Saturday, December 03, 2005

Jim Keeshen's "Great Big Show"

Let's look at the history of the Academy of Entertainment and Technology's "Themed Entertainment Major." Pursuant to the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) Review, dated June 1997, Santa Monica College promised the CPEC that it would offer four programs at its newly established center, one of which was called "Theme Park Operations Management." However, it was indicated on page 2 of the report that "many of the courses are still in the process of development."

The report further stated:

Through its program review responsibilities, the Commission will take a continuing interest in the programs developed at the center, several of which will probably require Commission concurrence. Accordingly, while the academic plan is not fully developed at the present time, there is assurance from the district's administrators that they will cooperate fully with the Commission as the Academy's programs develop.

Notice that AET's academic plan was "not fully developed." Who were the administrators at the time? Katharine Muller was the Dean of External Affairs and Jim Keeshen was the AET Chairman. So, why doesn't Santa Monica College have any documentation under the California Public Records Act regarding either curriculum at AET or communications by and between the CPEC? Did Santa Monica College in fact deliver on its promises to the CPEC and to its students?

The same month that the CPEC report was issued in June 1997, SMC's website stated that it would offer coursework and internships in a "Theme Park Division" which was to include "CAD planning, human services, and technical support." The website also promised "proficiency in each of these fields with the goal of immediate employment." The CPEC report indicated 15,000 to 30,000 jobs in "Theme Park Design & Operation" over the next five years.

The Santa Monica Community College District provided the following summary of the "Theme Park Operations Management" program to the CPEC:

Operations management involves the business side of the of theme parks -- marketing, sales, food and retain transportation, customer service, physical plant maintenance, public relations, ride and show operations, human resources, payroll, and crowd control and safety. Required skills include basic business principles and accounting, computer proficiency, communications skills, management and supervision skills, and knowledge of the industry. College-level English and math skills will be required for admission to the program. (Santa Monica CCD, 19997b, p.8).

The CPEC report lists a tentative curriculum for this program, comprised of courses in accounting, business, math, and computer information systems. The first official website for the
Academy that I found was dated December 6, 1998. The "Themed Entertainment Major" link brought me to a web page with a two-semester curriculum for "Themed Entertainment Operations and Management." It is a one year program whereby one obtains an Occupational Certificate rather than a degree.

Here's a handy snapshot I made of the Themed Entertainment Major courses offered:

AET Themed Entertainment Major

However, by April 1999, the Themed Entertainment Major has vanished from AET's curriculum. I only found the remaining three programs in animation, interactive media, and entertainment business. The same was true when I examined AET's 2000 and 2001 listings. In 2002, AET changes the look and feel of its website, yet there is still no Themed Entertainment. Additionally, the Entertainment Business major has vanished as well. There are only two certificates offered by the Academy: Animation and Interactive Media. Spring 2003 gives me the same results as 2002. Fall 2004 is no different.

AET's current website has had an overhaul once again, this time with Animation as the only winning career certificate. However, there are four certificates pending: Game Development, Post Production, Visual Effects, and Web Design. Given AET administration's unfulfilled promises to the CPEC and the recent trend of low enrollment at the Academy combined with course cancellations, I won't hold my breath for these certificates to pass approval.

You can view AET's 2005-2006 course lineup in their Program Guide. Are any of the "Themed Entertainment Major" courses still offered at the Academy? I see none of them listed. So, what happened to this major? Did anyone even sign up for these courses? Did the courses even exist? If so, who taught them?

However, it appears that Professor Jim Keeshen desperately sought these answers from his History of Animation students in the Spring of 2000. In his online final exam for his course, he asked them to "consider theme parks and cultural attractions" as they applied to how animation made them "better and more effective." One student pointed out: "Rhythm and Hues ( has made huge advancements in this field." This student also added that "Rhythm and Hues is famous worldwide for their animated attractions," pointing to their greatest theme park, Seafari, located in Japan.

Wait a minute here! Wasn't Rhythm & Hues one of AET's industry partners which was supposed to help develop their curriculum as well as help students to obtain all those promised jobs? Both Rhythm & Hues and Digital Domain were listed in AET's "Who's Who" list in August 1997. Katharine Muller stated, "As the new dean of the academy, I am thrilled to be at the helm of this exciting project and impressed with the depth of support from the government, the entertainment industry and the college itself." Was she pulling the wool over our eyes or just oblivious to the fact that their program was already doomed to failure? As mentioned in my previous "Got Game?" blog posting, Rhythm & Hues only hired 2 students from AET since its inception. Digital Domain managed to hire 4 whole students. I'm not impressed. Guess it doesn't take much to "impress" Dean Muller.

Furthermore, Rhythm & Hues funded The Computer Graphics Scholarship. I quote in part:

Rhythm & Hues believes that maintaining strong lines of communication between industry and academia is vital to the health of these programs and to the health of the industry as a whole. The dual purpose of this scholarship is to provide universities with feedback as to what sort of skills are sought after in today's entertainment job market and to reward the best of those students who attain these skills. For this reason, we will award grants in the fields of computer modeling, computer character animation, and digital cinematography.

From 1996 to the present, Rhythm & Hues did not offer a single scholarship to AET students in the fields of computer modeling, computer character animation, and digital cinematography! Where's the "depth of support" from the entertainment industry that Muller proclaimed? It's non-existent.

While AET chairman Jim Keeshen was involved in setting up the curriculum and pushing this Theme Park Major to the unsuspecting public, he was fully aware that this program was in fact not a reliable source of income for potential and current AET students to rely on. Keeshen wrote the following in 2000:

The business model for a company like Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues or even ILM remains much the same: as special effects houses, they are involved in four areas of enterprise:

-- Commercials
-- Live Action
-- Games and the Web
-- Theme Park Entertainment.

Of these, the last three are loss leaders, and only the first can be relied upon to bring in predictable income. Thus, despite all the glory of the advanced applications, it's commercials that pay the freight.

So, what was Keeshen's motive for pushing the Theme Park Entertainment major down the throats of the CPEC and the California taxpayers when he was fully aware that the potential job income for AET students would be unpredictable? Was AET just a showcase of shallow illusions? Who benefited from the creation of these programs at AET? Perhaps Rhythm & Hues benefited in that it's Houdini 3D animation software was plugged at the Academy. And of course Keeshen always seems to benefit himself financially at the expense of the public. Rhythm & Hues was a client of Jim Keeshen Productions, Inc. What did Keeshen's company produce? None other than a Colgate 3D commercial, proving Keeshen's theory that "commercials pay the freight."

Here's a screenshot for Jim Keeshen Productions taken from AWN's Animation Industry Database:

James Keeshen Productions

Since AET's administration, including Keeshen and Muller, refuse to speak to me about these issues, I shall continue to dig for my answers in the Academy's sacrosanct public records... if someone at Santa Monica College can in fact find them. Given all the other missing and concealed information to date, I shall remain skeptical.

Well, as Jim Keeshen wrote, "So Put on your ears, and be good Mouseketeers, for we have in store, A Great Big Show"... too bad the price of admission for the Academy students was so high and the returns so little. Yet, the show seems to go on.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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