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Campus for Content

Chris Lee sits in the Dolby Atmos 100-seat screening room at the Academy for Creative Media student production facility at University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu.

University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu unveils a new student production facility that sets the stage for the UH System’s creative media program.

There’s a new hub for emerging media in the heart of Kapolei, and that’s good news for the next generation of tech-savvy communication professionals.

The Academy for Creative Media student production facility at University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu is modeled after professional innovative workspaces like Google and YouTube, but the learning and collaboration that’ll take place within its walls will set the stage for a bright future in computational media. Housed within the 33,000-square-foot facility — an impressive 45,000 if you include the landscaping — is everything students need to improve their skills in video, graphics, animation, social media, web and app development, and much more.

University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu student Micah Niinuma (left) and former student Mandy Quitog (right) hang out with Academy for Creative Media System director/founder Chris Lee in the new Creative Media Facility.

“It’s the nexus of science, art and storytelling, and when those elements come together,” explains Academy for Creative Media System director/founder Chris Lee, who formerly served as president of TriStar and Columbia Pictures. “This is going to be the center for the entire UH System.”

The University of Hawai‘i System dipped its proverbial toe into the computational media waters at its Mānoa campus with a first-ever certificate that involved study within the Academy for Creative Media, information and computer sciences, electrical engineering, theater and dance.

“All those things came together to tell compelling stories in contemporary media, and that media is changing so quickly,” continues Lee, who notes that creative media is the fastest-growing major at UHWO. “It’s something we’ve been driving toward for a long time.”

Now, they’re taking things a step further. From humble beginnings in a solitary classroom at UHWO, the new Creative Media Facility falls in line with UH’s novel bachelor’s degree in creative media, and it’s got quite a few people more than a little excited.

“There’s been so much growth toward the program, so many opportunities, like this building,” shares UHWO humanities student Micah Niinuma. “To see how connected a small program could be, it’s very overwhelming, but in a good way.”

The Creative Media Facility opened its doors this month, hoping to welcome students for the spring 2021 semester. COVID-19 put a hold on those plans, but the work being done in and around the building is nothing short of amazing. The extensive design-build process started several years ago and allowed for ample planning, which means the Creative Media Facility has literally everything one would need to start a lucrative career in the field. To kick things off, Lee arranged for tours at locales like USC, Chapman University, Emerson and also the Google/ YouTube space to get ideas for what would be the state’s most contemporary educational campus.

From a digital post-production suite and 3,000-square foot industry-standard sound stage to an esports arena and mill shop/3D makerspace, there’s something for every interest.

“We have everything that you would find at USC or UCLA, and even more than that with some of the things that we’re doing in the emerging media room,” shares Lee.

“The kids will always come up with amazing stuff if you just give them the environment and the tools, and you treat them like adults,” Lee continues. “We never know what the future is going to hold. We meet students where they’re at.”

Part of that process means having curriculum based in real-world experiences and making obtaining a degree as seamless as possible. It’s why UHWO has articulation agreements with all seven statewide community colleges, and it’s also why the new bachelor’s degree in creative media is a step in the right direction.

“Creative media is the only applied science degree that if you start at a community college you can go to a four-year (like Mānoa or UHWO),” explains Sharla Hanaoka, Academy for Creative Media director at UHWO.

Basically, going from a science/technical degree to a general education degree isn’t usually a straight path, but thanks to the hard work of Hanaoka, Lee and others, it’s now a reality for students seeking a career in the future of transmedia.

“Articulations are important because at the community colleges, they dive deep in skill,” Hanaoka adds. “So, when they come over here, they then apply those skills with critical thinking and application, and asking the how and why kind of questions. It enables them to elevate their skills and so that they’re more marketable.”

Equipping students for their future careers remains the mainstay of the program, but Lee is hoping the Creative Media Facility can serve as a pivotal part of the state’s Hollywood industry.

“We talk about diversifying our economy, and while this is a transmedia campus, we produce students who are in traditional film and TV,” he adds.

Lee cites Hawai‘i Five-0 and Magnum P.I., as well as forthcoming shows like Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. and an Amazon series based on I Know What You Did Last Summer as big revenue generators for the state.

“It’s a local business mostly,” he explains. “They hire local crews. Hawai‘i is in a great position to be a preferred place for people to shoot. Hopefully this facility will, in addition to where we’re going with transmedia, be a great training facility for future filmmakers.”

ENABLING ENTREPRENEURS

The Academy for Creative Media student production facility at University of Hawai‘i– West O‘ahu is the epicenter for transmedia within the UH System. While geared toward teaching students valuable skills to get a job after graduation, it’s also embarking on a mission to support local small-business owners.

“Something we put in, which I don’t think anyone has put in before, is a student accelerator. It’s a coworking space for student-run companies,”

says ACM System director/ founder Chris Lee. Rather than having to launch a business out of one’s bedroom or garage, the student accelerator provides a safe, professional space for budding entrepreneurs to meet with potential clients and investors, as well as intern current UH students. The idea was birthed out of a need, as UHWO has seen many a student go on to start successful businesses.

One such alumna is Mandy Quitog, who, after graduating in spring 2018, got a job as a marketing assistant at a luxury car dealership and also launched an online shop featuring her illustrations on stickers and accessories — find her work at heymandinishop.etsy.com. “It really helped guide me in the right direction and helped me find myself as a designer and I hope it does the same for the other current students,” she shares of her Academy for Creative Media experience.

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