Multimedia program comes of age

Fifteen years ago, it was still the new major on campus. Today, CLU's Multimedia Department produces a steady "pipeline" of graduates for careers in entertainment and technology.

Erik Kerr '08 with some of his design projects

When professors Joan Wines and Michael Arndt teamed up with director of publications Michael Adams in 1996 to start a multimedia program at CLU, the University had only recently incorporated the Internet and a campus network. To put this emerging technology at the center of a new academic program was beyond ambitious.

However, CLU was already earning a reputation as tech leader among small campuses, winning the Cause Award for Campus Networking in 1996. Planning was underway for the new Soiland Humanities Center, which would house Mac and distance learning labs. The multimedia planning group was further encouraged by discussions with the Irvine Futures Project, leading to an $85,000 grant to get the program off the ground. 

Eight students enrolled in 1996. From that time, the program has grown exponentially to 30 majors in 2001 and 72 majors in 2012. Graduates find jobs in entertainment, education and business - doing everything from producing to programming, from writing to user interface design, from 3-D and visual effects animation to sound editing, videography and project management.

Always ready to add courses to keep students current in the field, the Multimedia Department recently completed a year’s worth of self-study and brought in an outside reviewer to evaluate the findings.

“The program changes consistently from year to year, especially upper division courses,” said Tim Hengst, director of the multimedia program. Integration of the iPad platform into the upper division curriculum and a course in 3-D technology are two recent additions.

What the major does best is to integrate technological knowledge with a broad-based education to prepare students who are creative, well-informed and ready to step into a variety of positions. 

Adventures in film

Act of Valor, the 2012 action film featuring active-duty Navy SEALs firing live ammo, had to stand or fall on its claims to realism. It succeeded with audiences, taking in twice its $12 million budget on opening weekend in February and $70 million by mid-May.

Charged with getting the highest-quality images of bad guys, explosions and surfacing submarines was the technically adept Mike McCarthy ’06, a multimedia major who was the first intern and then the first fresh hire at Los Angeles–based Bandito Brothers, a maker of audiovisual content. He spent three years of long days on the unusual project.

“I was involved in every step of the post-production process, from setting up the creative editorial system, to overseeing the visual effects workflow and organizing the final DI (digital imaging) processing of the film,” explained McCarthy, now director of technology for the company.

McCarthy joined Bandito Brothers when it was a new company, and has opened the door for others from the Multimedia Department to follow. As Jacob Rosenberg, the chief technical officer for the company, told the news outlet Tom’s Hardware, “Most of the people who work for me came from the Cal Lutheran pipeline. Most of these kids started off as interns and we just really expose them to a ton of stuff.”

Aside from working on sets and in the editing room, McCarthy oversees everything at Bandito from the phone system to the computer network, Web servers and tape decks. He credits the CLU department with his success.

“The multimedia program was small enough that the students played a role in developing and shaping it. That experience was very valuable in my role helping to develop and shape my company after I graduated,” he said.

Double duty

While McCarthy works at his computer screen to evaluate film quality, another multimedia alumnus, Erik Kerr ’08, is across town updating his company’s website, creating online marketing ads and banners, mini-sites, HTML email campaigns and researching mobile design and development

A senior developer/designer for Houlihan Lokey, an international investment banking firm located in Century City, Kerr, got started in web development and graphic design while still in high school. “I was in a band for a little while and also created a semi-annual music festival, so I taught myself the basics of Photoshop while I took an HTML website class in order to promote, market, and design everything I was doing with the music event and my band,” Kerr recalled.” After that he was hooked.

His love for music and passion for design and branding led Kerr into another endeavor. Through CLU communication instructor Jean Sandlin, Kerr connected with Harold Gutierrez ’08, who was looking for someone to build the website for his new company, For Musickind (

For Musickind promotes musicians online through website design and development, online marketing and promotions, social web and direct-to-fan marketing, as well as merchandise and download store integration.

Although he really enjoys both his vocations – working simultaneously growing a digital music marketing company and a full-time job – Kerr admits his biggest challenge is finding the time to do both. However, he added, “ I'm doing what I love and I learned a lot of that at CLU.”

Kerr said that the multimedia major pushed students to work independently and on their own time. “I think pushing myself through our multimedia projects, and working that extra bit while taking on a capstone honors project really made a huge difference later in my career with any job or project I took on.”

Nerdy and artsy

Brady Betzel ’05 also works long days, up to 15 hours, organizing, managing, and streamlining workflow for editors on multiple television shows including “Real Housewives of New York City” and “Bethany Ever After.”

Now an assistant editor for Shed Media in Burbank, Calif., a producer and distributor of audiovisual content, he says his passion for the multimedia field began in high school when he took a video production class. He pursued his interest at CLU, he explained, “to combine my love for being a nerd and fixing computers with my artsy expression.” 

Although his work is demanding, Betzel says there are many rewards. Not the least is the chance to work with and get to know celebrities.

“Working on the Oscar's one year and walking backstage next to Jack Nicholson; going to dinner with David Spade and a few other co-workers when ‘The Showbiz Show with David Spade’ ended; Ryan Seacrest buying beers for the entire office on one Friday; and Megan Mullally inviting the entire staff to her house for a wrap party,” he said, reeling off examples.

Betzel has observed belt-tightening in the industry, and the value of the broad training he received. “Editors are not just editors but compositors, special effects artists, 3-D modelers - you name it, they do it. Everyone has to do three jobs instead of one. That’s why multimedia was good preparation. CLU taught me how to work in business; how to work hard and not do a minimal job.”

Growth factors

Instructor Dan Restuccio credits the growth of the multimedia program to the global interest in media, iPhone, iPad and You Tube, which are all interactive. “This generation,” he pointed out, “has never not had Internet.”

Students pick the CLU program because of the small classes and opportunities for lots of hands-on work, as well as extensive internship possibilities.

Kerr said he chose multimedia because “it was a flexible program, allowing you to pursue your strongest interests while giving you the ability to have well-rounded knowledge of the overall industry, which is extremely important nowadays.”

By all accounts the program has exceeded its founders’ expectations. Restuccio and Hengst predict that opportunities and the need for technological training will continue to grow.

“Industry needs developers. It needs people able to bridge the gap between development and usage,” Hengst said.

“Mobile is continuing to get bigger and will keep growing even faster with the advancements of HTML5 development,” adds Kerr. “Responsive and dynamic design are getting pushed more and more now for the web with the advances that mobile devices and tablets are making in the general marketplace.”

McCarthy has advice for staying grounded within an industry and a field of study that change more quickly than most: “Make sure you are driving your implementation of technology,” he said, “instead of your dependence on technology driving you.”