Tribeca Flashpoint: Educating Digital Artists

Instructors at the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy teach the next generation of digital artists with help from the Autodesk Education Suite for Entertainment Creation.


Based in Chicago, the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy offers intensive, two-year programs to the next generation of digital arts and entertainment professionals. Since opening its doors in 2007, the former Flashpoint Academy of Media Arts and Sciences has helped students become highly skilled digital artists through one of four degrees: game and interactive media, film and broadcast, recording arts, and animation and visual effects. In 2010, the college partnered with Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Enterprises, and became the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy.

Tribeca Flashpoint programs seek to simulate real-world scenarios in the converging digital entertainment industries. To that end, all instructors remain employed in the entertainment industries, bringing their professional experience as well as their artistic and technological skills to the classroom. Both students and faculty also benefit from the Autodesk® Education Suite for Entertainment Creation, which includes six products for creating stunning computer graphics: Autodesk® 3ds Max®, Autodesk® Maya®, Autodesk® MotionBuilder®, Autodesk® Mudbox™, Autodesk® SketchBook® Pro, and Autodesk® Softimage® software.

Tribeca Flashpoint uses Autodesk Education Suite for Entertainment Creation to educate digital artists

The Challenge
After 15 years of traveling between New York and Los Angeles, Perry Harovas was looking for something different. During his successful career as a digital artist, Harovas had done some teaching of his craft at various schools, even co-authoring Mastering Maya, the first book about the increasingly popular software, in 2000. For all his interest in teaching, however, Harovas had always come away from the classroom somewhat underwhelmed.

"I always enjoyed teaching, but found typical courses held little relevance in the real world," he says. "I came across this posting looking for faculty at a new school in Chicago that planned to specialize in digital media. Right from the start, the goal of the place was to be current and relevant."

Becoming the founding Chair of the Visual Effects and Animation Department in 2007, Harovas knew it would be a challenging road. Keeping the curriculum current and relevant would require all faculty to maintain active jobs in addition to their teaching loads, a challenge Harovas and his colleagues are willing to shoulder.

"Most of us have been in this business long enough that we’re used to being sleep deprived," he explains. "We’ve all decided that the lack of sleep between jobs is worth it to give our students a more complete and realistic experience of what it’s like to work in this industry. It’s been invigorating to feel we’re helping our students become more practical, problem-solving professionals."

Imparting that propensity for problem solving is top priority for Harovas and his fellow Tribeca Flashpoint instructors: "A lot of schools give their students a smattering of skills, but they don’t get an overall picture of what it’s actually like to work in this business," says Harovas. "By the end of their second year, our students are in a position to ask the right questions and to pick the right tools for whatever jobs come their way."

The Solution

According to Harovas, being able to pick and use the right tools for a job is one of the most valuable skills a digital artist can acquire. Harovas says the Autodesk Education Suite for Entertainment Creation is an ideal package to teach students a wide range of software skills.

"I was part of the alpha and beta cycles for Maya when it first came out," he says. "I amassed a lot of experience on Maya and on Softimage, but I’d learned over the years that knowing a multitude of software packages was the best way to go. The Education Suite is fantastic. We teach our students to be creative problem solvers, to be able to figure out what is the best tool for each job. With six different software packages, the Autodesk Education Suite for Entertainment Creation helps us do just that. It gives our students production experience with a diverse software portfolio."

With 3ds Max, Maya, MotionBuilder, Mudbox, SketchBook Pro, and Softimage, Tribeca Flashpoint students spend their first year of study learning modeling, rigging, character animation, texturing, and compositing. As students enter their second and final year, their newly acquired skills and preferences lead them to decide on a final project. Each student is assigned to a focused study with a person who becomes a mentor, not just an instructor. The final project usually takes about nine months to complete, and starts with a 5 minute pitch the first week of classes of their second year.

Tribeca Flashpoint uses Autodesk Education Suite for Entertainment Creation to educate digital artists

The Results
After three years in operation, the Tribeca Flashpoint curriculum continues to evolve to better meet the needs and talents of the school’s dedicated students.

"We look for students who have a deep passion for this work," says Harovas. "We have older students and younger students, but they are all committed to becoming great digital artists in a pragmatic and professional way."

One recent example is Rick Livingston, creator of "This Way Up," a short film combining live action, animation, and the visual effects capabilities of the Autodesk Education Suite for Entertainment Creation.

"It’s a fantastic short film that resulted from just the sort of collaboration and problem solving that we try to impart here," says Harovas. "The people Rick chose to work with brought a wealth of animation and effects skills in both Maya and Softimage, as well as working with Film Department students and Recording Arts students. By picking the best people for the job, Rick was able to get all these talents on to a single project, and the result is a moving, affecting short film that was expertly put together."