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Alumni Profiles

Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen

Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design
Year of Graduation: 2005
Program: Animation

Bringing Stories to Life

Jon Klassen is an award-winning illustrator and animator originally from Niagara Falls who now lives in Los Angeles. In 2010, he received the Governor General’s Literary Award for illustrating Cat’s Night Out, a children’s story by Caroline Stutson. Jon’s work includes a number of art and book collaborations, as well as several high profile film and animation projects, including Henry Selick’s Coraline and the U2 music video I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. He also co-designed a TV spot for the BBC's coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, which won a BAFTA award (British equivalent of the Oscars). 

You describe some of your high-profile work as being the result of lucky breaks. How so?

I've been paired up with a lot very talented people. The U2 video came about because I had written the director, David OReilly, a fan letter about his animation work. We became friends and he asked if I wanted to collaborate on the video.

In the case of the BBC Olympics spot, the director, Marc Craste, had an idea that involved a lot of trees and snow, which both show up a lot in my work, so it seemed like a good fit. With both the U2 video and the BBC spot, I was lucky to work with extremely good directors who took my designs way farther than I even expected.

Being an illustrator on Coraline at the newly formed Laika Studios was exciting, too. The film seemed like an amazing project and my interests were definitely leaning more towards design and illustration. I spent two years in Portland, Oregon working on the film. Previously, I was at DreamWorks in LA on a story internship that had started not long after graduation.

Were you surprised to receive the Governor General's Award in 2010?

Yes, very, very surprised! The book had been a side project and hadn't really gotten a lot of visibility. When I learned I had won, I didn't really know what to do. It was an amazing experience to come back and receive it. 

Why did you choose to study animation and not illustration?

The idea of studio life appealed to me much more than working on my own. I like collaborating and I still try and work with other people as much as I can. Animation is such an amazing form; it requires a lot of planning and focus, and I liked those elements. Plus, a career in animation seemed to provide steadier work than the illustration industry which often involves freelancing. It also didn't hurt that Sheridan's animation program had the best reputation in the country. 

What is the best lesson you learned here?

When you're in a big program with such talented people, it’s easy to narrow your influences to that group, but it's important that you keep your net wider than the college and view your work in a broader context. Once you leave the school, you don't want to have to explain your film by saying, “Well, you had to be there.” You want your work to be understood without any introduction or context.

How would you describe your style? Where do you get your inspiration?

I think it's kind of a bad practice to analyze your own “style” too much. Ideally, it should bend and find its basis in whatever story you are telling. But there are a lot of elements that come up naturally and repeat themselves, based on your own influences and who you are. Knowing that those elements will continue to evolve on their own if I keep making work is a very exciting and inspiring thing.

Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen (left) receives his award from David Johnston, the Governor-General in Ottawa in December 2010.