The Art Institute of California – Orange County (off the 405 Freeway and Harbor Blvd), provides a state of the art facility that offers a broad range of creative arts programs including their renowned culinary arts program.

The Art Institutes (Ai) are an accredited, collegiate level, degree granting organization with over 40 locations in North America.  A link to the Orange County campus is located at the end of this article.  Course offerings include Audio Production, Computer Animation, Culinary Arts, Culinary Management, Fashion Design, Fashion & Retail Management, Graphic Design, Industrial Design Technology, Interactive Media Design, Interior Design, Media Arts & Animation, Photography, Restaurant Management and Video Production. Not all programs are offered at all schools.  It is an important source of design, media arts, fashion and culinary arts professionals.  The Art Institutes graduates are employed by companies and organizations of all types and size, including some of the most prominent companies in the United States, such as: MTV, Time Warner, AT&T, Home Depot/EXPO Center, Lockheed Martin, Nordstrom, Nintendo of America, Walt Disney & Affiliates, Marriott, Yahoo Broadcast Services, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Ford Motor Company, and the Fox Entertainment Group.

The Orange County campus launched its Digital Filmmaking & Video Production (DFVP) degree program in the summer of 2010.  Starting quickly, the program has already tripled in size from its inaugural class of 20 students, and it continues to grow rapidly, adding additional classroom, studio and ENG-based production resources.  Taking a different approach than a traditional film school, Orange County’s DFVP program is focused on preparing students for the new business paradigm within the entertainment industry: using digital production equipment and techniques, combined with digital post-production and special effects equipment and software, for self-distribution through both established and emerging content networks.

The campus features a multi-tiered approach that emphasizes not only single-camera production courses, but also fundamental and advanced classes in TV Studio Production, Scriptwriting, Editing & Post-Production, Sound Design and Motion Graphics.  There are also specialty courses that address topics such as: Media Delivery and Distribution, Web Design, DVD Authoring, and Media Business & Law.  The teaching facilities include a full-service, three camera high definition production studio with built-in, green-screen cove, a portable Production Control room, a Whisper Room for audio production, dedicated classrooms and edit bays, a comprehensive film & TV library, and a well-stocked Equipment Cage available to students six days a week.

In pre-production courses, students are introduced to the elements of storytelling and scriptwriting, color theory, history of digital filmmaking and video production. Production courses include audio and video production, photography and cinematography, animation, color theory, directing, and producing. There is post production coursework in editing, compositing, motion graphics and studio courses that simulate a production cycle.

This program prepares students for entry-level employment in the motion picture, television, and video industries as cinematographers, lighting technicians, screenwriters, production assistants, Web broadcasters, video editors, and effects designers.

Equipment and curriculum is not enough.  The greatest asset that the Digital Filmmaking & Video Production program has to offer is their faculty.  The DFVP faculty have experience within the entertainment industry, be it film, television, music or live performance, and have degrees in their respective areas of expertise.  

The program’s Academic Director, Paul Fornelli, has worked in the entertainment industry since the mid-‘80’s, beginning first in the music industry at Greenworld/Enigma Music, before transitioning into the film and television industry;   Scott Essman, an editor and producer of dozens of documentary projects, music videos, interviews and promotional video material for Warner Bros. Home Video and Universal Studios Home Entertainment;  Editing instructor, Gordon Winiemko, is a UC Irvine graduate, who has also taught at the Bay Area Video Coalition and the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute.  Derk Mateo, holds degrees in Film (from LMU) and Asian Studies (UCLA).  Cameron Barrett holds an MA degree in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University and was the former News Director of News15 in Athens, Georgia.  Nate Lane has an M.F.A. in Scriptwriting from the American Film Institute and Marya Mazor, is the Resident Director for Disney Entertainment Productions and a former NEA-Fellow and graduate of the Yale School of Drama.

Rich Jansen, who is the longest serving DFVP faculty member, has received two LA-area Emmys, three Telly Awards, a HUGO Award, and several local awards from organizations such as ITVA (now MCAI) and PRSA.  The Telly Awards, given for the AiPro Culinary DVD Series produced by Jansen, honor the very best local, regional and cable television commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions and work created for the Web.  The series of 23 culinary educational DVDs are distributed to each of the 41 schools in the Ai system, and segments are currently featured at iTunes University online.

I was introduced to Ai-OC by Rich Jansen and the reason I pursued this story is his enthusiasm for his students and the program at Ai and the extremely high regard he is held by industry professionals.  Like many of his peers who teach full or part time, his real-world success and enthusiasm helps lay the groundwork for the next generation of industry professionals.  This interview will give you a better sense of what makes him tick.

SOCAL: You’ve had a long and successful career so far.  Please give us a broad view of what you’ve done.  Include where you were born and raised and what brought you to Orange County.  
Rich: I was born and raised in Southern California, and became interested in what was then called television production in high school.  After attending San Diego State University, I returned to Orange County and began my first job as Studio Supervisor at KOCE-TV, the local PBS affiliate. It was an exciting time, as the station was just being built, and there were many opportunities to experience production from the ground up.  I rose to the position of Operations Manager over the course of 13 years at the station, but left in a staff reduction in 1984 to start a production company with former colleague Bill O’Neill.  Jansen-O’Neill productions specialized in corporate training and marketing productions for over 12 years, until the recession of 1991 eventually forced us to disband.  I was fortunate to become a producer/director at Coast Telecourses on the series Cycles of Life, which was awarded an Emmy for best educational series.  Subsequent to that, I became series producer for Dollar$ & Sense, an educational series on personal finance, which was also awarded an Emmy.  I began teaching at The Art Institute of California – Orange County in 2000, which was a continuation of a parallel teaching career that I had pursued for many years at institutions such as Santa Ana College, Cal State Fullerton and Chapman University, all in the area of film and video production.

SOCAL: Was there an aha! moment when you know this was what you wanted to do for a living?
Rich: I think such a moment occurred when I was a sophomore at San Diego State, and then Governor Ronald Reagan came on campus and recorded an interview in our studios.  I was merely a camera operator, but at the time there was great foment in the university system, especially in Berkeley, so there was a real sense that we were observing history.  It confirmed for me that this would be an exciting career path, and a real opportunity to be an observer and reporter of history.

SOCAL: What attracted to you teaching?  What was particularly attractive about Ai?
Rich: I began teaching part-time in 1975 at what was then the Orange Coast College “Evening College.”  It was later converted to a separate institution known as Coastline Community College, a “college without walls,” that incorporated the telecourse concept produced by KOCE.  Later, I taught at Santa Ana College (then called Rancho Santiago), as well as Cal State Fullerton and Chapman.  I heard about The Art Institute from a colleague in the ITVA organization in Pittsburgh.  She told me they were opening a campus in Orange County and I should look into it.  I met the dean, interviewed and began teaching part-time in October of 2000.  I shifted to full time in 2003.

Ai appealed to me because it is “competency based” education, with an emphasis on getting the students prepared for specific career paths within each discipline.  We also have an active career services department which placed 80% of all design graduates last year within six months of graduation.  In some majors, such as Web Design and Interactive Media, the placement average is over 94%. 

SOCAL: Are there other things you do given the broad range of programs offered by Ai?
Rich: Shortly after becoming full time faculty, the head of our culinary department approached the dean with an idea to produce videos about culinary techniques for the other such departments in the Ai system.  Since I was the only person on staff with video experience, I was asked to advise on equipment and procedures.  Within 6 months we had established a video setup in one of our teaching kitchens, and the AiPro Culinary DVD Series was born.  We have since produced 23 DVDs on subjects from basic knife techniques to preparing recipes from countries such as Italy, France, Japan and southeast Asia.

SOCAL: What advantages/disadvantages do students have facing themselves as they plan for a career in the industry today?
Rich: A major advantage for our current DFVP students is that they not only have some of the most up to date equipment and software to work with, the faculty are all currently active in the industry.  This means that they are being taught by people who have more than just an academic knowledge of the subject.  In addition, the accelerated curriculum, allowing students to earn a BS degree in just three and a half years, means that they are well ahead of those attending community colleges and universities in getting into the work force.  And, as I mentioned earlier, our career services department maintains active relationships with studios and production companies, so there’s a leg up for our graduates.

As far as disadvantages, certainly the current state of the economy is a hurdle to those seeking entry level employment.  I try to emphasize to our students that they must actively seek opportunities on their own to intern or just participate in any professional activity in the industry to become more aware of the requirements of employment.  An additional challenge for the faculty is to make sure we are keeping up with industry trends, which now seem to change every few months.  It’s one advantage to having actively working instructors, in that they are doing what they teach every day.

Over the years, can you give us some examples of students who have really begun to excel in the industry?
Rich: Our DFVP curriculum is still in its infancy, so we won’t have any graduates for about two years.  However, many of our animation graduates are working for companies like Pixar and DreamWorks.  I have personally had Visual Effects majors who have worked on recent films such as Spiderman 3, Ironman 2, and Transformers 3

SOCAL: What would you advise an incoming student starting in the DFVP curriculum?
Rich: I would tell them to be prepared for a pretty intense experience.  The classes are shorter than regular colleges (10 weeks vs. 16), and class periods are longer (4 hours vs. 3 in most cases), so there is little time for playing around.  I would also remind them that there is a need to develop their writing and communications skills.  As you know, there’s more to production than being able to run equipment or being visually talented.  The ability to write a coherent proposal or a saleable treatment is important to having success in this business.

SOCAL: What would you tell a potential employer about hiring a graduate of Ai-OC?
Rich: Each student is an individual, so it’s hard to generalize, but I would say that our philosophy of competency-based education should ensure that a graduate can fit into a given job and not need further training beyond learning a particular company’s methodology.  The Art Institutes has great a relationship with software creators like Adobe, Apple, AutoDesk and others, so the graduates should have familiarity and proficiency with the latest versions of the creative software the industry uses.  I also try to instill a sense of personal integrity and responsibility to the goals of the project that I hope will mold a professional attitude.  I tell my students that, although nothing is guaranteed in life, being responsible, willing to learn, and acting professionally will go a long way toward ensuring success.


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Saturday, June 15, 2024