television at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degree programs that emphasize seven areas of production for students to study and gain hands-on experience to prepare them for the industry.
Strengths: “A lot of emphasis is being put on education in motion pictures and television, visual effects, gaming, and art and design. These fields of study have exploded because of the gained interest and career opportunities. With the days of the apprenticeship long gone, one has a choice to enter into the industry without experience and hope for the best, or attend art school and acquire the necessary skills, learn to collaborate, network, seek valuable internships, and build a strong portfolio.”
Weaknesses: “Sometimes in education, many of the same projects are assigned to students, which creates a similar look for their portfolio. It may not distinguish or develop their style, and the work can look the same when students show their reel or portfolio to potential clients. I think it’s important for the institution to help guide the students to find their voice and personal style that creates a unique look so it does not become cookie-cutter.”
Opportunities: “At art and design universities, the curriculums are very specific in helping students reach their career goal. The curriculum is tailored around specific departments in the industry. For instance, in a program like ours, students declare an emphasis or track during their fourth semester. They start to learn how to become a producer, director, cinematographer, editor, screenwriter, production designer, or actor. Many classes in the last two years of the program are focused on creating a competitive reel. Students establish skills that will allow them to become a specialist in the industry when they leave the university.
“From my experience, some of the state-funded universities or colleges don’t have that luxury. Many of the students find that during the first two years, they are taking liberal arts or theory-based classes and they do not receive hands-on experience until their fifth semester, junior year. At the Academy of Art University, from the first semester, students are getting production experience.”
Threats: “Depending on the curriculum, if the university has more of a liberal arts focus, then I don’t believe the students will be prepared for career opportunities unless they acquire the skills on their own because the program may be very general. In the industry, everything is specific and focused. You need a specific skill set in order to get hired. They are looking for the best: students who are professional and have strong business practices. The job opportunities are out there, but you have to pay your dues and be tenacious.”
Students from the Academy of Art University’s School of Motion Pictures & Television work on a class project
Outlook for 2008: “The industry is unsettled and can go in many directions. I think the independent market—short films—is starting to thrive. There are many venues right now for short films, especially online and at film festivals. Many advertisers are putting more of their dollars into Internet advertising instead of network television. Podcasting is very popular, too. There are many more alternatives and methods to screening, selling, and distributing work...getting it out there. There is definitely a group of visionaries and entrepreneurs who can dictate the market.
“[But] I don’t think it’s stable right now. The networks are trying to get a jump on this. Just like with reality TV when it started, people were skeptical, but look what happened with that. Everyone is jumping on it. We are going to see a new wave, and we are seeing some of it now in film, media, and the arts.”
University of Central Florida
Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy
Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA) is a graduate program in video game development, instructed by industry veterans and focused on developing highly skilled programmers, artists, and producers for the growing interactive industry.
Strengths: “The strength we have is ‘demand.’ There is a growing desire for young people to work in creative industries and make their own products. It has always been there. Once we all started watching movies and sports, we longed to work in entertainment, but 40, 30, 20 years ago, that was reserved for Hollywood: the people who lived in Hollywood and the children of people who worked in Hollywood. In today’s world, as far as games and movies are concerned, because [the process] is done in a digital world now and the cost of the equipment and assets is not exorbitant like it used to be, we have a lot of students who would love to make games, movies, and commercials, and now they can.”
Weaknesses: “Usually education isn’t on the forefront of leading trends. It reacts to trends, so we are in reaction mode right now. One of the weaknesses is that digital media schools, film schools, computer science schools, and game schools are just not mature enough and haven’t done the things necessary in terms of programs to bring in technology and get up to speed quick enough to run with the industry.
“I think education will do that. We did that with MBA schools in the ’80s and ’90s. They started to do some real cutting-edge stuff and caught up quickly. We need to do the same thing in entertainment and digital media. [Also] you have to spend money on technology, and schools get set in their ways and everybody gets their own little budget, but they don’t refocus their whole programs. That’s one of the beauties of FIEA; we were able to start from scratch and create a program, and we had the funding to do it.”
Opportunities: “We have an opportunity to train the next generation of workforce to be higher-wage creative workers. As mentioned before, one of our strengths is a pent-up demand, and the opportunity is there: A lot of young people don’t wish to go work for General Motors. They aren’t sure what they want to do, but they do know they would like to be their own thinker working on teams, creating start-up companies, and working in different environments.
“Globally, the opportunity is here. People are making great livings, working in great businesses, and creating great friendships and products because they can multitask; they can work on projects around the world and do things in a lot of different ways than before, where traditionally it was go to school and you were lucky if you got hired and got into a training program at a bigger company, learned a lot there, and, maybe 10 or 15 years later, got out and started your own thing.”
Recognizing the burgeoning interactive market, the University of Central Florida’s FIEA offers a graduate program in video game development.
Threats: “The threat we have is time; it’s just taking too long. We’ll eventually figure this out [though] it might take 100 years to figure out the right way to educate our students. Study after study is coming out saying that we are using 100-year-old systems to educate our young people. And we all recognize that. We don’t have 100-year-old communication devices in our home, so the threat is timing. The millennials are growing up, and they are driving us. They are the customers.
“Many say education can’t change, things won’t change...but they do change, and you change because of the customer. The students today are screaming for stuff that’s more interactive and less boring. When we were kids, school was boring, but there weren’t a lot of answers out there; now there are, and now it’s about how quickly we move to them.
“The threat isn’t really that the bureaucratic systems can’t change and won’t change over time; the threat is we don’t do a good job of corralling that and moving it forward faster.”
Outlook for 2008: “You are still going to see a lot more casual gaming, people playing the Nintendo Wii, and the broadening of the game market. All of this broadening just helps education, medical, and military agencies broaden. You will see a lot more of those industries training people in simulations and interactive methods over the next decade.
“In the entertainment community, you will see more of what you are already seeing: more software and tools such as the mass crowd generators, the blending of 2D and 3D, and better ways of telling a story—trying to tell a story with 2D and 3D animation or 3D art, and using audio and sound for a more blended experience. We are finally getting to a point at which interactive and digital tools are maturing so creatives, other than just the tech gurus, can use them. The millennials are going to have fun.”
Soho Editors, with offices in New York, London, and Dublin, was founded in 2000 as a provider of freelance talent to the global post industry. They have since expanded to provide certified training for the industry.
Strengths: “The industry’s rapid shift into new platforms and applications is creating a high demand for professional training. Inexpensive, streamlined equipment is leading to more accessible, hands-on training. An experienced editor can learn and become certified in a new application in as little as three days. Manufacturer certifications offer a unique benchmark—they take the guesswork out of an editor’s or designer’s true skill level.
“Ten years ago, training consisted of several trainees hovering around one system; now they all have their own workstation. As new editing platforms become more prevalent, trainees can now practice their skills at home rather than at an on-site edit facility.”
Weaknesses: “Methods of training can vary widely—from DVDs to books to one-on-one classroom training. This is not to say there is a right or wrong way for teaching an application, but many people have different ways of learning and require different time frames. One editor may learn a new application in three days, whereas it may take another six weeks. The key is finding the correct balance—it can be difficult for someone to figure out which method [or combination of methods] works best for him or her. Also, there is a difference in teaching someone how to use an application and a craft.”
Opportunities: “Increased accessibility to equipment will lead to a larger pool of aspiring editors who will seek out professional training. As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, software and tools will become even more intuitive. We have never seen more applications on the market that do virtually the same thing as we do now.
“Industry leaders, such as HBO, are upgrading their editing applications and requiring training for their entire department. It is a very exciting time right now, as we don’t see the need for training in the decline—it continues to increase, prompting more people to be trained. These days, we are seeing more applications on the market than ever. We have five or six editing applications that people need to be trained for, so that increases our business tenfold.”
Soho Editors’ Apple Final Cut Studio HD training rooms boast stations consisting of an Intel MacPro and a 23-inch Cinema Display.
Threats: “How simple can an application become? Applications are now being developed for the consumer rather than the skilled professional. As a result, everyone thinks they are an editor and that they do not need training. Also, consumer-generated content—led by YouTube—is on the rise. Are users drawn more toward low-budget, five-viral videos cut on [Apple] iMovie than long-form, highly polished documentaries finished with [Autodesk’s] Flame? It remains to be seen.”
Outlook for 2008: “Technology never stops changing, and the drive for knowledge of applications is ever increasing. Gone are the days when an editor could get away with just knowing one app. For example, [Apple’s] Final Cut Studio 2 is distributed and packaged with five applications, all of which are powerful in their own right. Clients are now expecting editors to be fluent not just in Final Cut, but also the programs bundled with it. The future looks bright.”
Hollywood and New York
Moviola offers one-on-one, individualized filmmaking training for directors, writers, producers, actors, cinematographers...anyone making a career change.
Strengths: “The obvious strength we see is that, especially in the postproduction business, technology continues to change. And with those software changes—whether they be with Avid, Adobe, or Apple products—professionals need to be updated about the new features and the complexities that exist with those products.
“At Moviola, one of our strengths is that our training is taught by professionals for professionals. We are looking at people who are already experts working in the industry—in order for them to maintain their high level of skills and, hopefully, be paid for that expertise, the more they need to understand how the products work and what they can actually use out of those products. So they will continue to need that specialized type of training.
“Another strength is the introduction of the different high-def formats that currently exist and that are promised in the near future. There is a need to understand the way people are going to utilize the different formats and bring them in to post. The workflow is different for almost every product that is being introduced on the acquisition side, so when it comes to post, there is really going to be a greater need for this training. The question really becomes, how do you bring those high-def acquisitions into post?”
Weaknesses: “Training is an expensive proposition, and making people see the value of training is sometimes a challenge. Yet, as products change, it’s obvious that you can’t use the product as it currently exists, and there is a need for that learning process to occur. Another weakness is marketing. We need to get people to understand that if they continue to keep their skills at a very high level, they can provide a better product to their clients. With the current writers’ strike and the other looming strikes, a lot of people see it as an opportunity to use this time to do training, but then there are some who have to think about pulling in the reins and doing very little outside spending.”
Opportunities: “More people continue to turn to professional types of media solutions and incorporate those into their products, not just on the post side with feature films, TV shows, and commercials, but also in the financial sector, corporate area (presentations), and other areas where more video will be required. It’s a good opportunity for us to go after those types of clients. Another opportunity is that once people realize how dynamic it is and how many products are involved, they’ll see that it’s worth spending a few extra dollars and investment to train themselves better.”
Moviola offers individualized, one-on-one, hands-on training for those working in the film realm.
Threats: “The only potential threat is people not valuing classroom training or one-on-one training. There are people who feel as though they can do a lot of training online, and we are always competing against that format. However, we really do think the hands-on approach and working in a collaborative environment is the best way to learn and share ideas with other students.”
Outlook for 2008: “We view the market for training as a growing one, and people need to stay up to date with the new software releases. There will certainly be a need for people to learn, and with the continued migration into high definition and figuring out the workflows into postproduction, there should be a fair amount of opportunity for us to grow our training services, do seminars, and create some special courseware that addresses those unique issues. As for the industry in general, I just don’t think we are going to see a lot of change in either direction, unless the strike affects us.”
Randi Altman is the chief editor for Post magazine, Computer Graphics World’s sister publication. She can be reached at