Photo: A.J. Cote (right) with Big Jump co-founder Cory Morrison (left) in an interview with CTV News about the Ottawa animation industry.
This week, we talked with the creator of Herzing's 2D Animation program, the amazingly talented (and generally awesome) A.J. Cote.
We wanted to learn about the alleged "job boom" for animators in Ottawa, and find out what's driving this trend.
A.J. has worked as an animator in Ottawa for decades, so he definitely has his finger on the pulse of hiring trends and the industry as a whole.
He also helped develop Herzing's animation program, which he says was designed to produce grads for local studios to hire.
In this interview, A.J. explains what's going on with Ottawa's animation scene, why there's a shortage of talent, and how Herzing is filling that gap.
Considering a career in animation? Here's what you need to know.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background in animation?
A.J: I've been working in animation for almost 20 years now. I've worked on a crazy number of productions, all 2D animation for television. I've lived all over the world, and worked for various studios.
Q: What inspired you to develop Herzing's animation program?
A.J: I was inspired to develop Herzing's 2D animation program because I saw a great need for animators trained in Toon Boom Harmony—the industry's leading animation software.
In Ottawa alone there are 4 major studios desperately needing animators trained in this software. They just can't find enough graduates with the right skills.
Q: Why is there a shortage of animation professionals in Ottawa?
A.J: Studios are turning down work or sending it overseas because there are not enough trained animators here.
People don't realize that Ottawa is a major centre for animation in Canada. Students don't know how many opportunities there are, so they're moving elsewhere and choosing different career paths.
One studio quoted they could hire 200 animation graduates if we had them!
Q: What exactly does Herzing's program teach?
A.J: There is NO other college in Canada offering a one-year digital animation course like Herzing College.
We are laser-focused on creating animators ready for the studio environment in one year. We teach the exact skills studios are looking for, so our students can go straight into jobs after graduation.
It's all about the software. No other animation program concentrates on using Toon Boom Harmony for what is called "puppet animation."
That is exactly what Ottawa studios need. It is what 99% of all entry level jobs are in animation.
Example of a character "run cycle" being created in Toon Boom Harmony
Q: Where are Herzing animation grads getting hired?
A.J: We have a very special partnership with Big Jump Entertainment.
Big Jump is a leading Ottawa animation studio who has agreed to provide internships and job opportunities to Herzing animation grads.
Our students get to train in their studio and get mentored by their team. They hire talented grads straight out of our program.
We tailored the animation program to fit Big Jump's needs, and the needs of other local studios. So our students are perfectly positioned to fill those available jobs.
It's a win-win situation.
Related: Herzing Partners with Big Jump: Students Get Studio Experience & Job Opportunities
Q: What kinds of animation projects and shows can grads work on in Ottawa?
A.J: Wow, that's a tough question, because there are so many different opportunities.
You have studios like Mercury Filmworks who do a lot of Disney cartoons. I grew up wanting to work on Disney cartoons—and that dream can come true for any skilled animator here in Ottawa.
You also have studios like Jam Filled who do some really cool projects for Nickelodeon, as well as some super crazy fun cartoons as well.
Then there is Big Jump Entertainment, a great studio that has done some really cool "prime time" shows like F is for Family for Netflix, and Camp WWE for Stoopid Buddies (Creators of Robot Chicken).
These shows are especially fun because the humor is geared towards adults. I could seriously go on forever about the opportunities for animators here in Ottawa.
Q: What raw talent or skills do you need to become an animator?
A.J: The "ideal" candidate for animation training is passionate about cartoons, games, anything involving comics - or they might be an artist.
Raw talent or characteristics? Passion...period. Some drawing skills are useful, but that can be worked on during the animation program. You simply must be willing to learn and work hard.
Q: What's the best thing about working in animation?
A.J: To this day, I LOVE seeing my name in the credits for a cartoon. Nothing gives me more pleasure than that. It makes me feel like a mini-celebrity.
I make cartoons for a living—how cool is that?
I have never worked a day in my life since becoming an animator. Why, you ask? Because when you choose a job you love, it never feels like work. This is what animation is all about.
Explore Herzing's 2D Animation Program
Herzing College Ottawa offers a unique 12-month 2D Animation program. Training includes an extensive internship with Big Jump, and comprehensive training in animation skills and software.
Interested in learning more?
Click below to explore the program, learn more about careers, and chat live with Admissions. We're here to help!