Company looks to tap students from local university

Aggressive incentives and state-of-the-art studio space may have lured Sony Pictures Imageworks to New Mexico, but the promise of tapping a homegrown talent pool certainly sweetened the deal.

Sande Scoredos, executive director of training and artist development for Imageworks, saw an incredible opportunity in the U. of New Mexico, located just a few miles from the company’s future Albuquerque Studios hub, a planned three-story facility scheduled to open in spring 2008.

“Seeing where the good students were coming from, we were seeing a trend,” she says. “You need to work with the faculty.”

So Sony developed a unique Imageworks Professional Academic Excellence (IPAX) program, a network of 11 universities and specialty schools for animation and visual effects. And U. of New Mexico is the latest partner.

As IPAX chair, Scoredos envisions the program as a win-win for Imageworks and the schools.

“We’re not going in saying, ‘Here’s what you need to do,’” she explains. Instead, by offering faculty development, inhouse training and curriculum review, Imageworks ensures that participating institutions are up to speed with cutting-edge digital effects techniques. In return, the schools equip students with the practical skills Imageworks seeks in future hires, with Sony often scooping up the top grads.

But U. of New Mexico is unique among IPAX partners. Whereas schools like Stanford, MIT, Ringling and Pratt were already known for their successful programs, U. of New Mexico wanted to develop its digital media offerings from scratch, offering SPI a blank slate conveniently located in its future backyard.

U. of New Mexico also is IPAX’s only multidisciplinary program, connecting cinema arts, engineering, architecture and other departments. That broad-ranging instruction base is something the students themselves wanted, says Christopher Mead, dean of U. of New Mexico’s College of Fine Arts.

“The students are committed to their discipline but frustrated by the limits,” he explains. “They had a very acute sense that in order for them to succeed as artists they needed to know what other disciplines were doing.”

By partnering with a major studio like Sony, the school could offer state-of-the-art technology and skill sets that extend to scientific visualization, telehealth and other non-entertainment fields.

“We aren’t creating a classic film school such as you have at USC, nor are we creating a classic digital media lab such as you have at MIT,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is teach what happens at the intersection of those two distinct things. Because we’re designing this program now, we can actually respond to what’s happening in both education and the industry.”

And, of course, Imageworks’ local connection could mean internships and on-the-job training, as well as employment possibilities after college.

“As dean, I needed to ensure the university that if we were creating this program, the students would actually have careers,” Mead says. “We would be training the kids to get (film industry) jobs here in New Mexico. Historically, they would have had to leave the state.”

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