Great Northern Way aims for Hollywood status in digital media industry

May 04, 2006, volume 36, no. 1
By Howard Fluxgold

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The Great Northern Way Campus aims to make Vancouver the Hollywood of the digital media industry with its World Centre for Digital Media.

The province recently allocated $40.5 million for the new centre, primarily to support a professional master's program in digital media, which will admit its first students in September 2007.

 “We already have a very strong industrial cluster now in the Lower Mainland,” says campus president Bruce Clayman, Simon Fraser University's former VP-research. “Attracting the very best people in the world to come to the master's program and to the industry portion of the World Centre will allow us to build on that and create the critical mass to make us the world leader in digital media.”

Established in 2001, Great Northern Way Campus is a collaboration of SFU, the University of British Columbia, the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. The institutions jointly own the 8.9-hectare Vancouver site.

The campus has worked closely with the industry to develop the program, which will produce graduates “who have the ability to manage teams of people working on projects that connect the artistic and tech side of things, like video games and film animation, theme parks and a variety of virtual reality experiences,” Clayman explains. “There are a lot of people who are well trained on the artistic side or the computing side, but getting people who understand the cultures of those sorts of left-brain, right-brain divisions is a real challenge.” The 20-month program will open with 35 students and by 2010, 200 are expected to graduate.

Part of the government grant will be used to construct the first building, which will primarily house the academic program. Funding is being sought for a second building for activities that “are more directly industry-related,” says Clayman, who adds, “The help of industry was absolutely crucial in achieving the support we have received to date.”

The industry is being asked to raise an additional $8 million for the program. Lynda Brown, president of New Media B.C. the industry association, notes there are 800 companies in the new media sector in the Lower Mainland with 15,000 employees generating about $2 billion in revenue annually. “The new media digital entertainment sector is the only entertainment sector achieving substantial growth,” she adds.

Clayman says that “SFU is contributing tremendously” to the World Centre effort and its faculty and students will benefit by having “access to the world's best people in the new media field.”

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