RIT unwraps MAGIC Spell Studios, called a future hub for game design and film

You might call it Hollywood East. Or the Big Apple North. But the dozens of people who turned out for the grand opening Tuesday call the new building at Rochester Institute of Technology the MAGIC Spell Studios.

The 52,000-square-foot, $31 million building contains five classrooms, a sound stage, two-dimensional and three-dimensional animation studios, and two movie theaters. It’s all to help teach and commercialize the work of budding game designers, animators and filmmakers trained at RIT.

The new MAGIC Spell Studios at RIT. Photo provided by RIT
The new MAGIC Spell Studios at RIT. Photo provided by RIT

Elected officials praised the project as a giant leap forward in making the Finger Lakes Region a film-making and game-design capital, which will both create jobs and attract students and businesses who want to use the state-of-the-art-facilities. Forbes Media has already established an outpost in the partner studio space, using the help of students and faculty to design and test a publishing app used by the company’s reporters to file stories.

“It’s exciting to play the same game that is played in Hollywood and New York City. Before this building, we weren’t doing that,” said David Long, director of MAGIC Spell Studios.

Though the building has been in use since August, this week’s grand opening was its public debut, hosting scores of elected and economic development officials, along with business people and professors who teach the arts and sciences behind game design, animation and film-making.

The MAGIC program (it stands for Media, Arts, Games, Interactive, and Creativity) has been in existence for five years but was limited in facilities, Long said.

Nevertheless, budding game designers such as Noah Ratcliff, a fourth year student from Columbus, Ohio, have created fledgling companies to further the games they designed at RIT.  Ratcliff, along with fellow students Aidan Markham of Rochester and Sam Cammarata of Holland, Erie County, have created an award-winning game that plays on tablets and mobile phones based on delivering virtual garbage plates to customers.

Ratcliff told the audience of about 100 people gathered for the opening that development of Crazy Platez was helped along at every step by MAGIC, from direct support to connecting the students to the people and resources they needed.

“They pay us to work full time on our project,” he said. Crazy Platez is in beta testing now and Ratcliff expects it will be released to the public by the end of this year by his company, Aesthetic Labs, LLC.

Long said Ratcliff is participating in RIT’s Co-Up program, which provides employment and guidance for students who are creating their own businesses instead of working for existing companies.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, winking at her pun about MAGIC, said “this is really a game changer.” She reflected on how many upstate residents have watched the demise of the manufacturing economy that used to power cities such as Buffalo and Rochester. “This will become an economic powerhouse. This has unbelievable potential,” she said. “When you’re a smart, young person, this is the place you’ll want to come.”

NYS Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle reflected on the time some years ago when former RIT President William Destler and other university officials met with him to seek state funding for new facilities. Morelle told them, “This is good, but we need a ‘wow’ project.” That set off a twinkle in Destler’s eye that became this week’s MAGIC studios.

“Students who will be here for generations will owe a great debt to you,” he said to Destler, who attended the opening.

The project was put together with $13.5 million in state funding, and $17.9 combined from Dell, Cisco Systems, The Wegman Family Charitable Foundation and RIT Trustee Austin McChord.

RIT President David Munson said 50 million Americans play video games and 225,000 people are employed in that industry.

“We intend to grow more,” Munson said. “I’m convinced MAGIC Spell Studios will make the Finger Lakes an industry hub.”

The sound stage in the MAGIC Spell Studios is 7,000 square feet. Photo supplied by RIT.
The sound stage in the MAGIC Spell Studios is 7,000 square feet. Photo supplied by RIT.

Long said the game design and film and animation programs are expanding to take advantage of the facilities. Currently the university has about 1000 game design majors and 400 film and animation majors, but starting with the current freshman class, that enrollment is expanding by 30 percent over the next four years. Other majors such as new media and art will undoubtedly make use of the studio, too, he said.

MAGIC is partnering with a number of businesses such as Forbes Media.

Students gain valuable real-world experience from such residential partners, and “partners are here because of direct access to the students and faculty,” Long said. Companies partnering with RIT have a talent pool of creative students to draw from, often at much less expense than assembling a team in New York City, he said.

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