If you drive slowly around Marsh Lake, you might catch sight of Jay White sitting on the deck of his high-speed-internet-connected cabin tapping away on his laptop.
White is a modern Dr. Frankenstein, of sorts.
Using machines, electricity and a jolt of imagination, he brings two-dimensional drawings to life.
“My dream was always to live in a cabin and do animation, and that’s what I’m doing,” says White.
Although his office is currently overlooks the Whitehorse wilds, White is working on collaborations with a rock band in Toronto, a theatre company in Vancouver and the National Film Board, based in Ottawa.
“It’s quiet,” he says. “I don’t really go into town much. It’s perfect for me.”
He uses the same 3-D animation software as major studios like Disney and Pixar, but White puts his own spin on it.
“I think my work is pretty innovative in that way. A lot of the people who know the 3-D software go into the entertainment industry and usually they do it to make big bucks,” he says.
“When you’re looking to make money you can’t take risks and that’s what I like to do with the medium.
“It’s not often that people go outside that and make their own short films using that same software.”
It takes White one month to create a 30-second to one-minute animation, so a six-minute film would take almost a year.
Because it’s such a time-consuming process, you have to plan carefully before you begin.
White starts by writing a script and creating a storyboard. He sketches out his characters and his backgrounds in his chosen medium — watercolours.
Then he scans them into his laptop PC and “sculpts” the characters virtually on the computer by laying the drawings over three-dimensional forms.
“You can go to work and talk about cartoons with people,” he says with a laugh. “And you don’t get in trouble for watching cartoons online.”
The job pays well, but it used to pay better.
Like manufacturing, a lot of animation jobs are being shipped overseas from the US and Canada, where they can pay skilled animators lower salaries.
“Now that thousands of people all over the world know how to use the software, they’ll just take it to the cheapest place they can,” says White.
“When I first came out of school people said: ‘If you know how to use that software, you’ve got a job for sure,’ but it’s definitely not like that anymore.”
He started out with a degree in civil engineering and thought he wanted to get into architecture.
By the time he’d finished the four-year course, he decided he didn’t want anything to do with building.
He was looking for something more creative.
So he enrolled in the Vancouver Film School for a one-year intensive course in computer animation.
He spent eight years after graduation designing animation for kids’ TV shows.
He worked in Germany for a year on a show called Stevie Stardust; then he worked on another show called Beast Machines.
Recently, he art directed on a show called Dragon Booster, an anime cartoon where a teenager teams up with a dragon to save the world from war.
But he still wasn’t satisfied; he wanted something more creative.
“It was more business that art,” he says. “They were basically big TV commercials, and people were concerned whether the toy was in them enough.”
So far White has created four original animations.
His short, dark comedy Boar Attack bagged the award for favourite Made in the Yukon professional film, and second place in the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Dawson City International Film Festival.
It tells the story of a man sitting alone in his house worrying that his father may have been attacked by a wild boar on his way home.
He got the idea while living in Germany and locals would constantly tell him to be careful while walking through the forests because he may be attacked by a wild pig.
“It’s just different things that come together and I think are funny so I’ll add them to the story.”
The story is bleak, but surprisingly funny.
“I default to dark, it takes other people to tell me to make it a bit lighter,” says White.
“I think it gives the work another level — adults can read a lot into them, but kids really like them too.
“You need that darkness sometimes to make it deeper than a regular happy cartoon.”
Per capita, the Yukon has a lot of professional animators. White counts four in the territory, which is something when you consider there are only 30,000 people here.
“There’s still a misconception of what animation is, and you see that up here more than in other places,” says White.
“People think that I draw cartoons and that’s something that’s easy to do.”
But it’s not just entertainment; it can be art too, he says.
And the opportunities for professional animators in the territory are building.
Daniel Janke, of Northern Town Films, is looking to set up a studio in downtown Whitehorse that would open June 1.
And he’s hired White to work as an animator in the studio.
Their first project is to animate a film, How People Got Fire, which was shot in Carcross last winter using a technique called rotoscoping, where live action shots are drawn and painted over, frame by frame.
While White is juggling a lot of projects, it only seems to be building, he says.
Recently White was awarded a mid-career Canada Council of the Arts grant to work on his next film, titled Perfect Detonator.
He plans to work on it for the next year and a half.
When he’s finished, he’ll show his work-up sketches and watercolour drawings alongside the finished animation in art galleries across Canada.
In the spring he packed up his equipment and hosted an NFB-sponsored animation workshop for youth in Teslin.
White is also collaborating with a Vancouver-based theatre company, Boca del Lupo. They’ve already created a theatre performance where live actors interact with animation projected onto a screen dubbed The Perfectionist.
And, over the winter, White animated a music video for The Diableros, a Toronto-based band.
The video for the song Sugar Laced Soul begins with a couple riding a bicycle built for two through an idyllic park, suddenly they’re swept away by a flock of softly animated blue birds carrying long red ribbons in their beaks.