Tiger Toons animation festival

Tiger Toons connects students with animation industry leaders

Feb 16, 2021
Kathryne Davis
Michael Lowe

Nearly 50 Brenau students and guests tuned in on Feb. 17 for the Center for the Arts & Design’s virtual Tiger Toons event, which featured a panel of industry leaders who offered career advice and insights into the world of animation.

The second installment of CAD’s biennial animation festival included speakers from companies behind popular animated series such as Bob’s Burgers and Archer. Huy Chu, assistant professor of Art & Design and festival organizer, said he reached out to several animation studios and many were excited to participate. 

“I think this being a Zoom event was helpful because it was so accessible,” Chu said. “To have industry leaders from such well-known companies also brought a lot of excitement to the event.”

Speakers included Head of Animation Talent Development Brooke Keesling of Bento Box Entertainment (Bob’s Burgers); storyboard artist Sam Spina; Producer/Director Jeff Fastner of Floyd County Productions (Archer); Bernard Boiteux from Toon Boom industry standard software; and founding President and Executive Producer Ashley Kohler of Awesome Inc. (Squidbillies, Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force).

Keesling, who recruited for Cartoon Network and Disney TV Animation prior to joining Bento Box, said while some industries have struggled during the pandemic, career opportunities in animation are as wide open as ever.

“We’ve almost doubled in size since COVID started, so we have hired a lot of people,” she said. “We have more shows than I ever had at Cartoon Network or Disney … so it’s a really good time to get into animation.” 

Keesling said many of the people she recruits did not study animation in college and often have backgrounds in design, illustration, writing, comics and graphic novels. She encouraged students to “keep learning your whole life and keep improving your skills.”

Kohler said students interested in animation should not limit their career options to animator or storyboard artist, often seen as spotlight roles in the industry. 

“Design, all layers of design, the setup roles, the composite roles — everybody’s equal on those playing fields,” she said. “When you’re in the studio, everybody’s equal and there is a ladder to climb within each department.”

Kohler also encouraged students to be self-aware of their talent and skill levels and seek honest advice from their professors.

“‘Do you see a path for me here or should I choose something like this or this or this?’” Kohler said. “There are so many roles to fill. Everyone’s not going to be an animator, and that’s OK. There are lots of other paths to choose.”

Ian Peters, assistant professor of communication, co-moderated the event with Chu. 

“This was a great opportunity for students to learn about the various facets of the animation field,” he said, “whether to gain a better understanding of an industry that they themselves want to enter or to learn more about the complex relationship between the various aspects of the business that work in conjunction with one another to create the finished product.”

Brenau’s first animation festival in 2019 included workshops for students along with a panel discussion featuring voice actress Amelia Fischer. This year, CAD wanted to expand the focus to highlight the skills and resources needed for those seeking jobs in the animation field.

“With a steady stream of current and prospective students interested in animation, our biennial festival is a good way for them to get insight into the experience and software necessary for a potential career in the animation industry,” said Claudia Wilburn, CAD director and chair of the Art & Design Department. 

In addition to Brenau students, Chu invited area high school students interested in animation to take part in Tiger Toons to help them understand the industry better.

“We had people talking about what goes into a strong portfolio and what companies look for when they interview animators,” Chu said. “It’s important advice for the high schoolers or anyone who really wants to get into animation.” 

Wilburn said CAD is already looking ahead to the next Tiger Toons in 2023 and hopes to expand the event to include workshops, animation screenings and a panel presentation. All of this, Chu said, brings more awareness to the Art & Design Department and shows that “we do more than just traditional art.”

“In addition to traditional programs such as drawing and painting, we also offer majors in other areas such as graphics and digital arts,” Chu said. “We’re trying to keep up with what is going on in the animation industry, especially when a lot of films are being made in Georgia, because there are several students interested in pursuing this field after graduation.”