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USC Gets a Boost

Electronic Arts donates $8million to the School of Cinema-Television to develop a pipeline of 'next-generation' talent in video game design.

March 22, 2004|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Electronic Arts Inc., the world's leading independent maker of video games, has donated $8 million to USC's School of Cinema-Television to expand the interactive media program and help meet a booming demand for game developers with a flair for storytelling.

The donation, to be announced today, "clearly demonstrates EA's commitment to expanding the frontiers of game design and to developing a well-rounded, highly skilled and forward-thinking talent base," said Elizabeth M. Daley, dean of USC's cinema-television school.

Electronic Arts, based in Redwood City, Calif., said the contribution would fund an interactive entertainment program and endow an EA faculty chair.

Part of the new interactive entertainment program's mission will be to develop a curriculum and an "innovation lab" where students will design and produce games, said Scott S. Fisher, who heads the school's interactive media division.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 23, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
USC gift -- An article in Monday's California section about an $8-million gift from Electronic Arts Inc. to USC incorrectly reported that Don Mattrick, head of EA's worldwide studios, was being named to a new faculty chair endowed by the company. The position has not yet been filled.

He said Electronic Arts producers, directors and level designers will be among those teaching classes.

The endowed faculty chair will go to Don Mattrick, president of EA's worldwide studios.

"The school's rich storytelling tradition and long-standing commitment to technological experimentation make it an ideal partner for EA," Mattrick said in a statement.

Mattrick also becomes the newest appointee to the cinema-television school's "board of councilors," which includes such luminaries as directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg; and Bill Mechanic, the former movie chief at 20th Century Fox. The board advises the dean on industry trends and helps develop resources for academic programs.

Electronic Arts said a key goal was to establish a pipeline of "next-generation" talent, including employees for its new Playa Vista game development studio. The gift to USC will help fund internships and work-study programs at the company's two-building complex at Lincoln and Jefferson boulevards and at other EA facilities.

Home to about 325 workers now, the new Playa Vista campus eventually will house 1,000 animators, engineers, designers and others, working on such franchises as "Command & Conquer" and games based on EA's licenses for the James Bond and "Lord of the Rings" movies.

"They need people who are broadly trained in entertainment and storytelling and in the creation of experiences," Daley said in an interview. "Game design is more about storytelling, aesthetics and entertainment than about just the technology. The driving force must be the content and the playability."

EA insiders said the company had begun pondering about five years ago how to work with universities to develop talent. One impetus, they said, was phone calls from parents whose game-obsessed offspring wanted to grow up to be game designers but were at a loss as to how to pursue their passion.

The Electronic Arts gift allows USC to hire faculty and expand on the three-year master's of fine arts program in interactive media that the cinema-television school created in 2002. This year, the school also is collaborating with the School of Engineering to launch an undergraduate minor in game design and management.

Co-founded in 1929 by USC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the cinema-television school offered the nation's first bachelor's degree in film. Its more than 8,000 graduates include Lucas and such other noted directors as Ron Howard, James Ivory and John Singleton.

"It's astonishing how quickly games have become an essential part of the entertainment arts," Lucas said in a statement, "and there is no better place than USC to nurture the creative and conceptual thinkers who will take the medium to places we can only imagine."

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