By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
As video game houses and movie production companies continue to push the boundaries in digital animation, they continue to drive demand for employees with the latest industry knowledge, strong animation skills and unhampered imaginations.
Eleven students and graduates from Seneca's Animation Arts Centre worked on the Oscar-winning animated short film, Ryan.
Among the schools helping to meet this ongoing need for fresh talent is Seneca College, whose six-semester animation program teaches traditional and computer animation -- a necessary combination of skills for succeeding in the digital realm.
"We think hand drawing is extremely important," says Dave Bass, head of the 3-D department at Seneca. "The computer is a wonderful tool, but the fundamentals are still based in observation. They need to develop an ability to draw and see things in space and understand anatomy."
Students learn all the essentials, including pre-production, character and location design, writing, storyboarding, production, acting, timing, animation, post-production, lighting, compositing, editing and rendering. They also become well-versed at using standard industry software such as Maya 3-D. By the time they graduate, they will be able to produce believable characters for broadcast on TV, in film or on the web.
"We create extremely well rounded students who will slip into industry seamlessly," Bass says.
The school's Animation Arts Centre has developed such a good reputation that in 2002, 11 of its students and graduates had an opportunity to work on Ryan, a ground-breaking film about Canadian animation icon Ryan Larkin, that won an Oscar on Sunday in the best animated short film category.
One graduate who had a hand in the film was Sebastian Kapijimpanga, a classically trained animator who was in the process of completing a four-month course at Seneca in 3-D animation. Getting in from the ground floor, he was able to test new ideas and create models based on those ideas until something hit.
Kapijimpanga says the chance to put his theoretical skills to practical use was an invaluable experience.
Basilica is a work by Louis Vottero, a graduate of the International Academy of Design and Technology.
"It was a big part of my education, getting work experience. Everything you learn in school, you never see the application until you get to work," he says.
During his four months at Seneca, Kapijimpanga benefited from the insights of teachers with industry experience, and was able to top up his classical training enough so that he could enter the more lucrative field of digital animation.
After graduating, he managed to find work as a teacher's assistant in the Seneca program, until eventually scoring a job as a character animator at DKP Effects, one of the country's largest animation, visual effects and compositing post-production companies.
"I focus in bringing characters -- whether humanistic or animalistic -- to life. It's a fantastic place to work," he says.
Working in the same building as him is character animator Louis Vottero, a graduate of the International Academy of Design and Technology's computer animation program. The one-year program (no breaks) features intensive training in the entire cycle of pre-production/visualization, production and post-production.
"One of the best parts of the program was that you always had access to computers, and the teachers were always on hand to answer questions," Vottero says.
About halfway through the year, the students begin working on a one- to two-minute demo reel that will showcase their talents. So impressive was Vottero's own demo reel, that within weeks of finishing the program in October 2004, he landed his DKP job.
He's now working on feature film called Yankee Irving, a directorial project of Christopher Reeve's until he died last October.
"I didn't think this would happen so quickly. But I'm quite happy to be working in my field, and at this level."
Another new arrival on the digital animation scene is Joe Khoury, a graduate of two of Sheridan College's esteemed post-graduate programs, computer animation and digital character animation. From 2002 to 2004, Khoury, who already has graphic design degree under his belt, learned everything there was to know about character performance and advanced character/creature creation.
Khoury's big break came during a "screening day" during the second year, which is when the school invites influential industry executives to peruse the students' work. Khoury's demo reel displayed his prowess in the area of facial expressions, and made an impression on an executive from at Electronic Arts (EA), the world's leading independent developer and publisher of interactive entertainment software for PCs.
A short while after graduating and returning to his native Montreal, he landed a job at EA as a character animator, and today uses his skills on upcoming versions of games such as Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer, The Lord of the Rings and Medal of Honor.
"It's great to be working at the biggest company in the gaming world," he says. "I'm lucky to be doing what I want to do."
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