PORTFOLIO: Highly Animated

Don Perro, program coordinator and an instructor of the commercial animation program believes that the strong emphasis on professionalism and training in a variety of styles helps Capilano University grads get ahead. Photo: Rob Newell
Don Perro, program coordinator and an instructor of the commercial animation program believes that the strong emphasis on professionalism and training in a variety of styles helps Capilano University grads get ahead. Photo: Rob Newell

The hum inside the Bosa Centre at Capilano University isn’t the heating system — it’s the gears of hundreds of minds turning with creativity. When you walk in the front doors, you immediately sense that you’re among artists. The state-of-the-art building, which opened about a year ago, houses film and animation students who are furiously at work bringing new characters and worlds to life.

“You’re surrounded by like-minded people,” says Simon Edwards, a second-year commercial animation student. “I’ve learned what it’s like to work cooperatively with other people in an environment like a studio.”

Capilano University offers three programs in animation — commercial animation, digital animation and visual effects. Carrying either a diploma or a certificate, these programs are all designed with the goal of employment in the industry.

“We called it commercial animation because… you’re basically a chameleon of styles and designs, and are really geared towards stepping into a studio and working without a lot of supervision,” says Don Perro, program coordinator and an instructor of the commercial program.

The three programs are all heavily vocation-based, with guest speakers and instructors from the industry and constant communication between the department and animation studios.

“I always [ask] students when they come in here ‘Are you looking for a job… or are you looking for a career?’” says Craig Simmons, program coordinator of the digital program. “When things go up and down in this industry, a career is what we want our students to get.”

The digital animation program, which began in 1999, was created as a supplementary certificate for the two-year commercial animation students to take as a third year.

“The idea of digital animation is that it becomes a third year for people who want it and we recruit from other places as well,” says Simmons. “A lot of our students come through the two years and go to the third year.”

Simmons also coordinates the summer programs, where students can get a sample of any of the three animation streams for two months. “There should be a way to starting on that path,” says Simmons.

“Some people are shocked, they come in here and suddenly they’re drawing for eight to 10 hours a day or working on a computer and they’ve never done that much before.”


Craig Simmons, the digital animation program coordinator. Photo: Rob Newell

With less than 30 students being accepted to each animation program once a year, competition for spots in the classes is fierce.

“We like to keep [the classes] small because in good years and bad, the industry is cyclical. Even in bad years our students get jobs because we’re not throwing a bunch out there,” says Perro.

Like many who apply to the animation programs at Capilano University, Edwards wasn’t accepted on his first try. “I thought I could draw,” says Edwards, who was considered one of the top art students in high school in Kelowna.

“I didn’t get in because I didn’t get what life drawing was,” says Edwards.

Perro agrees that life drawing is crucial, as well as an eye for design and technical skill. By drawing from real life, scenes or people, life drawing is just that — drawings with life in them.

Starting last year, the animation department began accepting portfolios posted online, so applicants can now post their work to a blog or website and send that, rather than hauling piles of paper to campus.

Out of the acceptable applications, ranging in number from about 40 to 80 portfolios, Perro provides a small assignment to test the applicants to further whittle down the numbers.

“I just took a picture of one of my daughter’s teddy bears… and say ‘OK start with this and create an original character design based on it.’”

With cutting edge classrooms, including tablet computers for each student to use, and instructors with experience working in the industry, Capilano University’s animation program continues to make a name for itself as more quality graduates enter the field.

“Cap grads are everywhere,” Edwards, who is currently on a summer internship at DHX Media as part of his studies, points out. “I work myself with Cap grads.”

With so much to learn in just two years, Edwards points out that the heavy workload and long hours can “get a little much.”

Often at school for 10 to 12 hours a day working on assignments or projects, drawing and refining, Edwards believes this greatly improves an artist’s technical skill.

“You’re locked in this chamber of drawing,” he jokes. “You can only get better.”

And you don’t have to look too hard to see the results.

Several Cap U graduates have won awards for their work, including Sarah Airriess and Clio Pitt, who both contributed to Paperman, which won Disney the Oscar for best animated short film earlier this year.


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