I first found VanArts on the web while finishing up my BFA at UofM and working as an animator for Steve Stanchfield. I thought it would be a good way to focus my self-taught animation skills into just one year of formal training, so I could develop a demo reel and then get crackin' applying to studios. In Spring of 1998 I traveled with Steve and animator Kit Mobley to Los Angeles for the World Animation Celebration. I just had applied to VanArts, and they had a booth at the event. It was there that I first met Lee Mishkin, who was the founding director of the Classical Animation program. I saw him enter the trade show floor and recognized him from the VanArts brochure, so I rushed over to introduce myself and he responded, "Nice to meet you! Do you know where our booth is?"
At the end of that summer I drove across the country from Michigan to Vancouver with my friend Brandon Moses, who flew back home a few days later we arrived. That road trip is a whole 'nother story (documented on my old website), but the day after we landed, September 2 1998, we went over to VanArts to check it out. We were greeted by school president Alan Phillips who graciously showed us around. In those days, Alan did everything...there was no admissions department or many other managers. The school was only on the 2nd floor, with some additional 1st floor space in an adjacent building. The 2nd floor was shared by Soul 2 Soul Hair Salon, which blasted hip-hop music and emitted a 'wet dog' stench every now & then.
In a few days I started my animation classes with instructors Lee Mishkin, Charles Phillips, & Marcos Gonzalez. I made a few quick friends and got an apartment with another student from India named Rahul Dabholkar, who has since had an amazing career in animation. Most of the other students spent most of their time bragging about how drunk they got the night before and how sick they got. This disappointing turn of events I didn't try to let affect me too much...I just animated away and would then go home to watch more animation. On the weekends I would go to Stanley Park, walk along the seawall pondering my future, and take naps in the trees.
For the second half of the year, the big class was split into classical and CG, and us classical guys were moved downstairs. This space later became a plant shop, and is now a ticket place. I think the classical group (CA5 as we were called) started with 11 students. By the end of the year we were down to 4 or 5. One student ran away with some guy she met at a rock concert...several others got homesick or stayed up all night playing video games so they rarely showed up.
The new CG lab upstairs with the scary wood floor, after they built the wall dividing up the old life drawing room.
When summer of '99 rolled around, things got really fun, because not only did we all get caught up in the Nerd Frenzy surrounding the release of The Phantom Menace, but the summer students arrived! I was asked to be a T.A. for them while finishing up my studies, and I instantly fell in love with teaching, and with many of the young students there who were so enthusiastic about the art form.
My original plan was only to stay in Vancouver for 1 year of training, then return to Michigan and continue working for Steve until more animation jobs came along. But meanwhile, the studio back home had slowed down, so this was a big turning point when I made the difficult decision to stay. The school had offered me the chance to stick around for a 2nd year and make a film, while working part-time as a T.A. and assisting their new smiley admissions guy Chris.
I was well on my way now to becoming the Hagrid of VanArts. Lots of changes rapidly occurred thereafter, including the arrival of a new batch of animation students who came to my apartment a couple times to party.
Yep...this turn of events brought Jay into my life. Good thing I stuck around eh?
The past few years at VanArts have become such a blur, really. I couldn't really tell you anymore what year most students started or finished, and some of their names are starting to fade from memory, but I really must emphasize it's only "some"...most of the souls I've had the pleasure to meet there are still very good friends and colleagues. And of course there were a few students who really freaked me out, not always in a good way, but you know how artistic people are. I haven't the energy or inclination to spill out every single memory I have of this place, as there are only so many hours in a day. There's mountains more where this came from, but here's just a sprinkling of images (hey, we're all visual people right?) from my archives...
This barely stratches the surface and doesn't come close to doing justice to all the wacky stuff that's happened in that old building. As a job, it's had the ups and downs that any workplace would have...at times it was all-consuming. But overall, it's the dozens of talented artists, animators and co-workers I've had the privilege to know that has made everything worth it. Today was my last day entering the building to work, and then leaving it. Times of change are good and necessary, but they're sad at the same time. Leaky roofs and all, I owe a lot to this place and the opportunities it's allowed me to experience. Thanks to everyone who made VanArts what it was in the Old Beatty Place.