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Alumni News

Made in Canada:Animation industry booming on both sides of the border

June 20, 2014

Much has changed since Sheridan launched its world-renowned animation program 40 years ago. Most notably, technology has allowed Sheridan animators to produce increasingly sophisticated and award-winning special effects. In 2013 alone, over 60 Sheridan alumni contributed to Oscar-nominated animated feature films, and two graduates received Scientific and Technical Academy Awards in 2014.  Although the 1980s and 1990s saw a steady stream of grads heading to California to work at the big studios, the industry has since experienced a growth of opportunities for animators in Canada, particularly in television and digital media.

Five top-level animation grads reflected on this and other shifts in their industry as part of a panel at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI) on June 16. Panelists Rex Grignon (1984), Head, Character Animation, DreamWorks; Kris Pearn (1997), Director, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2; Peter Lepeniotis (1992), Director and Writer, The Nut Job; Frank Falcone (1992), President and Creative Director, Guru Studio; and Darin Bristow (1995, 1999), Director, Studio Operations, Corus Entertainment spoke at Corus Quay on the last day of the festival.

“It used to be close to knighthood if you got the call to come to LA, but the draw is not as strong now. The television industry in Canada is booming,” said Bristow, speaking from the home of Corus’ Nelvana which has produced multi-award-winning children’s programming.

Toronto-based Guru Studio’s highly successful television series, Justin Time is another case in point. Aired in over 70 countries, the Emmy-nominated series was #1 in its time slot on NBC Kids last year. Justin Time also won the 2014 Canadian Screen Award for Best Pre-School Program or Series. “The fact that you can make a hit show with international reach less expensively here than in the U.S. is a game changer,” said Falcone. “There is no reason why we can’t create an internationally renowned studio system based in Canada, and Sheridan has a strong role to play as we move towards that goal. There are many Sheridan graduates at Guru. They think deeply and they care, and that makes all the difference.”

Regardless of where or in which medium they pursue their art, animators should not underestimate the value of “soft skills” to their success, agreed the panelists. “Ninety percent of making a film is social so you need to learn how to collaborate,” said Pearn. “Be humble. Be kind. The industry is competitive but a good bedside manner is important.”

Knowing how to work with others can sometimes trump technical expertise, said Grignon. “I have hired the person who is easier to work with over the better artist. Animators should know how to listen, speak to others and take direction.” He added that Sheridan’s “collaborative, less cut-throat learning environment” gives grads a step up in developing these skills.

Humility goes a long way, agreed Falcone. “Have a tough skin. The best artists are those who take criticism and come back with something truly unexpected and exceptional.”