Singapore's growing capacity for digital media training

By ANIMATION XPRES... | 12 January, 2010 - 15:39

Singapore has been facing the classic chicken-and-egg scenario when it comes to supplying talent for its fast emerging Interactive and Digital Media (IDM) industry. A growing number of international IDM companies such as Ubisoft and Koei Entertainment have set up in the republic, attracted by the strict intellectual property laws as well as the country's strategic position between Europe and North America and the emerging digital media markets in North Asia, especially China and Japan. So far, Singapore has largely resorted to importing experienced foreign animators and digital wizards to meet pressing talent demands, but several high quality digital media schools and programmes set up in recent years have established the city's position as a specialist training ground for budding digital media talent in Asia.

The most prominent among these are New York's acclaimed Tisch School of the Arts and DigiPen Institute of Technology, which chose to set up its first independent campus outside of the United States in Singapore. At Tisch, the first cohort in 2007 counted students from 21 countries including Brazil, China, France, India and Japan.

Several local tertiary institutions are attracting larger Singaporean and foreign enrolment with increasingly innovative new media courses. Local start-ups like 3dSense Media School and Egg Story Digital Arts also offer further certifications in animation and games development for existing industry professionals.

On a recent trip to Singapore, a select group of tertiary level educators from respected Australian and New Zealand universities and digital media training institutes applauded the high quality of training and were keen to explore student exchanges with Singapore-based schools and companies.

Bruce Jenkins, who is the Melbourne head of school at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Australia observed that IDM education was gaining a foothold here and there were little barriers to course entry, although the potential flipside was lower retention rates.

He said he would encourage his own students to explore opportunities in Singapore because "they have an opportunity to work within some highly regarded development houses on some high quality projects."

Relevant skills for the big players
A competitive edge of the training here is the strong support and close ties between training institutions and the industry's leading players. Students receive plenty of exposure to the industry and the latest trends, so there is ready demand for their skills upon graduation.

This year, Sony Computer Entertainment Asia and Premium Agency Inc have agreed to open a S$4 million dollar Games Resource Centre on campus at local tertiary institution, Nanyang Polytechnic. This facility will provide students the dedicated infrastructure to develop PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable games.

Ubisoft, too, has lent its name and expertise to the DigiPen-Ubisoft Campus, which focuses on Game Programming, Game Art and Game Design. Ubisoft's role is to guide students in the complex game production process. This is Ubisoft's first campus in Asia.

While he found DigiPen's programme impressive, Peter Giles, the director of digital media at the Australian Film, TV and Radio School felt it was too geared towards craft training. Singapore's industry would benefit more from training in creative leadership and content creation.

"I was very impressed by Singapore Polytechnic who I thought had a good approach to student IP creation and focus on Experience Design," he said, referring to a local polytechnic. "They are developing students who may be capable of starting up their own small businesses around mobile content, Internet services and public space interactivity."

He highlighted the great potential in these areas for small start-ups, particularly in Asia, especially when 'you have more opportunity to own the intellectual property than large U.S or Japanese franchises.'

Morgan Barnard, a lecturer in digital media design at the School of Design at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, echoed his view about the Design course she observed at Singapore Polytechnic.

"They are taking the opportunity to do research and development in an area that is very central to the user experience of Singapore itself, but it will create knowledge that is transferable globally."