Electronic Arts and the University of Central Florida have entered into a partnership agreement to transform the abandoned Expo Centre in downtown Orlando, Florida into the UCF School of Digital Media, Film, and Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy. In short, EA and UCF have teamed up to build a college program to teach the creation of video games, animation, and other forms of digital entertainment. The Expo Centre is still undergoing renovation and the program is only partially running right now, but I had the opportunity to tour Phases I and II of the construction today and UCF has kindly granted me permission to share the photos I snapped. Be sure to click the thumbnails for a closer look.
Orlando's Expo Centre has been sitting mostly empty for over a decade. The facility's cramped spaces have been overtaken by the nearby TD Waterhouse Center (home of the Orlando Magic basketball team) and the Orlando Convention Center. The interior has fallen into a state of disrepair, but EA and UCF are renovating the place to support classrooms, studios, and conference rooms. Phase I of construction is complete, Phase II will be finished next month, and Phase III will begin soon.
The interior lobby is shaping up nicely as new carpet overtakes the old Expo Centre floor. Much of the first floor is still Expo-related, but the new facilities are moving in quick. The first floor is mostly offices and conference rooms. College personnel have already set up shop although much of the building is still under construction. Moving upstairs we come to classrooms. At the moment there are only five classrooms up and running, most of them filled with animation stations or computer facilities. There are no conventional lecture halls in this wing of the building. In fact, the only standard lecture hall I did see had a bank of animation stations off to the side. More offices round out the second and third floors.
A handful of conference rooms are also complete, one of which is already in use. The second floor conference room overlooks the downstairs lobby, but most are featureless rooms unto themselves. Beige, green, and gray are everywhere. Security will be tight when the project is complete; most every door will be outfitted with a card reader for access, as will the elevators and even certain hallways will be protected with layers of locked doors.
The idea behind this partnership is that UCF will train the programmers of tomorrow whom EA will recruit straight out of college. There are no Madden' 06 beta copies or Xbox 360s sitting around here, although I'm told that getting caught playing a video game in the computer lab counts as extra credit. Don't believe that this place will be a no-tech zone, however. When the construction is complete the building will be fully wired as evidenced by the metric assload of cable hanging from the ceiling. Large flatscreen displays will be everywhere. There are even plans to project whatever students are working on in one part of the building on to a large (unfinished) display wall near the lobby (oh yes, that will never be misused).
The UCF School of Digital Media, Film, and Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy is shaping up to be an impressive facility. Work began on the renovation in September 2004 and will wrap up later this year. This venture is one of several partnerships that UCF has formed with local industries (another nearby project involves a hospitality management school run in conjunction with hotelier Harris Rosen) and looks to be both productive and profitable. It's quite possible (and hoped for by the administration) that the next EA blockbuster comes from this program. There's certainly a lot of potential here.