It took a bit of time for Graham Annable and Jon Klassen to get used to being in the spotlight. But the two animation graduates soon learned to handle all the attention that comes with receiving worldwide recognition for their work.
Director, Graham Annable found out that he was nominated for an Oscar for the animated feature The Boxtrolls during a presentation at a film school in England with his fellow nominee, director, Anthony Stacchi. Once the news broke, the duo found themselves doing media interviews in the school cafeteria. “We weren’t prepared for the deluge of questions. It was a deer in the headlights moment,” recalled Annable.
For his part, animator turned author-illustrator, Jon Klassen learned of his prestigious Caldecott Medal win for his book This is Not My Hat early one morning on the way to catch a plane. “The Caldecott Committee was on the phone waiting for a great response. I just said, ‘thanks!’ and hung up.”
When the Committee called back five minutes later to tell Klassen that he had received another award for the book, Extra Yarn, he was incredulous. “That just doesn’t happen so I thought they were messing with me and that there was some kind of mistake. Again, I didn’t respond the way I intended to and I vowed to make it up to them.”
No wonder Klassen was caught off-guard. He was the first Canadian to win the Caldecott Medal and only the second person ever to receive the Caldecott Honour both in the same year. “Like the Oscars of children’s illustration, the Medal is on all the great books you grew up with. It’s a crazy thing to think that it’s on your work,” explained Klassen, who holds credentials in animation (2005) and art fundamentals (2002). He is also the first Canadian to win Britain’s Kate Greenaway Medal for children’s illustration. Closer to home, Klassen was honoured with a 2015 Premier’s Award for outstanding Ontario college graduates in the Creative Arts and Design category.
The Medal is on all the great books you grew up with. It’s a crazy thing to think that it’s on your work.
Annable, who graduated in 1991, also finds his success a bit surreal at times. “When you see your name on the credit roll or announced for a nomination, it feels like it didn’t really happen. Sometimes it seems like I just graduated.”
Annable and Klassen shared these and many other stories with current and future graduates during two presentations on October 22, tracing their unique journeys since leaving Sheridan. Following a packed presentation to students at Sheridan’s Oakville campus, the duo headlined an event at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Alumni, industry, faculty and students gathered for a chat with Annable and Klassen which was moderated by Sheridan animation graduate, Charlie Bonifacio. A highly respected artist in his own right, Bonifacio is a former Sheridan instructor who taught Annable. Bonifacio is now the Supervising Animator & Development Artist at Toronto’s animation and visual effects studio, Arc Productions.
Sheridan animation connections run deep so it’s not unique that Annable and Klassen crossed paths at LAIKA Studio in Oregon where they were both working on the Oscar-nominated film, Coraline. Annable, who remains at LAIKA, joined the stop-motion studio as a storyboard artist in 2006, following 15 years as an animator in the gaming industry, mainly at LucasArts. At LAIKA, he also contributed to Paranorman, another Oscar-nominated feature, before making his directorial debut with The Boxtrolls.
I kept following my nose and pursuing the projects I loved.
Throughout his stints as an animator both at LAIKA and DreamWorks, Klassen fostered his love of illustration, taking on side projects and building a network of skills and contacts. Once Klassen made the move to book illustration and writing fulltime in 2010, he started making waves. His first illustrated book, Cats’ Night Out, won a 2010 Canadian Governor General’s Award.
Four of Klassen’s books have made the New York Times’ list of the best illustrated children’s books of the year, including I Want My Hat Back (prequel to This is Not My Hat) which he wrote and illustrated. Most recently, Klassen’s illustrations can be found in The Nest, the latest book by the hugely popular author, Kenneth Oppel.
Along the way, Klassen, who is based in California, found his animation training to be a boon to his illustration career. “It taught me how to arc a story and set the pacing and tone so crucial to picture book illustration.”
Students will change their styles and the kind of stories they want to tell many times over their careers, “but the basic tools of communicating will remain the same,” Klassen added. “My Sheridan training gave me this amazing springboard to try out many things and be confident that when I deliver those ideas to an audience, I’ll be understood. That’s a great gift.”
Although they graduated 14 years apart and followed different career paths, Klassen and Annable share the easy camaraderie of long-time friends and a similar approach to success. “Rather than having a master plan, I kept following my nose and pursuing the projects I loved,” said Annable.