What do The Shipyards District, “Star Wars,” and an office inside of an aeroplane crashed in the jungle have in common? That would be Think Tank, the CG (computer generated) animation school located right here in North Vancouver! You may be thinking: how has one of the world’s most acclaimed animation training programs been operating out of our very own neighbourhood for nearly 20 years? Depending on how much you know about the stealthy world of CG and animation, the answer may not be all that surprising. We got to chat with Founder Scott Thompson to get to the bottom of all things computer-generated and to learn how his incredibly imaginative students are forging new landscapes (literally) for the video games, movies and television shows we all know and love.
“Computer generated” (sometimes called “computer graphics”) is the skilled art form that’s responsible for pretty much everything you see on screen that can’t be shot in real life, whether due to safety, budget, or feasibility reasons. In some cases, the work is obvious–an animated film like “Toy Story” for example, or a sci-fi adventure like “Jurassic Park” (someone had to make all those dinosaurs, and it wasn’t the scientists!). In many other cases, however, the contributions of a CG animator, modeller, visual effects artist or texturizer are intended to be so subtle and nuanced that audiences will believe every second of the experience, no matter how fantastic. Think Tank offers several in-person, online, and hybrid programs where students are fully immersed in all aspects of CG and animation, but they leave with an extensive portfolio showcasing their chosen specialty. “Watching the art that comes out of our students is the most fun part of my job,” says Scott. When you think of the elaborate worlds of “Fortnite”, “The Last Of Us”, and “Avatar 2”, or you look closely at the detailed creatures and heroes of “Harry Potter”, “Game of Thrones” and your favourite Marvel movies, you can thank places like Think Tank for training, inspiring, and empowering the visual artists who carefully crafted them to entertain and astound you.
Think Tank was dreamed up by Scott and his business partner Joe Bullock on a work trip to Europe in the early 2000s, but Scott says the rich history of animation in Canada started long before that. In the 1940s, the McCarthy witch hunts in America prompted many early animators to make the move north. “Before Hollywood North, there was animation,” says Scott, and “a bulk of the best CG software was invented in Montreal.” Canada was one of the first countries to offer educational programs for animation, and Think Tank continues that proud legacy by being one of the Academy of Animated Art’s top 10 CGI animation courses for 2023! Scott’s own introduction to this world began with a midnight showing of “Star Wars” in 1977. “I was always an artistic kid– drawing, building things, Super 8 movies;” when the lights went out in the theatre that night, and they heard the rumbling of the Imperial cruiser engines passing over the camera, everyone cheered. “We hadn’t seen anything that cool,” he says; “I went nuts for it, I was just floored!” Even after the film ended, audience members remained in their seats demanding to watch it again. “No one would leave, so they had to call the police,” and the next day, there were lines around the block for every showing.
Today, Think Tank prepares the next generations of movie magic makers with rigorous, world-class programs guided by celebrated instructors, industry professionals and mentors. Housed in an iconic building in The Shipyard’s District that was one of the first substantial buildings on the North Shore in 1911, Scott and his team are passionate about their work and selective about the students they take on. “We love to meet interesting people, and size up whether they’ll really be a good fit for this kind of work,” he adds, because despite the fact that their programs fill up quickly, they still want to be sure that any prospective candidate possesses a good combination of the skills and traits needed to really succeed in this competitive industry. “The art drives it more than the technical,” and we “don’t believe in wasting anyone’s time or money.” As far as their student experience goes, you couldn’t ask for a better neighbourhood to create in! The Shipyards District “has really grown up… there are restaurants, banks, medical clinics and grocery stores all within a few blocks of us, and we’re a stone’s throw from the Seabus.”
If you think you might be interested in a career modelling city skyscapes for Spiderman to traverse, or intricately crafting and texturising waterfalls and explosions for your favourite video game characters to conquer, Think Tank might be the place for you. Reach out to their crew on the website, or feel free to walk along Esplanade, and peek through their windows at the giant aeroplane they use for an office and reception area! You’ll be glad you did.
For more cool happenings and animation industry news, check out The Cortex, where Think Tank regularly posts informative articles, interviews with the pros, and podcast episodes about all things 3D, CG, and visually mind-blowing!