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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

3-D animators coast into new territories

By Geoff Girvitz
Special to The Toronto Sun

You never know in what direction technology will take you. However, in the case of animation, it's not so much a question of what direction, but how far.
In the realm of computer games, including XBox's Amped, above, 3-D animation continues to push the envelope.

Toronto's DaVinci Institute addresses this issue with an individualized approach to education. President and co-founder David Woodworth says 3-D animation is a huge field -- one that pulls in capable individuals from all over the country to fuel its growing needs.

"Whether it's for architectural design, medical research, surgery or entertainment," Woodworth says, "there's no question that there is work out there for 3-D animators."

When asked how the institute prepares students to undertake that work, he is quick to tout its small class sizes. Teachers have more time to spend with individuals, which gives them the chance to find a synergy between students' existing skills and what they're actively being taught.

"We're a small college and will always be that way," Woodworth says. "Finding the numbers has never been a problem."

This custom-tailored approach to education is a great fit for many up-and-coming animators. Yet, it is not the only quality program within the Toronto area. For those interested in traditional animation, Sheridan College

Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning also offers fantastic learning opportunities.

"I always had a natural affinity for animation," says 3-D animator Lou Solis. "So it just seemed like a natural step to enrol at Sheridan."

After graduating from the college's "very hands-on" classical animation program in 1997, he landed his first paying gig with none other than Disney.

As excited as he was about animating a series of educational CD-ROMS for the renowned company, the reality did not exactly live up to his expectations. Solis thought he'd see a well-designed and organized environment, but experienced something altogether different.
DaVinci Institute president David Woodworth, left, with 3-D animation student Ryan Lewis. Students learn to apply their skills to many fields, including architectural design, medical research and entertainment.

"Actually, I was surprised to see just how ramshackle the studios were," he smiles.

What Solis later realized was that Disney's studios differ little from most others. He estimates that at least 50% of animators are going to spend at least some time working in places like these. "The best thing to do is just get used to it."

Solis didn't have to get too used to things at Disney, though. The job was short-lived and he soon headed back to Canada, where he divided his time between working for two Ottawa animation houses, Amberwood Productions and Dynomight Cartoons.

Making a living as an animator requires either luck or talent, Solis says -- and often a combination of both. During his Ottawa days, he would often work late into the night to bring home $600 or $700 a week. He also found himself spending extra time developing hitherto untapped skills.

The animator suddenly found himself creating storyboards for children's cartoons such as Bad Dog and Hoze Houndz. "That's the thing," he says, "whatever you think you want to be doing . . . you still wind up having to learn everything."

Learning "everything" is no quick journey, though. As such, opportunities continued to lead Solis all over North America. After several more road trips, he found himself in New York, working on an MTV program called Downtown.

Putting in long hours at an assistant director for the stylish, animated drama, Solis was in charge of everything from animating specific scenes to sheet timing to direction.

Describing the experience as his "first big break," it added more than just animation to Solis' pool of knowledge.

"I learned everything I know about how studios work while at MTV," he says. Along the way, he also made some important contacts that have continued to benefit his career.

One of those contacts helped him to land his most exciting job to date; that of an animator for a new program on Comedy Central. Produced by comedian Denis Leary's Apostle Pictures, House Arrest will feature animated versions of standup routines from acclaimed comics.

Solis is happy about the creative freedom he now enjoys and is optimistic about the show's chances for success. As evidence of the network's confidence in the program, the animator points out that it's slated to follow animated bad-boy South Park.

When it comes to the future, Solis is unsure. While he still calls Toronto his home base, he knows that work could potentially take him anywhere.

"The animation industry is a nomadic one," he says. For the time being, however, he's happy to stay exactly where he is.

(Geoff Girvitz is some things to all people. Write him at (

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