When you walk through the door at the Digital Media Institute at Intertech (DMI), it’s like walking into a time machine.
You see it in the classroom, where students are creating 3-D dinosaurs on state-of-the-art computer animation workstations. You see it inside virtual reality goggles as you tour a space station. You see it in front of the giant green screen, where filmmakers use motion-capture technology to choreograph fight scenes.
Yes, you see it everywhere you turn at DMI, and that’s exactly how Executive Director John Miralles likes it.
“We’re kind of in the future here,” he said. “We’re not really far in the future. We’re maybe about five minutes ahead of Shreveport. Part of our goal is to help bring the community forward and help bring these young people into the future a little bit so they can be competitive in the 21st century. And creative and happy and successful. That’s really what it’s about.”
DMI currently offers two programs for students. In the Animation, Visual Effects program, students learn to create advanced digital media content, including two-dimensional and three-dimensional graphics, like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. In the Interactive Software Development program, students immerse themselves in the development of interactive software, including games.
Both are one-year programs. In order to complete the programs in a year, they feature a high-intensity curriculum. Upon completion of either program, students have completed more than 1,000 hours dedicated to learning their craft.
“It’s not for everybody. But for the people who are right for it, it works extremely well,” Miralles said.
Miralles knows a thing or two about creating visual effects like velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Miralles spent 15 years creating feature animation and visual effects for the film industry, including Viacom and IMAX Corp. He came to Shreveport and helped Moonbot Studios get off the ground while turning his attention to education.
He built his academic program with an eye to the future. He developed both a four-year track and one-year track. After teaching in a four-year university environment, he took an entrepreneurial approach and partnered with Building Our Region’s Future (BRF) to relaunch as DMI. He made the move, in part, to compress the program into one year and to keep pace with industry technology.
“In the course of my career, the computers that I started out working with that were Jurassic Park era technology are in landfills now,” he said. “Those are recycled, and I have a phone in my pocket that’s six times more powerful than that computer was in 1992. The technology is going to keep growing. What happens is we don’t do less in the content areas. We do more and more. Look at films today, like Ready Player One. Two-thirds of the film is CGI.”
When it came time to recruit instructors, Miralles turned to his friends and contacts in the film industry. Greg Nelson, Animation, Visual Effects and Interactive Content instructor, was one of those recruits. Nelson is a 20-year veteran of the film industry.
“When we first started, it really was a workforce development program for all of the filming that was going on in Louisiana,” Nelson said. “It was also a great challenge, too, to start a program from nothing and be able to teach a lot of the skills I had learned along the way. At some point in your career, you want to give back and give to the next generation of artists that are coming up. For me, that was one of the things that drew me to it.”
Miralles said the entrepreneurial mission of BRF and its Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program meshes perfectly with his vision for DMI.
“We’re a reflection of what BRF is able to help us be,” he said. “They provided us with a structure to work within. They provided us with fantastic funding support and the freedom and capability to be a great school. It’s something that permeates not just my personal vision, but also the vision of BRF. We’ve worked with several of the Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP) companies on projects. Sometimes people come to us, and we wind up sending them down the hall to EAP to help them refine their business model. We see students who are interested in being entrepreneurial when they come through the door. We do everything we can to help them with that process as well as give them the tools to be successful.”
Kelly McCathran started in the Animation, Visual Effects and Interactive Content (AVEI) program at DMI in January. She said she literally almost threw the chance away.
“It was just like a miracle,” she said. “I got this postcard in the mail about DMI, and it was talking about 2D, 3D, CGI, and I was about to throw it away thinking it was going to be in another state. It said Shreveport, and I was like, ‘Oh my.’”
The postcard was an invitation to an Experience Day at DMI, when prospective students can get a tour of the facility and a preview of the programs offered at DMI. McCathran said she was excited to accept the invitation, and she hasn’t looked back.
“Ever since I came here, this is my life now,” she said.
McCathran said she has always loved art, but didn’t want to spend her time “making posters and billboards.” She’s always enjoyed art and movies and shows. She was drawn to those opportunities, as well as the intense nature of the program.
“They said on Experience Day it’s basically jump right in and get your feet wet and go ahead and start making stuff. (Other colleges) don’t offer stuff this intense and detailed, with all the software and all the stuff we’re learning.”
Trey Ray is a student in the Interactive Software Development program. He is learning all aspects of creating interactive games and apps. He also attended an Experience Day and saw the possibility to combine his interest in creating games and his self-taught programming experience.
He said he grew up dreaming about creating video games, and learned BASIC programming on his own when he was about 10-years-old.
“If this program would have existed when I was 18, I would have been the first one through the door,” Ray said.
He said the intensity of the program has been a benefit to him, too.
“I had learned more in the first month than I had ever, sum total, learned and forgotten in the course of my life. I think it’s vastly more effective than going the slow route. Just like learning any kind of language, immersion is the best way to do it.”
Miralles said that as the demand for content continues to grow, DMI and its students are uniquely positioned at the cutting edge of this expansive frontier.
“To me the digital frontier here in Shreveport is a little bit like the Old West, and we’re the general store,” he said. “We’re not everything. We can’t do it all, but the programs we do, we do extremely well. And we do them with an eye toward the future, and toward growing the workforce, growing the economy and growing the ecosystem for entrepreneurship.
“It’s not like being in New York or Los Angeles or Vancouver or Toronto or Dallas or those places. But it is something that people here have a thirst for and an interest in. As the 21st century continues to grow, the old stuff is going away. The manufacturing jobs are gone. The service industry is being nipped at by things like self-driving cars and kiosks at McDonald’s. A lot of that stuff is going to change. DMI is really about leveraging the exponential power of technology. That’s something that I talk about a lot. Technology is a cultural force. It does two things: it makes things less expensive and more accessible. So that’s what we are looking to do with these skill sets — help people learn to use the technology as it grows.”
Miralles encourages anyone interested in the programs DMI offers to attend an Experience Day. Also, high school students ages 14 and older can attend summer camps at DMI to explore its programs as well. For more information, visit DMI’s website at dmi.edu.