Patricia Lawson: Video Game Design & Animation Program Valedictorian

From an early age, Patricia Lawson enjoyed being creative and was interested in art. As soon as she was able to handle a camera she found photography an inspiring hobby and she began to take her camera with her whenever she left the house. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art focusing in Photography and a minor in English, Patricia took some time off to travel in Europe. She realized that as interesting and inspiring photography could be, there was a disconnect.

Having played video games since she could walk, she considered pursuing a career creating them and enrolled in the Toronto Film School.  Patricia said it was at Toronto Film School that she found a place she felt comfortable. There was no more disconnect, no more misguidance. After the first few classes, she felt right at home. This feeling only deepened after participating and running events for Toronto Film School such as monthly game days/jams and Extra Life, where money was raised for charities located around the city.

Patricia graduated in May 2017 and was named the program Valedictorian for the Video Game Design and Animation and the Video Game Design and Development diploma programs. In this Q&A she talks about some of the lessons she learned at Toronto Film School and advice she would pass along to new students in the program.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How old are you? Where are you from? What are you passionate about?

I grew up in a medium sized town just outside of Toronto, one where there really wasn’t much to do. So without a social life, I easily became attached to the computer. From an early age, I knew I loved gaming, having started with an NES and making it a habit to get every form of Gameboy as I grew up for absolutely no reason. I’ve always enjoyed creating things, either from scratch or altering what was already before me. I had a knack for sewing, and that’s where it mostly started. To know I could just create something from nothing was fascinating to me, and I felt that that’s come with me here.


What brought you to Toronto Film School?

I had previously gone to university, studying photography since it was my main focus from high school. Even as I went to university though I realized half way through my program that I didn’t really feel passionate about what I was pursuing, and wasn’t quite sure what to do from there. Once finished I took some time off to travel just to see what was going on elsewhere. I didn’t really learn anything new, but even as I was traveling I still continued to play games with others online. Once I finally got home from traveling I was given an ultimatum: get a job or go back to school. Knowing that my university degree wasn’t going to do much for me, I decided to look for something gaming related. I figured, if I game in my off time, then it may just be a sign that it’s something I should look further into. I found Toronto Film School’s program, and the instant draw was when I saw how accelerated the program was. After all, going through four years of university made me realize I really didn’t want to do another long program. But this one was short and sweet, so I gave it a shot.


Why did you choose your program?

I had thought of a few things during my late night search for courses, things like graphic design, illustration, animation, but there was nothing final. Even when I came for orientation, I wasn’t quite sure which direction I wanted to go since I had done some coding in the past, and even if I have terrible math skills, I thought I could give it a shot. During the presentation though, I saw what each side offered, and was drawn much more towards the animation side. I had taken some animation classes in the past and rather enjoyed it so I at least knew it wasn’t completely new territory if I went that route.


Why do you think you were chosen as the Valedictorian for your program?

I was surprised honestly, thinking that I didn’t do much more compared to other students in the course. I became the Student Campus Council president in my third term, and that’s how I got to know more students than I thought I ever would. Together we started having more campus events, just from social gaming nights to some events that were organized around charities in and around Toronto. I also walked around a lot to keep my mind active, and during those walks, I’d just stop by and chat to people who were sitting or working on projects.

If you were to offer one piece of advice to an incoming student, what would that be?

Start your assignments early. If you come into this program expecting to just sit back and make cool, best-selling games, you’ll be in for a surprise. It’s a lot of hard work, and some times that work doesn’t reach it to the end. Just because you make something you think is amazing doesn’t mean it will ever see the light of day. Sort of cryptic, but you should know that there will be sacrifices.


What is one of the most important things you have learned/experienced at Toronto Film School?

One thing that I learned was how very crucial communication is. That can be said about any program and any industry, but it became really ingrained when I came here. If you want to make a good, functioning game, everyone needs to be on the same page and have the same information. The whole group should be able to give the same answer for any question asked. If you can get that, then you’ll be able to make great content.


What kept you motivated?

My supposed stubbornness. Knowing that there was another assignment or project just around the corner constantly kept me on the go, knowing that the sooner I can get something done, the sooner I can get started on the next thing. It doesn’t always go well when you have moments of wanting to be a perfectionist, that’s for sure. As it got closer to the end though, the motivation was driven by the group I was with. We all wanted to do our best since our final project would benefit all of us. It was rather easy to keep for the most part, since every day we got to see our game grow and that in itself was inspiring. To see something that we made from scratch become something functional is a great feeling.


What are your plans after graduation?

I’ve juggled the idea of starting my own studio, realizing that as I went through school here that it wasn’t a far fetched possibility. Anything can be accomplished by a good team, so that’s my goal. For now, I’m planning on working on my independent skills until I can convince some people as crazy as I am to start something from scratch. I’ve already got a few bites, so to know that there are about three projects in the works is a little inspiring.


What made Toronto Film School and your experience here special?

The community. I went through University without making a single friend, but within my first week here we were already joking and talking about different types of games. When everyone else is as socially awkward as you are, it sort of counters itself out and fades away. It definitely helped later on, when we could more or less see and understand each other’s skills and weaknesses as we worked together. The teachers were also a huge part of this. With the class sizes, it made it remarkably easy to get some of their time, and that helped a lot with my own skills. Just being able to walk in and talk to them was a great feeling. They were much more down to Earth than anything I experienced in University, and I loved it.


If someone asked you to describe Toronto Film School to them, what would you say?

I’d say that it’s a small place with a huge impact. I had never heard of the school before, but learning about the teachers and others about their experiences in the industry gave us all an eye opening to see just how much can be gained. To know some of our teachers worked on popular games that we played ourselves, or are actively releasing games as we were learning was fascinating. It’s not like you’re learning from someone who left the industry years ago and is being kept up to date by what they remember, but these individuals are telling you exactly what’s going on because they’re involved in current activities. It was very rewarding to get such information in such an unexpected place.