The University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television has launched a master’s degree program specializing in high-tech animation studies, to be underwritten by Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera and Silicon Graphics, USC announced yesterday.

Warner Bros.’ involvement is believed to be the first time a studio has funded animation studies at a major university since Walt Disney Co. funded CalArts in 1970.

The total commitment among Warners, Hanna-Barbera and Silicon Graphics is $ 450,000 over three years, as well as the donation of an extensive digital filmmaking laboratory.

To launch with 20 students in fall 1993, USC’s high-tech animation program meshes traditional animation with digital animation. Cinema-Television dean Elizabeth Daley said the program is designed “to train animators to be comfortable in a world that computers are very much a part of.”

The animation program is the latest push by USC to revamp its cinema and television departments. Over the last year, the school has formed a fund-raising board of Hollywood advisers to raise $ 25 million to $ 50 million and landed a $ 1 million grant to finance low-budget features.

Daley said USC was able to secure participation from WB and Hanna-Barbera because of the shortage of qualified animators in the business.

Beyond the monetary contributions, Warners and Hanna-Barbera will provide guest lecturers, seminars and visiting teaching positions to the university. Silicon Graphics will provide the program with Indigo and Iris work stations, specialized supercomputers that feature integrated graphics technology for 3-D modeling and animation.

USC’s involvement in traditional animation instruction has been ongoing for 25 years under animation and graphics professor Gene Coe and computer science/cinema professor Richard Weinberg. Both will be centrally involved in the new program.

Daley said at least one additional professor will be hired for the two-year program, which will max out at 40 students at any one time.

Computer graphics and computer animation is a highly specialized academic field, which is dominated by five universities — CalArts, USC, Cornell University, Ohio State and Sheridan College in Canada.

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