For our latest spotlight Q&A, we’re heading north to Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and home to a mighty 3-year animation program that’s worth all the attention it gets. Since its inception over a decade ago, St. Clair College’s Tradigital Animation Program has risen to prominence at a break-neck speed, attracting top talent with its highly selective admission process while carefully cultivating the next generation of animators (many of whom can be found in Hollywood).
Blending foundational techniques with contemporary tools of the trade, it’s little wonder that many of the industry artists and execs we speak to regularly reference the program as a top choice for talent acquisition. Eager to learn more, we caught up with Program Coordinator Richard Moy who explained St. Clair’s unique tradigital curriculum and much more. (This interview, done via email, has been edited for length & clarity).
ACR: Rich, thanks for participating in our latest Q&A! St. Clair College’s animation department dubs itself a ‘tradigital’ program. What are the advantages of this blended approach?
Richard Moy: Our interpretation of the term Tradigital is that we base everything on traditional principles. Whether it is the classic principles of animation, storytelling or composition, we try to make students understand what makes things look good and appealing. Then we teach them how to apply those principles with all the digital tools available. The advantage of this approach is that students don’t think it is the tool that creates quality animation or artwork but rather it is always the artist. It doesn’t matter if it’s a webcam or high end 3D software, if they follow the traditional principles they can tell a story and make it look good.
ACR: The program at St. Clair is known to be a grueling one. What would a typical ‘semester-in-the-life’ be like for a student in your department?
RM: The work load gets quite a bit heavier as you progress through the program so the experience in first semester is very different than in their last but here is a rough idea. Fulltime students will have either 5 or 6 classes per semester. Without an elective, this is roughly 19 hours of class time that is usually split between lecture/demonstrations and in-class work time. In the first three semesters there is a more mixed bag of courses that include animation history, experimental animation, film theory, character and background design as well as animation and life drawing. Starting in semester 4 and for the remaining semesters, the course structure includes classes for 2D and 3D animation, 3D modeling, lighting and rendering and life drawing.
Outside of class time, I would estimate that students put in at minimum the equivalent hours of class time into their homework (at the higher levels of the program) and we have 24 hour access to our facilities so that they can work around their schedules. Students are also encouraged to participate in the Animation Club which raises funds to put on an annual grad show to show off the work of the graduating class. They also organize an annual trip to the Ottawa International Animation Festival and tours at studios whenever the chance arises.
ACR: Perhaps not surprisingly, your graduates have found considerable success in the industry. How do you foster their abilities to be both creative artists and results-driven team players?
RM: We try to keep students responsible for criteria as well as creativity. The third year film project is an example of this. The students write, design and produce their own short film where they have a great deal of creative freedom in the storytelling and art styles that they choose. All of the pre-production is done in one semester and the production happens in another. The marking criteria of the production semester is (based) around a production schedule that they prepare and how well they stick to it (which is evaluated in weekly meetings).
Throughout both semesters, they also participate in group critiques on everything from story to animation. This gives them the creative freedom to express themselves and have some fun while still thinking about realistic production timelines and (possible) revisions of their ideas according to feedback received from their peers.
ACR: Along similar lines, animators often cite problem solving as the single most valuable asset to possess. Do you agree, and how do you nurture students’ problem solving skills?
RM: I would definitely agree with that statement. Every animated sequence or drawing that gets made is really just a creative problem to solve. In almost every assignment we give, students have the opportunity to put their own little twist or personal take on it. This means that every student has a slightly different problem to solve. We make sure they understand the principles of why things are successful and how to use available tools. It’s up to them to use those tools and principles to solve their problem.
ACR: Have overseas outsourcing and other industry trends affected the career paths of young Canadian animators?
RM: To be honest, the outsourcing is nothing new and is just a part of the industry. We make sure to train for the areas that are still done locally but I don’t think it has really altered the career paths of our students. We do, however, try to instill in the students that their training never ends. Technology, software and production methods change and they need to stay current with what employers are looking for if they want to maintain a career. We try to make students understand that they need to be flexible in what tools they use to show off their skills.
ACR: Finally, what insight would you offer to an aspiring young animator?
RM: Wherever a student wants to go for animation training, I think the best preparation is to draw. Draw everything and anything and if possible get into some life drawing classes. Learn to draw technically and learn to make a mess. It’s not that you have to be fantastic at drawing to be a good animator nowadays, but it is the understanding of how things are built, how they move and how they can be believably conveyed on a flat piece of paper or screen that is important. The most accessible way to practice this is through drawing. The other big thing is just to watch animation. Watch it to see how it is done and watch it to be inspired to create something on your own.
ACR: Rich, thank you for telling us a bit more about St. Clair College’s Animation program. It was a pleasure!
RM: Thanks for the opportunity.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.