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High Tech Ex'pression

A small college in Emeryville prepares technophiles for a competitive job market.

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Given that Emeryville is home to one of the world's most vaunted animation studios — you may have heard of this cute little technology upstart called Pixar — it makes sense that it also houses a swank digital technology institute. And, but for a few streets and a small stretch of railroad tracks, they're almost contiguous to one another.

Ex'pression College for Digital Arts deserves a name with a fancy ornamental apostrophe. It's a big complex of studios of people interested in just about any art discipline that involves a computer — gaming, animation, music recording, satellite radio, web design, scripting, audio engineering, mobile phone apps, you name it. The school lies in a not-so-obvious industrial corner of Emeryville, but the inside is swank: clean, sound-proofed studios; professional gear; long corridors where you might run into anyone from Hoodstock DJ Bobby Peru (Mike Melero) to video-game music composer Ian Hicks. Go late at night and you'll find all variety of beatmakers working in the computer lab.

But it's not just a place for hobbyists. According to marketing director Miwa Kozuki, the school enrolls a variety of students: high school grads; community college transfers; people pursuing a second bachelor's degree; people who have worked in the field for a while and want to fine-tune their skills; people who already have a career but decided to pursue a degree in a digital field. It's worth noting, after all, that "digital arts" has really only existed for fifteen years, max. Ex'pression was founded in 1998 by a sound engineer named Gary Platt and a Dutch venture capitalist named Eckart Wintzen, so its genesis pretty much coincides with the birth of the industry at large.

And by all measures, that industry is growing. Every business needs a website, and there needs to be a vast labor force to design cool applications for each new device that comes on the market. That's not to mention the growing consumer demographic for gaming systems and animated films, or the fact that recorded music has migrated from compact discs to computers. It seems, moreover, that the laws of supply and demand favor smart people with skills in those technologies — a person who knows how to use ProTools, Final Cut Pro, Ableton, Photoshop, and DSLR Filmmaking will likely have solid job prospects, and a person who knows how to design web apps could land a fairly cush, well-salaried job at a nice Silicon Valley start-up.

Kozuki assures that a degree from an accredited institute can help a person's job prospects significantly, but more important than that is Ex'pression's hands-on curriculum. Upon graduating, students are prepared to step into a recording studio, or score a video game, or design a computer product. That qualifies them for a wide array of jobs. Maybe even at Pixar.

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