Mini-Hollywood on the Charles
By Brian Fitzgerald
Digital imaging has spawned a revolution in photography, filmmaking, animation, and a variety of other communications arts, so it’s apt that the College of Communication has located its new digital imaging arts program in a revolutionary city on the Charles River, says Bob Daniels (COM’70, SED’76, GSM’79), the program’s executive director.
No, he’s not talking about Boston. He’s referring to a city 10 miles west. Last February, the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University (CDIA) opened in Waltham, considered by many the birthplace of the industrial revolution in America and at one time the watchmaking capital of the world.
But that’s not the reason the University had its eye on Watch City for CDIA. “We were actually looking for a place full of established filmmakers, photographers, and production companies,” says Daniels during a short tour of CDIA’s facility on Moody Street, “and there is an active filmmaking community here — a vibrant little enclave in downtown Waltham, similar to Tribeca in New York. It’s the perfect place for what we’re doing.”
For the past eight months, CDIA has been offering workshops in preparation for the fall start of its intensive nine-month (two-semester) certificate programs in digital filmmaking, 3-D animation, digital media and Web design, game art and design, visual effects, and photography and digital imaging. Both day and evening classes are available. The center is currently enrolling for the spring semester, with January starts in all programs.
The CDIA facility occupies the fourth and fifth floors of 282 Moody St., a building also housing many independent movie companies, including Moody Street Pictures, Uncommon Productions, and Mystic River Films. “We’ll be working with Moody Street Pictures to conduct January intersession workshops on high-definition video production and postproduction editing,” says Daniels.
Moody Street isn’t exactly going Hollywood, but Daniels describes it as an up-and-coming independent filmmaking center. Nearby are several film and photography businesses: the headquarters for the Filmmakers Collaborative, a nonprofit association of Boston-based documentary filmmakers, at 397 Moody St., Handcranked Films, at 144 Moody, and the Panopticon photo gallery, at 435. “Plus,” says Daniels, “the Embassy Cinema, which specializes in independent and foreign films, is two blocks from CDIA.”
He says that when scouting for a site for the center, he was attracted by downtown Waltham’s convenient location close to the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 128; CDIA is also a less than five-minute walk from the Waltham stop on the MBTA commuter rail that runs from Boston’s North Station to Fitchburg.
CDIA’s 10,000 square feet of classrooms, labs, studios, and digital darkrooms were formerly office space. Students will use industry-leading digital cameras and software, such as Adobe Photoshop. The postproduction video labs are furnished with the latest software, including Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid xPress Pro. Photo students have access to the latest studio equipment, including top digital SLRs and digital camera backs, view cameras, commercial/portraiture studio setups, and location lighting equipment. “Classes will have typically about 12 students,” Daniels says, “so there will be plenty of one-on-one instruction.”
Daniels, who began his career as a staff photographer for the Quincy Patriot Ledger and was later executive director of BU’s Corporate Education Center, says that CDIA’s certificate programs and workshops are designed to complement COM’s degree programs, and special discounts are offered for BU students, faculty, staff, and recent graduates. “CDIA’s programs are intensive, vocationally focused, and hands-on,” he says, “with an emphasis on state-of-the-art digital technologies. Because of the nature of our programs and our focus we can adapt our programs quickly to incorporate new innovations in imaging technology.”
He notes that the technology used for photography, filmmaking, and animation is advancing rapidly. “People in these industries are doing things I couldn’t have dreamed of 40 years ago when I was a student at COM, or for that matter, 5 years ago,” he says. “For example, for 80 years nothing much changed in photography, during the age of ‘Kodachrome,’ but now there has been an explosion in capabilities. I liken the advances to Moore’s Law,” referring to an empirical observation stating that the rate of technological development in the semiconductor industry doubles every 18 months. “Digital imaging has a tremendous growth rate,” he continues. “It’s changing the way we capture, store, and use images.” Indeed, digital cameras have become the fastest selling consumer electronics product in history and are fast replacing film cameras for professional photographers as well.
Daniels says that CDIA students will learn from many of the best instructor-practitioners in their fields. Photography program director Cary Wolinsky (COM’68), a former Boston Globe photographer, has been shooting photos for National Geographic, Newsweek, Smithsonian, and Natural History for 35 years. David Tames, director of the digital film program and a graduate of MIT’s Media Lab, has worked as director of photography on dozens of short subjects and five feature films, including the award-winning Never Met Picasso, a 1997 movie starring Margot Kidder and directed by Stephen Kijak (COM’91). Mark Thompson, who directs the program in 3-D animation, has 14 years of experience as a digital artist, running three leading visual effects studios.
It’s no secret that advances in digital special effects have opened a new world for movie producers: the Spiderman and Matrix movies have made hundreds of millions of dollars. As for the power of 3-D animation, just look at the success of movies such as Shrek and Toy Story and their sequels, as well as Finding Nemo and Monster’s Inc. But Daniels points out that the new technologies mean more than box-office blockbusters — they also provide new opportunities for independent filmmakers and other artists.
“Digital imaging is allowing so many creative people to get involved in fields that they couldn’t pursue in the past,” he says. “Now the tools are available for them to express themselves, to tell their stories.”
Could a future Hollywood special effects genius, animation wizard, Oscar-winning cinematographer, or Pulitzer-winning photographer come out of CDIA in the next few years?
Tames has some advice for students: “Your imagination is your only limitation.”
For more information on CDIA, call 781-209-1700 or 800-808-CIDA, or visit www.digitalimagingarts.com.