Despite an Oscar on his shelf and countless other awards, renowned animated film director Chris Landreth found himself looking for whatever break he could find when it came time to begin production on The Spine, his latest computer-animated short film.
Luckily for Landreth, the animation department at Seneca College in Toronto were exploring ways recent graduates of their three-year animation course and eight-month post-grad program could get real-world experience with the skills they’d been taught.
“We were actually trying to formalize some sort of way for students to finish films after they had finished our course,” recalls Sean Craig, coordinator of the 3-D animation program, “because typically we don’t allow students to make film while they’re trying to learn all the theory and the software while they’re in school with us.”
A call from Landreth inspired the creation of the school’s first Summer Institute in Animation, created expressly to allow 15 Seneca grads to work on The Spine. Now nominated for a Genie award, The Spine is very much a continuation of where Landreth was going with Ryan, the Oscar-winning short that was also completed with the help of Seneca Students in 2003. The story of a dysfunctional couple, it’s enhanced by wildly surreal visual metaphors, where characters sprawl bonelessly or inhabit bloated, oversized bodies, their bodies twisting and transforming according to their state of mind.
Communicating his unique visual perspective was a priority for Landreth. “By hanging out with them over the course of an afternoon for about a half hour every week we’d be able to get a gelled vibe on how to go forward with the art of the film.” At the end of the week the whole crew, with Craig as director of animation, would get together to watch the rushes, to see how everyone else was working on their individual tasks and how everything was being edited together.
“I know a lot of schools have internships with studios and job placements, but I don’t know that there has been anything like this done before,” he said. Landreth adds “my personal experience in both of the films I’ve worked on with Seneca was that it was a better experience to work with students than to work with seasoned professionals because they were artistically hungry people and wanted to prove their chops.”