While the film industry has exploded in New Mexico – the N.M. Film Office lists 40 movies and television shows shot in state in 2009, compared with 14 in 2004 – "Digital media is more than just entertainment," said Nick Flor, director, UNM Interdisciplinary Film & Digital Media Program and associate professor, Anderson School of Management.
Preparing students to apply digital media skills across an array of industries is what separates UNM's program from the typical film school. "It makes sense if you're going beyond entertainment to have an interdisciplinary approach," Flor said.
The potential applications are many. Scientists use digital media for simulations, such as projecting the movement of oil from the BP spill. Medical researchers use digital media to visualize brain activity and other elements of the body. Advertising professionals use virtual worlds to create immersive branding campaigns. Politicians use social media in election campaigns.
Flor said IFDM covers "the four Es" – entertainment, education, enterprise and environment.
"For example, students are taking the same digital media skills used to create films and games and we're using them for educational purposes," he said.
IFDM students worked with Flor last year to create a 3-D virtual UNM with a souped-up model of the Student Union Building and the capacity to bring a virtual classroom to Windows-based computers and mobile devices. Flor said the environment offers a richer experience than text-based online courses.
"This to me is just as exciting as making a movie, using digital media to create these virtual worlds where people can interact and learn."
College of Fine Arts Dean Jim Linnell initiated development of IFDM and created a faculty council with representatives from several colleges. Flor joined the council early on as one of the representatives of the Anderson School of Management.
The "Interdisciplinary" in IFDM has attracted lucrative partnerships, including Sony's Imageworks Professional Academic Excellence program, called IPAX. Sony cited IFDM's interdisciplinary approach as a major reason for selecting UNM. Previous IPAX college members were more traditional in their approach to film, animation and visual effects, Flor said.
Professionals from Sony Imageworks and other companies with a local operation teach in the program. "They're teaching our students high quality industry techniques," Flor said.
IFDM's holistic approach could give UNM's students a competitive edge. "We teach them the entire workflow or pipeline involved in creating a movie or a game or a piece of software," Flor said. Students combine that broad foundation with specializations, called pathways.
With IFDM entering its fourth year, students are working on the first capstone project. A group working on a science fiction film with special effects is leveraging all the program and its partners have to offer – working with faculty and professionals from Sony, KNME, UNM Department of Cinematic Arts, Anderson School of Management and School of Engineering to make sure they're getting the most out of every aspect of the film, from storytelling to special effects to marketing.
"Our students can draw on all these different resources to make their final project something very different from what a film school would do," Flor said.
IFDM is a selective program, admitting 50 students per year. Interested students must submit a portfolio. Visit finearts.unm.edu/ifdm.htm or call (505) 277-2286.