For Adults: Success Stories
|Success Story 1 : The Adventurous Filmmaker
Success Story 2 : From DMA to Leading Animation Studio
From Eco-Adventurer to Environmental Filmmaker: For Video Producer, Digital Media Academy Was the Stepping Stone To A New Career
To say that Skip Armstrong has a taste for adventure is an understatement. An avid whitewater kayaker and rafter, he’s paddled more than 80 rivers in 14 countries around the world. By the time he was 25, he’d parlayed those interests into a successful business leading eco-tours in the wilds of Costa Rica. Participants could choose from a wide range of activities, including rafting, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking and canyoneering, guided by Armstrong and his partners.
That might sound like excitement enough for one lifetime, but after six years, Armstrong was eyeing a new challenge: launching a second career as a video producer. He’d gotten hooked on the craft of filmmaking when creating videos for guests on his weeklong adventure tours. “We’d film the daily activities, and at the end of the week, I’d produce a video to give to the guests,” he says. “They loved it, and so did I.”
Armstrong began to dream of a new venture that would combine his passions for filmmaking, outdoor recreation and environmentalism. In May 2007, he took the first step: he sold his share of the travel company and began seeking advanced training in video editing with Final Cut Pro. “I’d taught myself a lot of the basics,” Armstrong says, “but I really wanted to know how the pros do it.” Obtaining Apple certification was also a top priority. “Professional credentials had been important in establishing our travel business, and I wanted to do the same this time around.”
A search of Apple-certified training programs led Armstrong to the Digital Media Academy (DMA). “I liked the course offerings, and DMA looked like a solid organization,” he says. He was also impressed with DMA’s instructors, many of them veterans of the film and TV industries. DMA’s array of course locations was another big plus, allowing Armstrong to pick a geographically convenient spot, Stanford University.
Armstrong arrived on the Stanford campus in July 2007 for a series of four Final Cut Pro courses. Things went smoothly from the get-go: “The DMA staff was extremely well-prepared,” he recalls. “They had everything I needed, the classes were well-organized and the computers and other equipment worked perfectly: they nailed it.”
And the courses, says Armstrong, were exactly what he was looking for: “I was expecting people with a lot of expertise, and that’s what I got. They had a huge amount of knowledge and an eagerness to share it. The teaching assistants were awesome, too.”
After two months, Armstrong had what he came for. “I really learned the technical aspects of the software, and got an excellent understanding of professional techniques and workflows,” he says. “Now, instead of a spending a day trying to figure something out, I can just do it. I’m free to follow my creativity wherever it leads.”
For Armstrong, that creativity led directly to his own small business, Ceiba Productions, based in Boise, Idaho. There, he produces documentaries with an emphasis on travel, adventure and the environment. “I want to use my camera to raise awareness, particularly of endangered rivers and habitats.” Armstrong has worked with Idaho Rivers United, producing a promotional video for the environmental non-profit; and recently he took a trip back to Costa Rica to film a soon-to-be protected wilderness area. In the summer of 2008, he headed to Quebec to kayak and film the Romaine River, with the hope of aiding preservationists fighting proposed hydroelectric dams. Armstrong says it was exactly what he had in mind when he first conceived the business: “For me, everything has fallen into place.”
Armstrong supplements his video production income by teaching. Thanks to his DMA training, he’s one of only a handful of Apple-certified Final Cut Pro instructors in Idaho. “The certifications have opened doors for me,” he says. “So have the professional connections I made through the instructors at DMA. Digital Media Academy was a great way to start. If you want to learn from the pros, it’s an amazing way to go.”
Thinking of Grad School? For A Growing Number of Aspiring Media Professionals, Programs Like DMA Offer Faster, More Economical Alternatives
For generations of creative professionals, the road to a sought after career in fields such as video game design, filmmaking or animation has gone through university-based master’s programs. But while grad school is still a popular choice for some, an increasing number of students are taking a shorter route, building essential skill sets and portfolios through accelerated programs like Digital Media Academy (DMA). For motivated learners eager to leap into a career, DMA classes can provide many of the same benefits as graduate school in a fraction of the time and cost.
Take the case of Mariana Galindo, who went from college to a full-time job as a character effects specialist for a leading animation studio, after three months of intensive study at DMA. Galindo estimates that the decision to attend DMA instead of a graduate program saved her several years and tens of thousands of dollars.
Galindo was initially set on going to grad school to study animation and had already been accepted in several highly regarded master’s programs when she graduated from college in June 2006. Meanwhile, her mother decided to look into speedier alternatives and discovered DMA. After learning more about DMA’s diverse training options and instructors, Galindo was convinced. “In my case, a graduate degree wasn’t the goal,” she says. “I was aiming for a career in animation and character modeling, and I wanted cover as much ground as quickly as possible.”
Galindo spent three months in 2006 immersed in DMA coursework. She took 11 week-long courses in a wide range of subjects: Introductory Filmmaking and Storytelling; Editing with Final Cut Pro; Compositing and 2D Animation with After Effects; and 3D work with Maya software, including modeling, surfacing, character development, animation and effects.
The ambitious class load suited Galindo. “It was 40 hours a week of soaking up as much knowledge as possible,” she says. “Each week, I’d go from the early stages of being overwhelmed by a new task, to having a sense of control and an ability to problem-solve on my own. The instructors were really good, really receptive to the way I learn. I’m very visual and hands-on. And their expertise was really inspiring.”
The emphasis on practical learning fit Galindo to a T. “We did a lot exercises and small projects,” she says, “which let me apply what I was learning.” In three months, Galindo was able to get a thorough grounding in character modeling and animation, along with storytelling and film editing. She even created an entire live-action short film, a dark comedy about a girl trying to justify her career choices in the face of skepticism. “DMA not only gave me the skills, but also the confidence to use them successfully,” she recalls.
That confidence was crucial when, not long after completing her DMA studies, Galindo landed a job in the Digital Training department at PDI/DreamWorks studios in Redwood City, California, where she’d done an internship the previous year. A few months later, she moved to the Character Effects department, where she works today, doing procedural modeling, hair, cloth, prop animation and rigging. In many ways, the position is a dream come true for Galindo: “I really love my job. The people are great, and I’m learning something new every single day.”
Galindo says her time at DMA has served her well in her work: “DMA gave me a solid foundation in all these different tools and techniques. It really helps when dealing with the various departments here at PDI/DreamWorks, and I still refer back to my DMA course materials and notes when solving technical challenges. I’d recommend it to anyone serious about achieving their goals. You can learn an incredible amount.”