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Profile: Cackleberries Animator Gemma Reeks-Coad

A Cintiq-driven university experience helps an animator find footing in a cartoon education company.

By AWN Staff

If you spend time analyzing successful people, you will tend to find a repeating list of similarities. Attributes like talent and charisma often get the most ink, but more often than not, a person’s drive and the quality of their education is a far better determinant of a bright future. Successful educators nurture this type of person, or set someone on the path to becoming one by creating a learning environment that is as engaging as it is relevant to their student’s future ambitions. And when it comes to careers in art, animation, and digital content creation, students that learn on industry-standard technology – like Wacom’s Cintiq – are more prepared for the professional world, and its elevated expectations.

A product of British Columbia-based Capilano University’s two year, Commercial Animation program, Gemma Reeks-Coad is living proof of how the right tools, in the hands of the right artist, breed success. Now a professional animator for Cackleberries Entertainment, Gemma made her first leap from student to salaried artist on the strength of her schooling. She credits the time she spent honing her craft working directly on screen with a Cintiq interactive pen display and creative software applications that embrace pressure-sensitivity as a catalyst for her growth. To help usher in that momentum, Capilano supplies each student and teacher with a 21” Cintiq for their assignments, lessons and general points of interaction.

“I fell in love with the Cintiq instantly,” says Reeks-Coad. “Working on the screen is like a dream, and nothing else has allowed me to animate with more freedom of expression or speed. Plus, it’s the standard for my industry, so having all that time with it in school introduced me to a workflow that is spot-on to the one I use every day at my job.”

While at Capilano, Gemma’s coursework straddled the lines of two worlds: the foundational tenets of paper animation and the modern expression of digital. And although Gemma would never suggest that anyone go digital only – she believes that the strategic knowledge one gains from having to be visually accountable for your pen strokes is essential to an artist’s development – she does think that a great artist will be able to create 10x faster when they have a Cintiq around.

“To me, paper is for rough passes,” added Reeks-Coad. “A paper-only process is tedious when compared to a Cintiq’s ability to create a polished version faster. You can undo at will, color in Photoshop, and edit from every angle - the Cintiq is a big reason I had a competitive reel for employers to look at.”

That competitive reel, made up of shorts she designed in programs like Adobe Flash and TVPaint, netted Gemma a job with Cackleberries Entertainment. There, she specializes in producing short, 1 minute lessons that teach young children (ages 3-7) about reading, math and art. Found in a virtual town called Oville, her videos explore the many facets of the world from character traits (“the boy has curly hair”), to our surroundings (“there’s a moon in the sky”), to time concepts (“what yesterday means”).Gemma produces a new lesson every 2 weeks and bases her animation work off of storyboard/pose concepts she is sent.

And to this day, her animation process remains the same. She starts with a value sketch, colors in Photoshop, and then animates her characters/scenes with Flash or TVPaint – all with the help of her Cintiq.

“I can’t imagine life without a Cintiq anymore,” said Reeks-Coad. “It’s like an extension of me. And because it cuts out so many steps, whether that’s through shortcuts I assign or the ability to apply the perfect amount of pressure to my lines, I find that it encourages me to animate when I normally wouldn’t. It doesn’t make the process hard, and I love it for that.”

Gemma explains that Wacom’s Cintiq made a lasting impression on her former classmates too.

“I don’t know anyone that isn’t using one or saving up for one,” said Reeks-Coad. “It’s a tool for every animator.”

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.