It’s not often in a fledgling career as an animator that you get to work with an Oscar-winning master of your chosen art.

Yet for 15 Seneca College graduates, that dream became a reality last summer when they were tapped to work on Chris Landreth’s newest animated film, The Spine.

Landreth, who won an Academy Award in 2004 for his moody, surrealist short animated film Ryan, says the 15 Seneca animators — recent graduates from the school’s animation program — who worked for the production of The Spine did work he’s extremely happy with.

“These students were on a professional schedule that was intended for professional people, and they finished ahead of schedule. (The characters in The Spine) were incredibly complex, expressive characters and these students worked very hard. They rocked, basically,” Landreth said.

The film, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Cooperheart Animation and C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, has already won the Best of the Festival award at the Melbourne International Animation Festival and looks primed for further success on the festival circuit.

For animator and Seneca graduate Andrew Gregoire, 26, getting to work with Landreth closely through the creative process was an incredible experience.

“To have that kind of opportunity was amazing. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance and you want to put your best into it,” Gregoire said. “The wealth of knowledge Chris was able to impart on us as animators and those observational skills we learned — that was amazing.”

Dianna Basso, 27, found the best part of working with Landreth was how supportive he was of the animators. Working on the The Spine has taken her to a new level creatively.

“The experience totally propelled me. (Chris) gives you a lot of creative freedom so he was really inspiring to work with. We were all saying how lucky we were,” Basso said.

Landreth, however, sees no luck in the equation at all, saying the quality of work the former students did spoke for them when it came time to find animators to make his vision come to life.

“My agenda as a filmmaker is to get a film done however it can be done to get the best piece of art I can do,” Landreth said. “These were, as it turned out, the best people I could have found to do the job. They were so prolific and so creative.”

Landreth says the students weren’t looking for an intellectual handout and instead worked exceptionally well, finishing production ahead of schedule and achieving his vision for the film.

“It was a very professional relationship,” Landreth said.

“It wasn’t really an environment where anyone, myself included, was a teacher. I didn’t set out to mentor students — they were very interested in being professionals.”