Centre for Arts and Technology Instructor Prepares Students to Fill the Animation Talent Gap
No industry is immune from the skills gap, but technology-driven niches are in particularly dire straits. Disruption cuts both ways, after all — the faster new tech upends old ways of doing things, the faster-talented workers find themselves innovated out of the labor market.
Employers, policymakers, and educators are all painfully aware of the problem, and they’re acting with a sense of urgency commensurate with the moment. Whether they’re able to stay ahead of the talent gap — or anticipate future AI-driven disruptions that may render the current situation quaint by comparison — is an open question. But the signs thus far are encouraging.
Plugging the Animation Skills Gap, One Workshop at a Time
At The Centre for Arts and Technology, a digital arts school in Kelowna, British Columbia, one ambitious animation instructor is doing his part to give aspiring animators a leg up in a fast-changing industry. In the process, he just may boost their employment prospects — and establish his institution as a top-of-mind source of animation talent for employers desperate to fill high-paying animator roles.
The secret: a “multi-training workshop” for graphic arts students set up by CAT animation instructor Sean Ridgway.
Ridgway’s initiative was born out of necessity. He hatched the idea in the third quarter of 2018, amid “a rare perfect storm of studio closures and layoffs here in BC,” he recalls. That set up CAT students graduating into the labor market for frustration — with hundreds of experienced animators laid off in the Vancouver area, employers weren’t particularly interested in hiring fresh, presumably unproven faces.
Mercifully, the local animation downturn proved temporary. By the first quarter of 2019, a Kelowna-based animation studio announced two major new productions that would collectively require up to 80 FTE animators — a healthy number in such a small market.
Ridgway sprang into action, approaching the studio (Yeti Collective) about launching a bootcamp to give his graphic design students a crash course in the collective’s preferred 2D animation software.
A CAT grad on Yeti’s staff loved the idea and agreed to help Ridgway implement the initiative, whose practicum would focus on “communicating and drawing the parallels between a CG software like Autodesk Maya” — with which the CAT students were more familiar — and Yeti’s 2D animation suite. In the spirit of collaboration, the team named the project “Harmony Bootcamp.”
The initiative was a smashing success. Ridgway’s Yeti contact “took these grads from A to Z in terms of software proficiency over a three-weekend period,” recalls Ridgway, thanks in no small part to CAT’s willingness to provide access to the school’s animation facilities during off-hours. The results speak for themselves: “To date, five graduates have successfully tested, interviewed and landed a contract with Yeti,” says Ridgway.
Once and future CAT students were enthusiastic about the initiative as well. One of the bootcamp participants who eventually landed a job with Yeti was Trew Lenz, a recent CAT grad.
“CAT’s Harmony Bootcamp was not only a great opportunity for myself to broaden my skill set, but to also give me an opportunity at another avenue to break into the industry,” Lenz recalls. “Along with the help from the instructors that work currently in the animation industry, taking the Bootcamp not only taught me how to animate in a program that I had previously never used before, but it also gave me the extra step I needed to get into the industry with my first job.”
And that’s how you bridge the skills gap, one ambitious student at a time.
Setting the Stage for Challenges Ahead
Like many technology-driven disciplines, animation has undergone dramatic changes since its first emergence. Within living memory, the predominant animation medium has evolved from what might charitably be described as a “sophisticated flipbook” to something wholly digital, endowed with vast computing power.
The animation industry’s changes are not yet complete. Indeed, as AI-enabled processes like image recognition and natural language processing improve by leaps and bounds, it’s very likely that animation will evolve in ways that we can’t yet contemplate — and sooner than we imagine.
Will the “new animation normal” have a place for human animators? Probably. History demonstrates that humanity usually finds a way to remain relevant amid larger-than-life changes to the status quo, although it’s also true that history has no ready parallel for the present turning. But those human animators who do manage to remain relevant, come what may will do so because they recognize the criticality of learning into the skills gap, rather than waiting for it to overtake their careers.