Cinesite Montreal has recently launched the second cohort of its unique LEAP program. Designed to create broader access to the world of Feature Animation, the work-training initiative allows a small group of prospective artists from all walks of life to hone their skills while surrounded by industry veterans. During the six-month program – with full pay and benefits – participants are first enrolled in a twelve-week intensive training and onboarding process to develop their skills in a specific area of expertise and to familiarize themselves with Cinesite’s pipeline (its software and workflow). They then get to apply those learnings to ongoing upcoming projects for the remainder of their contract. LEAP is an opportunity for artists with atypical backgrounds and young talents to broaden their knowledge while immersing themselves in a high-scale production and life at the studio.
But what makes this program so special? We’ve asked Chris Springfield, Head of Lighting at Cinesite Montreal, who is heading this year’s Lighting and Compositing cohort.
“Most internships provide a minimal amount of training and rely on the artists to figure things out on their own or through a “buddy”. This is not a great way of setting an artist up for success. The LEAP program is focused on setting each artist up for success through its structured lectures, inspirational talks, and real production experience.”
For this year’s “leapers”, the program’s unique approach was exactly what they had been looking for. We’ve sat down with them to learn more about their background and what led them to LEAP. Meet Abdal Abdaddayam, Masaki Tse, Theodore Karamalis and Xue Yang!
LEAPERS: THE ORIGIN STORY
There’s no single path in life and we, at Cinesite, wanted to acknowledge that through the LEAP program. Regardless of the candidates’ background in the field, it’s their skill level and their motivation that truly determines if they’re a good fit.
This year, three of our leapers, Abdal, Masaki and Theo, have had similar journeys. First starting as visual artists, they discovered the world of 3D animation through their 2D art background and decided to enroll in Dawson College’s 3D animation and CGI program. There, they found their true calling and never looked back. Our fourth leaper, Xue, however, followed a different path. With a bachelor’s degree in 3D animation from Nanjing University of the Arts and a master’s degree in interactive media arts from Peking University, she taught digital media in college for twelve years in China before moving to Canada. Right before joining us, she also completed an intensive training in compositing at NAD School of Digital Arts, Animation and Design.
FALLING FOR ANIMATION: THE FIRST SPARK
Before ever thinking about applying to LEAP, our four artists found their way to feature animation. We’ve asked them what first drew them to this medium.
Abdal: I’ve always been moved and inspired by the magic of feature films and animation on the big screen. It started with the movie ”Coraline” by studio Laika, one of my favorite feature films of all time, and it grew beyond that as my visual library of feature animation films got more and more diverse. Some of my recent favorites include, ”Soul”, ”Mitchells vs the Machines” and ”Nimona”. I’m just constantly amazed by how these films push the limits of their mediums, both in storytelling and artistic expression.
Masaki: I’ve always had a special appreciation for feature animation since I was young, because I grew up watching a lot of animated series and movies. I loved watching stories and characters
develop, and it became a source of comfort for me whenever I needed it.
Theo: Animated features really stuck with me as a kid. The genre offers so much potential for creativity and visual style, all while being able to instil strong emotional responses within an audience. Ultimately, feature animation has a certain magical quality that doesn’t go away with age, and I’m incredibly excited to be involved in creating that magic.
Xue: I fell in love with animation on my first day at university! The years during which I studied 3D animation were a period of rapid development. Studios like Pixar, Dreamworks and Blue Sky had many wonderful animated features releasing each year that deeply inspired and influenced me. In my final year, my class’s graduation animation project was even nominated for ACM SIGGRAPH Asia exhibition in 2009.
TAKING THE LEAP
They had passion, they had skill, but we asked our aspiring artists what made them choose LEAP?
Abdal: I knew someone who applied to last year’s LEAP program when the focus was on 3D animation. She had nothing but positive experience working with animation mentors and colleagues at Cinesite! So.. I couldn’t explain how pleasantly surprised I was when I learned Cinesite was launching a second LEAP for Lighting and Compositing; my area of expertise and passion!
“I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I couldn’t let it pass.”
– Abdal Abdaddayam
Masaki: I applied to the Leap program because, for one thing, I already wanted to work at Cinesite. I have always heard good things about the company from peers and teachers, so I felt like it would be a great environment for me to grow as an artist. I was also a recent graduate, and I saw that the Leap program applications were still open, so I took a chance!
Theo: I’m very passionate about 3D art and animation. I completed my first personal short film in May 2023, and I was super excited to continue learning and contribute to larger productions. The Leap program seemed like a great next step for me because it provided a gradual and accessible introduction to the lighting and compositing department, where I’d have the opportunity to learn from many talented and experienced artists.
Xue: When I saw an ad for LEAP on LinkedIn, I knew I had found what I was really longing for! Lighting is one of my favourite parts of the 3D animation pipeline and I thought LEAP could also help me combine my skills in 3D, photography and composition. At the time, though, I was still doing my compositing course, so I asked my teacher about the differences between comp in VFX and Feature Animation. When he told me that it was almost completely different, I started working on a new portfolio. During the day, I would do my compositing classes and keep working on my demo reel. And at night, I would relearn how to use Arnold because I hadn’t used it in years. The day right before the deadline, I finally finished my lighting & compositing demo reel and sent in my LEAP application.
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
Although the program has just started, our leapers are well on their way to doing great things. We asked them what their goals were for the program.
Abdal: My goals, during and after the program, are to grow and learn as an artist as much as I can. I feel extremely privileged to be surrounded by so much talent, whether it be seasoned industry veterans or extremely creative young artists! So far, my experience at Cinesite has been everything I can wish for and more! I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be part of the team! I’m excited for the projects I’m going to be working on during my time here.
Masaki: I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can during this program. I want to learn from everyone, and I’m hoping I’ll get along with all the artists at the company. I really appreciate this opportunity, so my goal for now is just to grow as an artist, and have fun!
Theo: I’m always motivated by personal improvement, and so, one of my goals is to become a better artist than when I started. Since teamwork is super important for creating a great film, I also want to become the best team member I can be!
Xue: First, I want to learn as much as I can about the software and the pipeline. Then, I’d like to improve my eye as a lighting artist and gain all the abilities of a junior lighting & comp artist. And, in my spare time, I want to do some lighting work on personal projects. I can’t wait to start on my first show! Finally, as a new immigrant, I also want to improve my skills in English and French.
THAT’S ALMOST ALL FOLKS
The LEAP program wouldn’t exist without the amazing people who organize it, recruit for it and oversee it. So we asked some of them to tell us more about the program.
We went back to our dedicated Head of Lighting, Chris Springfield, who, along with Lighting Leads Yann Faucon and Elena Fiorin, oversees the training and progress of our leapers oversees the training and progress of our leapers, to learn more about his goals for the program.
“As a mentor, my goal is to inspire artists to utilize their lighting and compositing skills to fundamentally support the storytelling of each shot. I’d also like to help them understand that unique and diverse backgrounds make our artistic collaborations richer.”
– Chris Springfield, Head of Lighting, Feature Animation, Cinesite.
The LEAP program is an initiative of our very hardworking HR team. So we asked Marie-Claude Chauvette, Human Resources Director for Cinesite Montreal, to tell us more about the importance of the program for the company.
“There’s a need in our industry for greater support of young talents, especially those with atypical backgrounds. As a company that focuses on its people’s professional development and well-being, we needed to create a program that acknowledged and addressed this reality.”
– Marie-Claude Chauvette, Human Resources Director, Cinesite Montreal.
On that note, we’d like to wish the very best of luck to our four Leapers! Stay tuned, we’ll be back in January to share their progression, feedback and accomplishments after the program. We would also like to thank the wonderful staff members and amazing artists who contributed to bringing the second edition of LEAP Montreal to life.