Atomic Cartoons internship helps undergrad follow her dreams

Mitacs’s Indigenous call provides support for animation undergraduate student, who is a member of the Liidlii Kue First Nation

Many young artists dream of working in animation, bringing to life beloved characters that children all over the world watch every day. But following that dream is not as easy as it might seem.  Breaking into the world of animation requires connections to the industry that not every young artist possesses.

21-year-old Emily Carr University animation student Lia Fabre-Dimsdale wasn’t expecting to find a summer job opportunity working in an animation studio, despite her aspirations in the field.

Enter, Mitacs. In 2020, for the first time, Mitacs offered the Business Strategy Internship (BSI) program, connecting bright students from college, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral programs with opportunities at businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitacs also recently launched an Indigenous call, offering discounts on programs that provide internships to Indigenous students and Indigenous-owned businesses.

One of Fabre-Dimsdale’s professors, Leslie Bishko, heard about these programs and thought Fabre-Dimsdale, who hails from the tiny community of Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories and is a member of Liidlii Kue First Nation, would be a good fit. Bishko signed on as her academic supervisor and, with Mitacs’s help, Fabre-Dimsdale was able to land an internship working in different areas of production at Vancouver-based Atomic Cartoons. It was an unexpected opportunity for the young student, and she considers herself lucky to have gotten it.

Unsure what to expect initially, Fabre-Dimsdale has been gaining advice and knowledge from people in the different departments that make up Atomic as well as her academic supervisor, Professor Bishko. This includes using professional storyboarding software used by animation studios that she had not had access to as part of her convention studies.

“The purpose behind the internship is to provide me with a set of skill experience that will help me during my academic study period,” says Fabre-Dimsdale. “It’s also important to the production of Molly of Denali, which is the show that I’m working on, to have Indigenous people working behind the show since it’s about Indigenous people.”

Kendra Davey, the 2D Harmony Key Animation Supervisor at Atomic says: “It was great to have Lia on the team. There are many challenges to working remotely at a new job, including learning a new workflow and the unique style of each show.”  

Davey says Fabre-Dimsdale made substantial contributions to the show. “Lia was excellent at responding to feedback to fit the show’s needs, collaborating with both myself and our lead as she worked directly on posing out new scenes to send to animation. I wish we’d had another week with her!”

How to kick-start an animation career? Network!

The internship has given Fabre-Dimsdale the opportunity to connect with other Indigenous people working at Atomic who have shared their experience and insight with her on navigating the world of animation.

“I didn’t really go into this having expectations, but I’ve had a lot of positive outcomes. I got a lot of guidance in terms of my own artwork, but I also got to know a lot of supportive people in the industry who are looking out for Indigenous artists. It was also great to meet Indigenous artists in general and to know they’re active within the industry,” says Fabre-Dimsdale.

An opportunity the young animator hopes others will share 

Overall, Fabre-Dimsdale is thrilled and proud to have been a part of the team working on Molly of Denali and says she relates to the main character, Molly, a Gwich’in/Koyukon/Dena’ina Athabascan girl. Her Mitacs experience has allowed her to explore creative career path options and build connections within the industry.

She hopes that other students can benefit from Mitacs programs in the future so that they, like her, can have the opportunity to gain meaningful professional experience and accomplish goals and dreams of their own.

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from multiple partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.

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Mitacs empowers Canadian innovation through effective partnerships that deliver solutions to our most pressing problems. By driving economic growth and productivity, we create meaningful change to improve quality of life for all Canadians.