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The Lion Guard

The animated life of Howy Parkins

December 09, 2015

Disney director partners with Ottawa’s Mercury Filmworks for The Lion Guard based on The Lion King

When Howy Parkins graduated from Sheridan’s Classical Animation program in 1984, there was so little work in Toronto he figured he might have to go back to his old summer job at Rogers Cable just to pay the rent. Luckily, he landed a gig in layout at Nelvana which was producing The Care Bear Movie. But the animation field remained unpredictable and many artists needed to relocate to find work, something Parkins was happy to do. “I was willing to go anywhere and do anything for the experience. We were honing our skills and meeting incredibly talented people,” he recalled. 

Parkins’ first stop was London in 1987 where he eventually found work on the hit feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a gig that proved to be game-changer for him. “A lot of great things in life happened for me when I added that credit to my resume.”

Almost 30 years later, Parkins has fond memories of animating in Germany, England and the U.S., as well as a long list of animated series credits to his name, including The Simpsons, Recess, Rugrats and Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Soon, he will celebrate two decades as a director at Disney Television Animation.

Parkins recounted his early days in the industry during a return to Sheridan on November 20 to mark the debut of the feature television movie, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar. Parkins is the director of the movie which aired on November 22 on the Disney Channel (Corus Entertainment Canada) and Disney Junior in advance of The Lion Guard TV series which will premiere in early 2016. Sharing the stage with Parkins were Clint Eland and Christian Larocque of Mercury Filmworks which has been working with Disney to provide the animation for The Lion Guard. Eland is president and CEO, and Larocque is animation director at the Ottawa-based studio.

When The Lion Guard project came up, Parkins was skeptical at first. “It was a pretty daunting challenge. Everybody knows The Lion King. I knew that the fan base would be watching for that traditional classical animation look. It was important that the feature be top quality so we partnered with Mercury to make that happen.”

Mercury Filmworks which employs many Sheridan alumni, has built a great reputation with Disney, added Parkins, not only through the Ottawa studio’s work on The Lion Guard but on several other television series. “Disney turns to studios around the world for animation services and found the best talent right here in Ontario.” This is good news for future animators, Parkins told Sheridan animation students, as Canada is home to many excellent studios with a wealth of opportunities.  

Even if the current industry climate changes, Parkins advises recent graduates against worrying t about the future. “Slow down and let things happen. New animators put so much pressure on themselves to do well right out of the gate. Work hard but enjoy the process and the fun of being in this industry. You have so many options today, both in Canada and around the world.”

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Photo courtesy of Disney

Howy Parkins

Christopher Willis, Emily Hart, Howy Parkins, Nancy Kanter, Ford Riley and Beau Black
Pictured at a VIP screening event of The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar on November 14: from left, Christopher Willis (composer), Emily Hart (VP, Original Programming, Disney Junior), Howy Parkins (Director, "The Lion Guard"), Nancy Kanter (Executive Vice President, Original Programming & General Manager, Disney Junior), Ford Riley (Executive Producer, "The Lion Guard"), Beau Black (Disney Channel/Image Group LA)