State putting up $1.2 mil for digital wannabes

Hoping to address the shortage of graduates who have the technical and artistic skills demanded by the animation industry, Gov. Pete Wilson is including $1.2 million in his 1997-98 budget for Cal Grant awards for stu-dents hoping to enter careers in digital animation.

The funding for this initiative — enough for 500 new Cal Grants each year — would be matched by contributions provided by private animation industry sources.

Cal Grants currently range from $530 to $1,410 for living expenses at community colleges or full-time student fees at a UC or CSU campus; and tuition and fee costs ranging from $2,360 to $7,164 at private universities. The amount depends on the type of Cal Grant award, school attended and level of financial need.

$6 million by 2000

The governor’s budget proposes raising the highest private college grant to $9,105. By 2000, the program will be funding approximately $6 million in grants to students annually.

Students would be eligible for the renewable grants, which cover up to four years of education or training, as long as they continue to show financial need and satisfactory academic progress.

Several Hollywood visual-effects mavens, including Digital Domain CEO Scott Ross and Rhythm & Hues presi-dent John Hughes, traveled to Sacramento last year to pitch the idea of state funding for digital-animation classes.

“I’m excited that the government has been responsive,” Ross said. “I’m somewhat disappointed with the dollar amount, but $1.2 million is better than nothing.”

Slim pickin’s

Last year, Ross told Daily Variety that the labor pool for digital animators was especially shallow. He said he’d made several recruiting trips to foreign countries, hoping to find talent for DD.

He acknowledged that the governor’s plan would only make a dent in the recruiting problem. “After we get 200 students into the University of California system with their tuition paid, the next issue is whether the university can put a curriculum together and really involve itself with Hollywood.

“I can’t think of a way to fill the pipeline with talented digital artists, given the demand that’s out there today. But the governor’s plan is proactive, and I applaud it,” he added.

Ross said he hopes to be part of the state’s panel of industry specialists who will serve as advisers on digital-animation training.

Earlier last week, Wilson unveiled a $1 billion Digital High School initiative, which sought to increase computer technology in the state’s high schools.

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