Former local living in the world of animation

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
kkellar@fortfrances.com

Fans of animation have been having a great few years.

Over the course of the past decade, animated shows and movies have risen to greater and greater heights. Whether it be mainstream film fare like the blockbuster Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV shows that push the boundaries for on-screen representation like The Legend of Korra, long-running children’s animation juggernaut Paw Patrol or Netflix’s more recent critically acclaimed Arcane, the world of animation is going strong.

Adrian Bondett is an animator who is currently riding high on the popularity of animated shows. Hailing from Fort Frances, Bondett has had the opportunity to work on animated productions for people of all ages as part of Jam Filled Entertainment, a studio based out of Ottawa. Included among some of their most recent work are series like Final Space, DC’s Super Hero Girls and Inside Job; all animated shows that reach out to different demographic groups. It certainly helps that each of the shows has been prominently featured on Netflix.

Bondett said his fascination with animation began in high school during what many would consider an earlier golden age of animation. Bondett said watching Japanese animation and some of the late night shows shown on Teletoon helped him make his decision.

“So at the time Dragonball Z was this brand new thing that was hitting the mainstream,” he recalled.

“We were all obsessed with that. There were these late night MTV cartoons that were hitting the airwaves that were so new and different in the sense that they were for adults. Things like Clone High, Undergrads, Cyber Six and The Maxx. I thought ‘wow, it’s not just songs and dances and things to entertain children, there’s stuff here for adults that’s really cool.'”

Having decided to pursue animation, Bondett went to college and travelled a bit before getting his first job in the industry.

Bondett explained that his average day-to-day has changed significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before COVID, he would head into the studio each day to do his work, but like many others, pandemic restrictions moved his office home.

“I don’t actually go to the studio anymore,” he said. “I work fully from home. I get up, eat breakfast, do my thing and literally sit down at my desk and log into my computer that logs me into my studio and I work remotely.”

The world of animation has changed significantly from the early days of Disney’s Merry Melodies and the Looney Tunes. Gone for the most part are hand-drawn animations, each painstakingly constructed from thousands of individual drawings on plastic sheets. Bondett said he works with what are called character builds, using those to create complex and much less time consuming shows.

“The way our studio works is we make digital puppets,” he explained.

“Once we build a digital puppet, we try to include everything that puppet is going to need. For example, the hands; in this show we have a template and we draw out 300 hands. Basically, the idea being when you start moving this character around, you swap between which part you might need, so if his hand, let’s say, starts down and then comes up, when you’re moving it, in what we call an ‘in-between’ we swap to another hand. It looks fluid but really it’s not actually happening.”

Traditionally hand-drawn animations haven’t entirely gone away. Plenty of it still exists in TV, short and feature films, particularly outside of North America. Disney itself only stopped using traditional hand-drawn animation with 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. However, Bondett said the upside to the move to digital animation is that much smaller teams can complete animated works much more quickly than could be done before.

“I would say almost all of Western animation is done this way,” Bondett said.

“It’s just so much more efficient, so much faster. And there’s so much reusability to it. The way of doing hand-drawn stuff, where you would literally draw out the whole character and everything about them for each and every single frame has kind of gone away. It used to take a massive team of people to be able to do stuff like that because of how time consuming it is. Now you have the benefit of having a relatively smaller team, but you can get so much done in two weeks.”

That move to digital animation has allowed the medium to flourish, leading television in particular into a sort of golden age. Animation often crosses demographic lines, and there’s likely an animated show out there that not only appeals to you, but is specifically designed with you in mind. Bondett said he feels the current strength of animation in pop culture is directly related to the ease that digital techniques brought to creators.

“These puppets are a big deal,” he said. “They really do save a lot of time. They keep things on model. They do so much. You’ll see in the 90’s that 2D animation was at its peak then, and it crashed because they started sending all of the work overseas because it was cheaper and easier to do. The quality fell out. In the 2000’s it shifted; we started seeing this digital puppetry. At first it was rough because we didn’t know how to use it well, but we’ve been getting better and better, and the software has been improved.”

All of this is to say that the state of animation is as strong as it has ever been, with a bright future to boot, and Bondett himself encouraged anyone who aspires to work as an animator to put the effort in to honing their craft.

“Practice, practice, practice,” he aid. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get better at it. You kind of have to stumble through how it all works before you can say ‘oh, I’m really good at this.’ You just have to do it. There’s no magic thing where you’re going to just sit down and be awesome. I found I had to learn things by doing. I can’t read a book and say I completely understand what I have to do. If you work hard at pretty much anything, you’re going to get to a part where it will be what you’re good at, so just keep at it.”