Hollywood led the way but it also inspired Canadian animation artists in the early years of film. These animation pioneers knew they were working against some pretty daunting odds but they persevered and now many of them have made their own mark in Hollywood, established a highly respected body of work based in Canada, and their talents are sought by animation filmmakers around the world.
In the earliest years, Canadian animation projects were rejected by theatre chains that favored the more elaborate, better-funded projects coming from Hollywood. In response, the National Film Board of Canada, with strong government backing, was established in 1939, giving new life and bringing new international respect for Canadian animation artists.
Competition from Hollywood may have been more a bonus than a burden for Canadian animation artists. The traditional form of animation, cel animation, was perfected in Hollywood but creative Canadian artists, choosing not to compete directly, quickly developed other techniques that gained popularity with the general public and studio heads in many countries. One such new approach was Norman McLaren’s drawn-on-film technique.
Another innovation from Canadian animation studios that achieved instant success was the concept of voice acting, wherein famous actors with easily recognized voices spoke the lines the animated characters were ‘saying.’ The television production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of the earliest and most endearing examples of voice acting in an animated production.
Canadian animation efforts began to achieve great success in the 1960s and 1970s, with its emphasis on children’s programming. Some notable examples of Canadian animation during this time include The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo, The Star Wars Holiday Special, and the cult classic, Rock and Rule. Other successes include the Inspector Gadget and Care Bears series.
By the 1980s, the success of Canadian animation productions had become so financially lucrative that many public and private Canadian colleges had expanded its study in their art departments so that full programs in animation were being offered. One student-produced film, Charade, made in 1984 at the Sheridan College of Toronto, earned an Oscar at Hollywood’s Academy Awards presentation for Jon Minnis even before he graduated.