Renowned school built its rep on animation

You may never have heard of The Chubbchubbs!, but you know who Harry Potter is, and you're aware that Shrek has invaded the world.

You may never have heard of The Chubbchubbs!, but you know who Harry Potter is, and you’re aware that Shrek has invaded the world.

The link is behind-the-scenes involvement from graduates of the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Sheridan alumnus Eric Armstrong won a 2003 Oscar for best animated short for The Chubbchubbs!, and is credited as animation supervisor SPI on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001).

Rejean Bourdages was the story artist on Shrek (2001) as well as on Shark Tale (2004), along with David Soren from DreamWorks animation – more successful graduates from Sheridan’s animation program.

‘Sheridan is synonymous with animation,’ says Angela Stukator, associate dean, animation (Sheridan has five associate deans), as she hosts a personal tour through the new 37,000-square-foot animation building.

‘And the students all have their own light tables,’ beams Stukator, opening yet another new door in the expansive $9-million wing that still smells of fresh paint.

Remarkably, Sheridan continues to teach invaluable basics on light tables before allowing students to upgrade to digital techniques on state-of-the-art equipment during the three-year animation program.

Symbolic of the college’s progress, success and history, the new animation wing is home to 450 of the 15,000 full-time students (34,000 including part-time students) on the sprawling Oakville campus located 40 kilometers outside Toronto, a commuter ride that allows time for homework and laptop renditions.

Sheridan’s long list of graduates with global accolades includes producer Erin Faith Young, whose short doc Hardwood received an Oscar nomination in 2004.

However, it is the animation school that provides a virtual training ground for the Academy Awards and a Petri dish for animation production hubs in both Canada (Nelvana, Cuppa Coffee, the National Film Board) and Hollywood (DreamWorks and Disney).

‘Animation goes back almost to the beginning,’ explains Michael Collins, dean of Sheridan’s School of Animation, Arts and Design, who has been chief for seven of his 31 years at the college.

‘Stress was on the arts, commercial arts, drawing and painting,’ explains Collins, noting that Sheridan has a whopping 4,500 arts students.

The dean also points out that Sheridan has always been the avant-garde of animation schools in the country, starting a digital program 15 years ago. ‘Our most noticeable and significant contribution to the arts is the animation program,’ Collins continues. ‘It provides the basis for an animation industry in Canada and gives us a foothold in the U.S.’

Collins and Stukator are keenly aware that Oscars and Hollywood success stories carry a lot of weight. However, in separate interviews, both take great pride in their Canadian roots.

‘Brenda Clark is a graduate from Sheridan who [helped develop] Franklin the Turtle for Nelvana, and a lot of our students went to work there over the years,’ explains Collins.

Cookie Jar Group CEO and Nelvana cofounder Michael Hirsh sits on the fund-raising cabinet for the college, and Stukator is actively developing relationships with animation companies across Canada, in Los Angeles and as far away as China.

Collins says the future looks bright for a school that keeps pace with technology.

‘We’re moving towards a world of automated animation,’ he notes. ‘It’s coming. They’re already doing it in pre-visualization. It’s already in game development, and we’re on the verge of seeing it as a tool for animation.’

Newer to the school is its media and journalism division, headed up by CBC news veteran and associate dean Sandy McKean.

‘Most media arts [students] walk out of here with a diploma and a job,’ says McKean, emphasizing that the eight different programs ‘provide them with skills that prepare them for the marketplace.’

A perfect success story is that of Richie Mehta, a graduate of the advanced television and film program (see story opposite).