The MAGIC (Media, Arts, Games, Interaction, and Creativity) Center and MAGIC Spell Studios launched at RIT in 2013, but a public-private partnership will help expand its efforts and culminate with a new building on the RIT campus that is expected to open in fall of 2018. The building will include a state-of-the-art studio, pre-incubation coaching space, and soundstage. Funding to date is at more than $30 million, including $13.5 million from New York state, $12.4 million from Cisco Systems Inc., $3 million from Dell, and $1.5 million from The Wegman Family Charitable Foundation. MAGIC Spell Studios is expected to create 35 to 50 jobs in the first five years, with a goal of 100 jobs over the next 10 years. The goal is to help RIT students launch their own businesses and keep those businesses in Rochester.
“This new facility will be a nexus to bring students from various programs under one roof,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the MAGIC Center. “MAGIC Spell Studios is leading the charge in bridging the students’ academic work into commercialized products. We want to ingrain these students into the Rochester community as soon as they start their academic careers and help them to make professional connections they need so that they have the tools to start their own companies in Rochester.”
Phelps says that Rockholz and Rabb’s company, Yes and Games, has tremendous potential to evolve into a commercial studio some day. Rockholz, a fourth-year game design and development student from Brookfield, Conn., and Rabb, a fourth-year computer science major from Fairport, N.Y., spent the summer developing their game Adventure Guild as part of Co-Up, a program offered through MAGIC and the Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The program gave them co-up experience and $10,000 in funding to bring their video game to reality.
Adventure Guild is a social, fantasy role-playing game (RPG) for iOS and Android. Up to four players create a party of brave adventurers and take turns exploring a fantasy world filled with monsters and spells.
“MAGIC brings in people from the game industry who give us feedback on our user interface and on marketing the game,” said Rabb. “It’s been so beneficial to get industry insights on how to make our game better.”
Rockholz believes MAGIC Spell Studios will be a big draw for future students looking to start their own companies.
“What this new center is going to become is a hive of students who can breed game studios, not just student projects,” said Rockholz. “For me, it was the gaming labs that were the draw for me to attend RIT. And RIT not only provides you a great education, but a great portfolio. Everyone gets jobs.”
Darkwind Media is a gaming software company in Rochester founded by RIT alumni Colin Doody, Matt Mikuszewski, Brian Johnstone, and Scott Flynn. The company develops gaming software and provides consulting services to other game development studios. Doody and Mikuszewski graduated from RIT’s new media interactive development program, and Johnstone and Flynn were software engineering majors. Doody also earned his master’s degree in game design and development from RIT. Darkwind Media recently became a START-UP NY company and moved from RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator to the RIT Downtown Center at 40 Franklin Street.
Doody says that if the Rochester region builds a reputation as an area where games are being made, then more startup game studios would be willing to stay.
“I think that with MAGIC Spell Studios, there is a much larger opportunity to do production-level work that will gain recognition and to incubate games that will be those small studio success stories,” said Doody. “Once those stories get out there, people will recognize Rochester as a place to be and I think that makes studios less likely to leave.”
It’s becoming more common for the top movie studios to produce and distribute a blockbuster film and a tie-in video game. For example, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced the 2013 Academy Award-winning animated film “Frozen” along with dozens of Frozen-themed video games. Phelps says the new RIT facility will capitalize on this convergence between the film/animation and gaming industries, and encourage multidisciplinary production-level projects among the students.
MAGIC Spell Studios will be a sandbox for gaming students to work with students from RIT’s nationally recognized graphic design program and film and animation programs. This will further prepare students to work on commercially distributed films and games. Several alumni of RIT’s School of Film Animation work at Walt Disney Animation Studios and contributed to “Frozen”—the highest grossing animated film of all time. Success Story: Following graduation, a group of RIT student who started Darkwind Media while in college setup the company’s headquarters in Rochester. Darkwind Media recently moved downtown to 40 Franklin Street from RIT’s Venture Creations.
Graduates of the film school have also gone on to work on blockbuster films such as “Spiderman,” “The Life of Pi,” “Coraline,” and “Tangled.”
A 7,000-square-foot soundstage will be a feature of MAGIC Spell Studios that will allow RIT digital media artists and programmers the opportunity to create professional products and launch their own businesses.
Original plans called for a 3,400- square-foot soundstage, but thanks to a $1.5 million gift from The Wegman Family Charitable Foundation, the university was able to more than double the size. The larger soundstage will offer a wider range of opportunities for RIT students working on digital media projects and provide them with such production amenities as “green screen” cyclorama, motion capture for animation, and a full complement of the lighting, set, and camera support needed for studio production.
The larger soundstage will also be a draw for independent filmmakers, allowing them to apply for tax incentives through The New York State Film Tax Credit Program. The tax incentives are designed to increase the film production and post-production industry presence and overall positive impact on the state’s economy.
“A large, modern, professional soundstage will give us greater opportunity to attract independent film productions, which is not only economically beneficial to the region, but also provides incredible work experiences for our students,” said Malcolm Spaull, administrative chair of RIT’s School of Film and Animation. “We believe this new facility, with its connection to RIT’s film school, and now with the availability of tax credits, will be very attractive to producers.”
MAGIC will be the host site for the annual New Media Consortium (NMC), an international conference that draws top new media and technology experts from universities, colleges, museums, and research centers. The conference will be held June 14-16, 2016, on the RIT campus and at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. A series of RIT presentations at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center is planned. RIT is the first university to host NMC since 2011. Registration is open and papers are being accepted. For details go to www.nmc.org.