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CMI ranks among top animation schools in the Southwest

The Creative Media Institute at New Mexico State University has been ranked as one of the top 10 animation and game design schools in the Southwest by Animation Career Review.

Creative Media Institute professors, left to right, Derek Chase, Derek Fisher and Ilana Lapid. Chase and Fisher teach animation courses, while Lapid teaches screenwriting and directing. The Animation and Visual Effects program was ranked in the top 10 animation and game design schools in the southwest by Animation Career Review.

CMI ranks third on the list, after Brigham Young University and the University of Texas-Austin, which scored in first and second place, respectively. The programs were evaluated based on academic reputation, admission selectivity, depth and breadth of the program and faculty, value as it relates to tuition and geographic location.

"I think there is an increasing number of opportunities for creative media students because more and more people realize that story telling is profoundly effective at influencing any audience," said Derek Fisher, animation instructor in CMI. "With media becoming increasingly ubiquitous, there is a real need for artists that understand how to craft narrative for any visual format, from motion pictures to graphic novels. Among creative graduates, media artists and animators of the future have some of the brightest employment outlooks, due to the increasing demand for visual effects and animation in movies, television and video games."

Established in the College of Arts and Sciences in fall 2006, with only two students in its first graduating class, CMI has since grown significantly. In 2013, CMI graduated approximately 75 students. Enrollment in the department is currently at more than 300. CMI offers degrees in both animation, and visual effects and digital filmmaking.

"I think a general strength of CMI is that we have two majors, each strengthened by the other. The curriculum has developed substantially since its inception with continual improvement in coordination with industry standards," Fisher said. "CMI has improved through workstation and camera equipment upgrades, as well as state-of-the-art visual effects, motion capture and motion control capabilities."

CMI facilities include a Vicon Motion Capture studio, THX theater and screening room, various production spaces and sound rooms with editing suites.

The technology in the department - combined with an experienced faculty who are committed to helping students - has helped the animation program gain national attention, said Edward Bakshi, animation professor. Upon graduation, students may pursue careers as animators, designers, technical directors, layout and storyboard artists, writers and other various positions.

"Students can get jobs in New Mexico or anywhere animation/video games are produced in the country," Bakshi said. "Recent CMI-ANVE graduate Zac Wittstruck is working for Bakshi Productions, Inc. He is helping (my father) animator Ralph Bakshi with his latest animated project, 'Last Days of Coney Island,' which is currently in production."

Professor Bakshi has worked on films "Rugrats Go Wild" and "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie," and is a producer and compositor in "Last Days of Coney Island."

Fisher's resume includes work on more than 20 major motion pictures including "Minority Report," "Zathura," Constantine" and "Superman Returns." He is a graduate of MIT.

"Students have local internship opportunities, as well as those offered by big name studios," Fisher said. "A past CMI intern worked the summer in the United Kingdom as a motion control assistant on 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.' CMI Alumni Thomas DesJardins, worked with Disney on the movie 'Wreck-It Ralph.'"

Budgets for the various student-produced films vary, with funding provided by grants, scholarships, film production companies and crowd funding through sites such as Kickstarter.

CMI alumnus and now-instructor Derek Chase recalled a group of his peers had a garage sale and used the proceeds to make their film. He said despite the modern equipment, students can still expect to learn the basic concepts of animation at CMI.

"We want to teach traditional approaches (sculpture, painting, photography); it makes students adaptable," he said. "No matter how much the software may change, they can transition their skillset from here into any type of job. We try to strengthen them through their core values."

"Being able to bring an array of experience to CMI has been a great thing," said Jess Gorell. "My classes cover the various aspects of project development, as well the historical foundations of animation and the crucial realms of writing, voice acting and direction. I feel our entire faculty has succeeded in building a curriculum that equips our students well, while inspiring them as creators. So many students have taken advantage of all that we offer as a program to produce very strong work."

Gorell has worked as assistant to Bakshi on the "Coney Island" project and co-founded an animation school. Prior to that she ran and taught in an East Coast arts education program while directing and producing theater as well as her own multimedia installations.

"I've noticed that students who come to CMI are so excited about learning," said screenwriting professor Ilana Lapid, who's worked in the department since 2011. "It's such a privilege to teach them because they love what they're doing and they're excited to develop their voices as filmmakers. We try to prepare them for the uncertainties of life as independent filmmakers.

"NMSU is all about discovery, and CMI is emblematic of that goal. Animation students have to discover, and imagine and even reimagine entire worlds. In digital filmmaking, we ask them to look inward and find new ways of looking at things. We want them to identify stories that reflect what they're interested in. We help them develop the tools necessary to bring those projects to fruition. It's a process that begins when they arrive and continues as they go off into the world."

For more information visit http://cmi.nmsu.edu.