How Sonya Carey and Switch Animation Launched Toronto’s The Animation Lounge
Sonya Carey, owner and instructor at Toronto’s The Animation Lounge has 15 years of experience as head of studio or head of digital on a variety of 2D productions. During that time, she realized that recruiting in Toronto for 2D productions became very difficult due to the increasing number of projects and a shortage of graduates from animation Colleges. “With all studios in Toronto trying to hire the same people, the poaching and competing left us short of staff,” she recalls. “As a result, I took an approach which helped me to never worry about staff.”
Since early in her career, Carey was a Harmony 2D artist/compositor, she knew the software very well, so she decided to train her staff. “All of those I’ve informally trained over the past 15 years have gone on to have very lucrative careers,” she says. “It became clear that a bit of studio style training would go a long way to help our shortage of staff in Toronto, and to help the underemployed artist to become employable.”
Carey says her goals for the Animation Lounge were born for her love for animation. “I want this style of education to be affordable for everyone and I want to keep the art of film alive,” she notes. “I also want to put some power back in the hands of the artists to create on their own films, outside of studio hours and realize that they are truly valuable.”
Helping her realize her goal is Pete Denomme, CEO/EP of Switch VFX & Animation, who sees in Carey’s vision an inspired way to compliment his own efforts to advance the animation and VFX communities having started the Switch Scholarship Award at five Canadian colleges in early 2017. “Trusting in my ideas and seeing the long-term positive potential for the Canadian industry, Pete invested his resources and offered his studio to me to help bring the vision to life,” she says. “The collaboration of The Animation Lounge, sponsored by Switch Animation was formally announced in February 2019.”
Industry backing has been overwhelming since launch. After a formal introduction of the Lounge by Pete at Kidscreen 2019 both Toom Boom Animation and the Computer Animation Studios of Ontario came on board to support our curriculum and buttress marketing of our workshops in concert with Switch Animation.
Replicating Studio Life
Carey says her vision for the program was to create a series of day-long workshops offering hands on studio experience. “I replicate a day at work, in a studio so that animation students can see that there are more jobs to be done inside of a studio, not just animating. This allows them to target other jobs and unlock some of the mysteries within a production pipeline. I wanted to encourage education for everyone. They are affordable so that everyone can afford to attend. You can take one workshop, or sign up for all of them if you like.”
During its first year, the Animation Lounge has been very active, holding numerous workshops including 12 Toronto-based programs at the Switch VFX & Animation studio, as well as various global locations including the Ottawa Intl. Animation Festival, Kingstoon Animation Festival in Jamaica, Cartoon Network Studios as encouragement for Black Women in Animation, at the Peel Board of Education Summer High School Co-Op Program, Girls in Technology Workshop introducing animation to girls’ grade 6-8, as well as online workshops for a virtual learning experience for students in the U.S.
In 2020, the program will introduce two day workshops to meet the needs of the trainees and will be adding more specialized workshops on storyboarding, directing, producing, animating and rigging. “We will also be offering more networking events since the Lounge’s end-of-day hangout seems to be a big hit,” says Carey. “It’s where people come and talk and find out about studio life and really get into the industry. The idea I had was to enhance other educational facilities.”
The Animation Lounge has been instrumental in helping students who have been underemployed to build the confidence to apply for all types of positions says Carey. “We don’t job hunt for them, but teach them how to look, and where to look during our networking sessions,” she explains. “We also teach the current software and techniques to keep them moving with the trends in animation. We purposely set this up to be a safe environment where there is no poaching and no hiring on the spot. We want studios to feel comfortable sending their staff in for training.”
To find out more about these innovative workshops, visit theanimationlounge.com.
Article first appeared January 27th in Animation Magazine.