The starving-artist stereotype has unfortunately maintained a decent amount of credibility, which could explain why myriad parents scoff at kids who harbor Dawson Leary-like dreams of being the next Spielberg past adolescence. Flashpoint Academy, with its combination of real-world practicality and a passion for the digital arts, is helping to dispel that notion. “Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of media, and the downscaling of technology, anyone can make a living in the arts—with the right education to get them started,” says Academic Dean Paula Froehle.
Founded in 2007, the fledgling digital-arts college in downtown Chicago offers intensive two-year programs in one of four areas: Game Development, Film & Broadcast, Recording Arts and Visual Effects & Animation.
Flashpoint differs from other four-year colleges in its cross-disciplinary, immersive approach to teaching that keeps current with the pace of the industry. “Today keeps changing to tomorrow; it’s a constantly evolving field,” says Perry Harovas, Chair of the Digital Effects and Animation Department. Timeless skills, like the ability to follow a project through from start to finish, teamwork and problem-solving skills are emphasized. “Rather than having them be button jockeys, [they] learn how to use all the tools together and have them know everything that’s going on behind the scenes.”
Flashpoint’s faculty are all strongly encouraged, if not required, to continue working professionally in their respective industries, keeping up to date with current developments and software changes. Harovas has just completed some film trailers for Liongate Entertainment. “When a new piece of technology comes out and does things better and faster, we can change the curriculum to reflect that,” says Harovas. “This flexibility keeps us attentive, alive and current for the students—a vital aspect of teaching the digital arts,” says Froehle. “As soon as it becomes outdated, you’re teaching history, not contemporary approaches.”
Flashpoint students are on a schedule that is far from typical for a college student: they are expected to be on site forty-to-sixty hours a week. Additionally, students are expected to adhere to Flashpoint Professional Standards, including accountability, collaboration and initiative, traits considered vital to succeeding as a professional in any field. Students can gain or lose FPS points based on their behavior outside the classroom. “In a lot of ways we are more like a graduate program—we expect a dedication that is at that level, and in return, we offer a student a two-year immersion in professional education,” says Froehle.
“We aren’t a place where a student can spend time ‘finding themselves’ or trying to discover what it is they want to do,” says Froehle. “A Flashpoint student must know the field they want to enter before being accepted.”
For the right student, however, Flashpoint seems to have held up its end. Froehle easily lists impressive job placements by Flashpoint’s first—and as of yet only—graduating class, freshly minted in May 2009. Film grads litter the West Coast, placed with top production companies, while others make their way in freelance gigs on reality TV crews. Still others have stayed in Chicago, working for outfits like WriteGoal, a local production company. A group of Recording Arts students work audio for area concerts, having done the Elton John/Billy Joel at Wrigley and several Broadway shows, including “The Addams Family.”
“When I see our students at graduation, and hear how well they’re doing in their new careers,” Froehle says, “I feel absolutely certain that for the right student, this approach is the best education for media artists in the twenty-first century.” (Emily Torem)