John Hoffman’s road to working on Pixar Animation Studio’s Cars 3 all began on a trip to Ontario’s cottage country in the early 1990s. He was just a teenager then, vacationing with his grandparents. During his travels, he met a woman sketching her newborn baby. Hoffman was struck by the beauty of the woman’s work, and asked her where she learned to draw. When she told him she’d studied in Sheridan’s Illustration program, they started talking about the College, and Hoffman soon learned there was an Animation program, too. Since he was already a movie buff – he’d even considered becoming a stunt artist as a way to get into the industry – he was intrigued to learn about the program.
“It was a complete fluke that I found out Sheridan existed,” he says. “I didn’t know you could go to school for animation. When I found out you could combine my two loves – which were making movies and drawing – I was sold.”
So when they got home from the cottage, their next stop was Sheridan’s Oakville campus. “It was a ghost town because it was the middle of summer,” he remembers. “I got to see art up on the walls, so then my whole grade 12 was focused on getting my portfolio together and trying to get into the school.”
It worked – and the next year he began in the Art Fundamentals program before switching to Animation. Now, Hoffman is a storyboard artist on the film Cars 3, playing in theatres this summer. Hoffman remembers faculty members likes Charlie Bonifacio, Gerry Zeldin, Werner Zimmerman and Mark Simon as instrumental to helping him launch his career. After graduation, he worked at Fox Animation and Laika before he decided to try a stint as an art director at a video game company. In 2011, he joined Pixar, and began working on the TV special Toy Story of Terror! and a Cars short before joining the feature film Cars 3. Hoffman says it was fun to work on an established franchise.
“A big part of it is figuring out, ‘where can we go with these characters? What can we do that’s new with them?’ That’s what we’re striving for, and that’s the spark that ends up getting you excited.”
It was a long process to make the film. He and his team created thousands of drawings, screened the film for feedback, made changes – then did it all over again eight or nine times. Hoffman says working on a big film allowed him to use his storytelling, composition and drawing skills, all in the course of one project. “Every day is really varied. But it’s also really satisfying when you’re sitting in the screen room and the reels are being projected for the audience and they’re starting to react to stuff.”
“Having grit is really important in this business. If you have a goal, keep working hard, keep working on your skills. You can’t give up.”
Pixar’s screening rooms are a long way from the vacation spot where his animation sparks were first ignited, but he encourages other animation students to follow their own dreams. “Having grit is really important in this business. If you have a goal, if you have something you want to do, whether it’s a job, or you want to make a movie, or a TV show, or a short, you’ve gotta keep pushing forward, keep working hard, keep working on your skills. You can’t give up and you gotta ignore those little seeds of doubt that start talking in the back of your head.”