Arc Productions is a 45,000 square-foot studio in 'Hollywood North'. This Toronto-
based studio has earned a reputation globally for their ability to scoop up some of
the top talent in industry; the studio currently employs over 250 artists and tech
directors--all hand-picked from ll over the continent and from a handful of local
powerhouse schools like Sheridan and Seneca.
Their 45,000 square foot space is open-concept, just like their working
environment. The studio prides itself on its collaborative environment, and the
ability of that environment to foster the communication, energy and creativity
needed to regularly churn out some of the highest-quality feature-length films
One of the company's many exceptional hires was Matthew Teevan, 10-year
DreamWorks veteran and 20-year production industry veteran. Matthew is
currently their VP of Production and has overseen the completion of 3 short films
and 4 major feature films, all since 2006.
We recently caught up with Matthew to chat about his time at Arc and about his
overall experience in the industry. He also offered up some tangible advice for
anyone looking to get into the industry (or Arc) and how to become an artist on
top of being an animator:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to
have such a focus?
We are actually quite diverse – we can handle animated feature films, TV
series, visual effects for feature films and TV as well as Stereo and pretty much
everything in-between, including several award winning home grown short films.
The focus is really to capitalize on the common ground within CG image making.
Every branch of the work is different, a and project is different too. This level
of diversity allows us to be nimble and thus available on a business, as well as
offering several creative options for the crew.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is ________.
‘so bright I gotta wear shades’.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation
There is so much animation work done at every price point imaginable so there
are always new challenges. The opportunities for creativity are endless.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud
For me the movie ‘9’ we did with first-time feature director Shane Acker is one
of the highlights of my personal career and was a milestone for the studio. It
was a challenging movie creatively and came at a challenging time for us. There
was an innovation at every facet of the studio--from how we did business to the
artists work up on the screen. In every aspect the crew rose to the challenge and
we helped the director bring his vision to the screen. It is a landmark for North
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new
A level of expertise in a particular field – be it Modeling, Lighting or Production
Management - is essential. Equally important is understanding the context of
the whole process and ‘owning’ your piece of it. Film making is truly about the
sum of the parts, and in animation, where you are creating every single aspect
separately it is essential that you understand where and how your part fits in.
Both technically how it fits together, but also how it works emotionally and
creatively into the work.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If
none, where do you recruit new hires?
We are fortunate based on our location (Toronto, Ontario) we have some really
good animation schools locally – Sheridan and Seneca are world class – and there
are others too. We have hired several people right out of college and they are
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Look at life. Life drawing is still hugely important. All of the core artistic skills –
understanding of how living things work and being able to describe it with a pencil
is still hugely important. Even when the computer can do a lot of that work for
you, you have to understand it to make it credible. Then the other part is the
emotional side – real life emotions. I find one of the problems that we are starting
to see in visual storytelling – meaning animation and visual effects primarily - is
that a lot of it is becoming derivative of itself. It can start to feel like a Xerox of a
Xerox and loses a certain zest. Studying real life, real emotions is key. Reference
real people or actors as much as other animation. When you can bring a level of
internal ‘thinking’ to an animated character and make it behave the way that it
really would physically, then you really have magic.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
Every project is challenging. In different ways. Gnomeo & Juliet was artistically
challenging – it was a huge step-forward from our prior work. The subject matter
was challenging too, in that we had to figure out a way to stay true to the central
idea – garden gnomes coming to life, and make them look and behave like those
inanimate objects. Yet still imbue them with the necessary level of character to
make the story, and the comedy work. That took a long while to find that balance
creatively, then to support that endeavor practically. Dolphin Tale was challenging
due to the nature of the work. Our visual effects had to be invisible as we were
creating the central character and cutting our shots back to back with the real
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I was self taught so it’s hard to comment. When I got into the business it was
the 1980s, in England. Unemployment was at an all time high – or should that
be all time low - and the British Film Industry was all but dormant, virtually no
films were being made and what was being done was heavily unionized. I was
pretty unaware of any animation or film schools. I had done Art at school and I
did a 1-year government-sponsored training program right out of school – I ran
the projection room running 35 mm prints of ‘Citizen Kane’ for students, loaded
cameras and handled a lot of the A/V equipment, chroma-key and the like. But
I was basically self-taught and was making movies on my dining room table in
Super8 and 16mm. I read a lot of books on film-making, watched a lot of movies
and did a lot of experimental stuff. I was told repeatedly to look for a different
career. But I just pounded the streets, managed to visit the visual effects guys
up at Pinewood and naively wrote letters (no e-mail back then) to people in
the industry that I really admired and asked them how they got their start and
showed samples of my work. Eventually small bits and pieces of all this paid off.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which
one would you recommend to beginners?
We primarily use Maya for our front end and heavy lifting and Mental Ray
for lighting and Fusion and now Nuke mostly for Compositing, we have other
packages for a lot of the effects work and write a lot of our own stuff too. Maya
is sort of the unofficial industry standard and has been for years. I don’t see
that changing, if you have to learn a package, start with what most people out
there are using. If you are starting out find something that works for you and
enables you to do good work, so you can show what you are about and capable of
creatively that is very valuable. You can probably adapt to whatever software is
being used, but people won’t give you that opportunity if they don’t see talent .
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation
Very early in my career I was working one quiet weekend and was getting coffee.
I was not paying much attention and I exited the little room I bumped into a
guy and nearly spilled hot coffee all over him. Fortunately I had the presence of
mind to avoid a mishap. The other guy was George Lucas (who seemed very nice
incidentally and was just visiting the studio). To this day I try to maintain the
precedent of not spilling coffee on childhood heroes.
Has the trend of outsourcing animation overseas affected your firm, if
yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
Out-sourcing is a factor. There is always someone who can do it faster or cheaper
than you. You can’t compete with that if that is what people want. What you can
do is offer a better collaborative film-making experience. That is what we have to
offer. We have had some great experience where we have really been part of the
creative team making the movie and I know we helped make it better. And not
just executed what they thought they wanted, but brought our expertise to bear
on the creative challenges.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for
animators overall? Why?
I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but between the TV work, animated
movies and the number of character-driven visual effects shows I think there
is more animation being done now than ever before. Children’s television has
always been dominated by animation. But now, the creative opportunities are
pretty limitless and this is allowing stories that would not have been possible 10
years ago to be made. To say that Animators are actors is a bit of a cliché, but
like so many cliches it is largely true and the characters typically drive stories.
On a practical note, Animation is also one of the more labour intensive parts
of CG. Even with a stylized look, you still need the character to resonate with
the audience. It will be interesting to see how (and when, and if) performance
capture techniques will start to put any of this type of work back into the hands of
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.