Photo courtesy Max the Mutt.
Nothing beats watching cartoons on a Saturday morning—unless you’re actually watching impressive student demo reels at Max the Mutt Animation School. This past weekend, the public was invited to tour the Queen and Shaw facility, which offers diplomas in 3-D Computer Animation, Concept Art for Animation and Video Games, and Illustration for Sequential Arts (think comic books and graphic novels). The programs are hardcore, not something for the hobbyist who fancies himself the next Stan Lee or Matt Groening: students don’t even touch a computer during their first year, which is devoted entirely to classical drawing, and they can expect to spend thirty-four hours a week in the studio. Says Development Director Carla Drmay: “The people who succeed are those who have passion and are able to keep up with the constantly changing technology. But above all they must be strong in visual arts. Too many students become seduced by the digital component and don’t maintain their drawing level, which is the most important thing.”
In the face of a recession, Max the Mutt is creating jobs in a flourishing industry. In the last two years, ninety-eight to one-hundred per cent of graduates found work, and most of them stayed employed; the tight deadlines and intense workload prepares students for working in their field. There are industry nights (reps from DreamWorks have made past appearances), paid internships, and job interview training; grads have job opportunities emailed to them and maintain contact with the school. “The industry is not suffering,” says Drmay, naming several Canadian companies that hire their grads, including Nelvana in Toronto, Mercury Filmworks in Ottawa, and Fatkat Animation in Miramichi, New Brunswick.
Instructor Nina Bunjevac echoes this sentiment. “Graphic novels are becoming more popular, with the release of films like Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir. There is always a need for children’s book illustrators. Even with big companies merging, there is a lot of work.” Besides the major studios, Canada is also home to several small independents, which always have little projects available. The one caveat is that contract assignments seem to dominate the type of work available, and once a one- or two-year contract is up an employee can either hope it’s renewed or be forced to look for a new one. So while work opportunities may be plentiful, those opportunities are usually short, rather than than long, term.
Nonetheless, there was a palpable sense of optimism about the future among the animators-to-be. First-year student Chris Brown proudly showed off his portfolio (which included sketches of his vision for the new Batsuit) and talked excitedly about his dream of one day designing comic book covers. “But even if that doesn’t work out, I can always get a job designing company logos or movie posters. There are all kinds of gigs out there. I can be a self-made artist.” Brown may one day, economy be damned, find himself one of Mutt’s successful alumni, a list that includes Matt Rose, current production manager for Electronic Arts—a job that the nearest video game geek will tell you is sort of a big deal.