Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Winnipeg Animation Students Seize 'Once-in-a-Lifetime' Opportunity to Pitch Their Work to Nickelodeon

12 students of Sisler program head to L.A. for 3-day trip to visit studios, pitch projects

Two students sit in their classroom going over their work and laughing.
Mikhylla Dilag and Mary-Anne Guiboche are two students out of 12 who will be going to L.A. to pitch their projects to producers at Nickelodeon next week. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Two pirates named Coco and Keg could be the newest animated characters entertaining and teaching young kids if a group of Winnipeggers have their way.

The tale of Coco and Keg — who teach kids about marine and tropical life on a remote island — is one of three stories a group of animation students will be pitching next week in Los Angeles to producers at Nickelodeon, the creators of popular shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Rugrats.

"When I first heard about it, I actually started crying because I was so excited," Mary-Anne Guiboche, one of the students going on this trip of a lifetime, told CBC.

Guiboche, who's M├ętis, helped create the pirate series Heave-Ho Coco for children aged five to 12.

"Coco is really funny, his head is detachable," says Guiboche. "As for Keg, he's very grumpy, but I do love his character design and I just love drawing them out." 

Guiboche said she was happy to gain more experience in the field of animation through the Orange Tree Project.

She was one of 12 high school graduates who came back for the Orange Tree Project, a post-high school program founded in 2020. The year-long program includes teachers from Sisler High School, studios of the school's Create program and mentors from Nickelodeon who help students develop short films and series.

Now the group is off to L.A. May 25-28 to pitch their two animated cartoon series and short film to Nickelodeon. 

From concept to creation

The Orange Tree Project students started off in pre-production in September, refining their story ideas and creating first sketches. The program, which aims to build skills in graphic design, digital media and motion picture arts, teaches students to create a series bible, characters, story arc and pitch deck.

Now they're close to being done with an almost 50-page bible that outlines their entire series.

Before joining the program, Guiboche was unsure about how she was going to get into the animation field. 

"I was just really happy about that because it meant I could focus on like just drawing and doing something that I love," said Guiboche.

The other animated series being pitched, called Hero's Ernie, is about a boy named Ernie whose peaceful life is disturbed by a wizard named Mento who wants to make Ernie the greatest hero of all time. 

Inspired by cartoons

Mikhylla Dilag started learning about animation in Grade 9. Cartoons she'd watched as a young girl inspired her to sketch, she says. 

After she finished her first animation classes, she felt like she wanted to do it forever, and joined the Orange Tree Project to refine and enhance her skills as an artist. She was shocked when she first heard they were going to L.A. 

"It's like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I feel pretty honoured to be going on the trip with a lot of my classmates," she said.

During the students' three-day trip they will also be touring studios at Disney and Sony.

"I want to see the inner workings of studios, see how production looks like, how objects and made, what projects are being made right now," Dilag said. 

Dilag is a part of the group making a short film called Long Exposure, a story about two friends whose relationship is tested after graduation. 

Each student had a hand in every single step of the project she says, from pitching to storyboarding, music and the animation. 

Dilag looks also forward to meeting the many mentors they've been working with all year long, including Carson Smith and Arnon Manor, who were both instrumental in sustaining the project's momentum.

"Their feedback did resolve a lot of the issues that we were facing," she said. "It really helps us to grow as artists and storytellers." 

Program growing each year

Jaimie Leduc teaches animation at Sisler High school, and is the department head of the Create program. As a teacher for almost 13 years, he's noticed the rise in interest in interactive media. 

He says the Nickelodeon partnership launched in 2020 thanks to a lot of hard work from a lot of great people, and the trip is funded by the Schroeder Foundation.

"The goal was to eventually start connecting students to like local industries and ... for them to realize that there's actually jobs in the arts," says Leduc.

Animation teacher Jamie Leduc stands in front of his students storyboard
Jamie Leduc is an animation teacher at Sisler High School, and is head of the Create department. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

One of his favourite parts of this work is watching the students grow and develop knowledge. 

"The mentors provide a lot of guidance, but also provide challenges for the students to think outside the box and and really make stories their own," said Leduc.

While this is great opportunity for the students, Leduc says the collaboration works both ways as the students give Nickelodeon insight into the audience for their products too.

"I'm just so happy that students are really excited about animating here in Manitoba and Winnipeg and and telling those stories," said Leduc. 

The Orange Tree Project students will be also presenting their work locally on June 22 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

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Originally published: May 16, 2023.

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