Sydney Padua: Animator Extraordinaire

Sydney Padua

Animators are a strange breed: they migrate from one animation project to the next and if that means crisscrossing the world to be in the right place at the right time, so be it. A Canadian citizen having grown up in Mexico City, Irish/Lebanese Sydney Padua is the perfect example. Having moved back to Canada as a teenager, she later moved to Los Angeles then to London, and currently graces the students of The Animation Workshop in Denmark with her presence from time to time. But she may well end up in Vancouver, the new hot spot for animators at the moment.

As a teenager in rural Canada, Sydney was bored out of her mind. She would spend her days drawing relentlessly everything and anything she would lay her eyes on. By the time she had to decide what to study at university, she was self-taught in drawing but completely unaware of the world of animation. At the time, the 1990s explosion in animated films was yet to happen. Every animator coming out of The California Institute of the Arts would immediately work for Walt Disney Studios. Walt Disney Studios reigned undisputed showering the world with its delightful fairytale fantasies. So, Sydney decided to study Theatre History which she enjoyed tremendously for its mix of theory and practice.

But luck was on her side. Her natural ability for drawing had not gone unnoticed: a family friend asked for her assistance doing ink and paint for a short film that she was making for the National Film Board of Canada. In the process, that friend taught Sydney character animation and pointed her in the direction of Sheridan College, one of the few animation colleges of the time. Over the course of two summers and a final year to complete her diploma, Sydney learnt everything she possibly could about animation and got to understand the 2D principles of movement, performance and expression. Yet she was all too conscious, that in the animation realm, nothing replaces practice and that it would be a slow process of about seven years to call herself a true animator.

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In 1991, Walt Disney Pictures released Beauty and the Beast that garnered the attention of the public around the world. In 1994, The Lion King, using computer graphics for the first time on a large scale, had an unprecedented success. People en masse empathised with the epic journey of an orphan cub facing challenges bigger than himself. Toy Story directed by John Lasseter and produced by Pixar Animation Studios came out the year after. Jurassic Park by Steven Spielberg had just been released. From that point on, animation became the thing. Suddenly, new animation studios sprouted everywhere. Within a year, all the major studios, Fox Studios, DreamWorks, and Warner Bros Pictures, had opened up animation studios. They were desperately searching for talented animators. A highly sought-after and rare commodity, animators were snatched up before they had finished their degrees. The day Sydney graduated, she received 60 job offers and ended up working for Warner Bros. in Los Angeles.

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For her first foray into animation, Sydney Padua was mentored by the best. The Iron Giant (1999) was based on a book by the British Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes. Brad Bird, who had had plenty of practice on The Simpsons series and who later on would make The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007) was its director, Maitre d’Oeuvre and hands-on animator. Tony Fucile who had already worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1994) and The Lion King (1996) was head of animation and visual development. The film was a resounding success and paved the way to more animated films. Long gone were the days of Jason and The Argonauts (1963) and the stop motion animation expert Ray Harryhausen.

But just as the bubble had grown, within three to four years it blew up. Suddenly, hand drawn animated movies were no longer popular. Computer animated films were the way to go. Animation studios had spread their talent thin and were copying each other’s out. A major reshuffle was in order. Some studios collapsed. Brad Bird left Warner Bros. for Pixar. Tied by her contract, Sydney Padua had to stay put for a few more years which left her disillusioned in the end. A fortuitous love encounter later, she packed her bags for London and enrolled in The Sculpture Academy and The Prince’s Drawing School. What a welcome change of scene and a great way to get back to the basics that was!

By then, the computer graphics revolution had passed and Sydney Padua knew she would eventually have to tackle it. So she went about learning the new tools and techniques as she had always done in her life: as an autodidact. Through a school connection, she met Barry O’Donoghue, an animator/short film producer from Barley Films. As a specialist of visual effects, he offered to familiarise her with computer animation. They collaborated on Agricultural Report, a humourous short film that toured the festival circuit and garnered a slew of awards. Having successfully made the transition from traditional animation to computer animation, Sydney travelled back and forth between the US and England for a while.

Lovelace:The origins!

As a woman working in a man’s world, Sydney is very conscious that women in technology still have a long way to go. Not that they are any less competent but they lack confidence particularly in the very hostile male-oriented culture that has developed in the computer industry. It is in that state of mind that she contributed to Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace Day was started by Suw Charman-Anderson in 2009. It is a day when women are celebrated for their achievements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and what better way to do so than to pay homage to a woman who is often called  “the first programmer”: Ada Lovelace. Lovelace was the only legitimate child of mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron. Tutored by the best mathematicians of her time, she ended up assisting Charles Babbage in his research on the Analytical Engine.

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Sydney created a brief biographical sketch for the occasion called Lovelace: The Origin! explaining who Ada Lovelace was. The comic strip took the web by storm and within days people were asking for more. She had imagined Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage as these two partners in crimefighting, a direct reference to the Steampunk genre, with a good dose of humour and a sprinkling of The Avengers. It was meant to be a joke but it had such a huge following that she played along for a while making it into a web comic and even dedicating a whole blog called 2dgoggles to it. Eventually, none other than Pantheon Books, publisher of Maus, Persepolis and The Rabbi’s Cat, approached her with the idea of making it into a proper graphic novel. That is how our traditional animator turned computer graphic animator went back to drawing characters but as a cartoonist this time.

These days, Sydney Padua is in the trenches trying to transcribe with humour and actual verified facts what Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace’s era and days were like. Her comic book references range as far and wide as the series Asterix & Obelix, the structured Mad Magazine, and Christophe Blain’s loose draughting style. When she needs to restock on graphic novels or fuel her ideas she goes for inspiration to Gosh! London where they have an incredible range of Indie graphic novels as well as mainstream.

When the pressure is too high, she goes to The Brunel Museum‘s roof garden where cocktails made from the garden’s own plants are served on Saturday night. You may also find her at The Watch House on St. Marychurch Street SE16, an 1820 watch house converted into a quirky little shop that makes excellent coffee.

The thrilling adventures of Lovelace and Babbage should be out in 2014.

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2 thoughts on “Sydney Padua: Animator Extraordinaire

  1. Thank you, thank you for highlighting Sydney! She’s a crazy amazing artist and a role-model-dream-come-true for girls today.

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