ACM System

UH’s Creative Media Pipeline

Ku‘u enrolled at the University of Hawai‘i-West O‘ahu (UH West O‘ahu) as a freshman majoring in English and when the creative media program was established, she switched her major to up her career game. UH West O‘ahu’s boutique-style and ala carte approach to tailoring students’ academic programs enabled Ku‘u to graduate with a double major in English and creative media in four and a half years that included two internships.

The first was at Oceanit in Honolulu, an innovative, creative science-technology-engineering firm highly respected for its extraordinary success in cutting-edge style of problem-solving and advancement. Her second internship was with The Jimmy Fallon Show in New York City. Today, less than a year after receiving her bachelor’s degree in a program designed to develop 21st Century skills in students, Ku‘u—of Micronesian and Native Hawaiian ancestry—is manager of social media at The Kroc Center of Hawai‘i.

As the first academic program intentionally designed with connectivity throughout all ten campuses, the Academy for Creative Media System (ACM System) is a synergistic breakthrough in the University of Hawai‘i (UH). For at least three decades, UH urged its campuses to act as a system. With its uniquely purposeful and deliberate collaboration among the UH campuses, ACM System made that goal a reality as illustrated by UH West O‘ahu’s formally completed articulation agreements with all seven UH community colleges, creating a two-plus-two pathway for community college students to complete their bachelor’s degree in two years after earning their Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degrees.

Creative media specializations vary widely among the ten campuses. They range in remarkably diverse combinations from UH Mānoa’s cinematics and film and video production in creative media and its nationally-renown data visualization Cyber-enabled Collaboration Analysis Navigation and Observation Environment (CyberCANOE) system; to digital photography and video and 3-D animation at Leeward Community College; to integrative multidisciplinary team approach to realistic problem-solving in design, storytelling, and technology at Honolulu Community College; to game, graphic, interface design and mobile media at UH West O‘ahu; and many more. 

With state-of-the-art equipment and technology access, students at the campuses have been locally and nationally recognized for their award-winning projects. ACM Mānoa has
annually produced over 150 student short films and award-winning feature films—including the documentary State Of Aloha and Go For Broke, co-produced with the 442nd Foundation—and top recognitions at international film festivals.  Honolulu Community College’s students in the Music and Entertainment Learning Experience (MELE) program applied what they learned in class to a real-life experience of compiling and producing the CD Island Music: Gifts of Aloha, made possible through a generous contribution by former Bank of Hawai‘i CEO Al Landon and his wife Sue Landon. Unique real-world experience, often accompanied by access to state-of-the-art equipment, facilities, and internships, enable ACM students early-on to cultivate rare and coveted networks of professional contacts. Reflective of the industry, students are acculturated in academic learning environments that inspire collaboration and teamwork on projects from concept to completion.

The skill sets they develop—in settings where technology and creativity intersect—are highly sought out by professionals. Thus, ACM graduates find themselves as standouts among others vying for positions in the industry.

Creative media’s interdisciplinary approach provides a solid foundation for students transitioning to career choices in a rapidly changing and dynamic field.

The Academy for Creative Media began at UH Mānoa in 2004 and expanded to other campuses through the years. The UH Mānoa program now hosts 450 students in its courses, 140 of whom have declared creative media as their major. UH West O‘ahu has seen the largest growth of majors and is viewed as the most rapidly growing program, increasing from five majors in 2014 to 107 in 2017. Leeward Community College, with over 200 creative media majors and a long history of video and digital project-based entrepreneurship, hosts the largest number of majors on any campus and deserves its claim as the leader among the campuses in creative media. 

One of the earliest ACM System programs at UH West O‘ahu is ‘Ulu‘ulu, the State of Hawai‘i’s official Moving Image Archive and now one of the premiere digital archives in the world. ‘Ulu‘ulu is dedicated to the preservation, digitization and dissemination on-line of Hawai‘i’s analogue visual history, comprised primarily of film and tape formats documenting island history with everything from local television news broadcasts, indigenous films, documentaries, feature films made in Hawai‘i, as well as home movies. As most analogue systems are now obsolete, ‘Ulu‘ulu is engaged in a race against time to save these priceless visual memories, storing the originals in the state’s only humidity and temperature controlled vault with a fire suppression system. Digitized copies are available on line at, while frequent seminars and conferences are held in the ‘Ulu’ulu exhibition area at UH West O‘ahu’s library.

The visionaries of ACM System are Chris Lee—motion picture and television producer, studio executive, media consultant, venture capital entrepreneur, educator, and pioneer of creative media in Hawai‘i—and the late Roy Takeyama—former chair of the UH Board of Regents, highly respected attorney, president of the law corporation of Roy Y. Takeyama and RYT, Inc., consultant on real estate matters, and influential community leader in Hawai‘i. Both entrepreneurs envisioned ACM System as a synergist for a critical new film and television industry in Hawai‘i. Lee raised millions of dollars from private and public sources, including the Hawai‘i State Legislature. Takeyama himself made the largest single private donation of $1 million in the name of Roy and Hilda Takeyama.  Other donors include Roland Emmerich, Jay Shidler, Servco, The Campbell Family, The Kosasa Foundation, Ko Olina Foundation, The MacNaughton Group and others.

Research grants have significantly augmented ACM System. Through the pioneering and entrepreneurial efforts of UH Mānoa Professor of Information and Computer Sciences Jason Leigh and co-principal investigator Chris Lee, the CyberCANOE received financial support of over $5.2 million in funding to the Laboratory for Advanced Visualization & Applications (LAVA) from the National Science Foundation and matching funds from UH Mānoa.

Academy for Creative Media graduates have initiated numerous digital production start-up companies, worked as crew on television series and films including Hawaiʻi Five-0, Lost, The Descendants, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Off the Map, and others. Recognizing ACM as a catalyst for a film studio that would help bolster economic development in the state, the Hawai‘i State Legislature appropriated $35 million for a new state-of-the-art creative media building at UH West O‘ahu in 2016.   There is more to come as ACM System continues to further develop programs on UH campuses and as the state’s economy adapts to new prospects of creative media, including internships and newly-created positions for other Ku‘us who are in the UH creative media pipeline.