From zero to Disney in two years.
That’s how Class of 2021 Video Game Design & Animation graduate Maria Gabriela Tapia describes her whirlwind transition from the classroom to the Oscar-winning visual effects studio behind Disney’s hit live action versions of Cruella, Dumbo, The Lion King and The Jungle Book, to name a few.
“It still feels like a dream, to be honest. Working on Disney films is the dream of every animator in this world, so getting here is pretty amazing – especially knowing everything Toronto Film School gave me,” said Tapia, Moving Picture Company (MPC) Film’s newly minted layout artist.
“I came into TFS with zero knowledge of 3D, zero knowledge about pipeline, and only some basic idea of art and sculpting in real life. So the fact that, in two years, I was able to get from zero to Disney is pretty cool.”
The 21-year-old’s first assignment at MPC Film is Disney’s upcoming Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers movie, starring Andy Samberg and John Mulaney – a dream come true for the lifelong art enthusiast daughter of an artist mother and programmer father.
Born in Mexico and raised in Colombia, Tapia grew up thirsty for an arts-focused education not available to her in her native countries. Following a study exchange to Canada at age 14, she long aspired to return to Toronto to pursue her passion for a career in the arts.
“I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to study at first,” she said, noting that, after a conversation with a Toronto Film School admissions advisor, she ultimately chose to enrol in TFS’s 18-month, on-campus Video Game Design & Animation program in downtown Toronto – even though she’s not a huge fan of gaming herself.
“I’m more a movie person, but I thought I’d give (video games) a try, because the experience of being able to build a world in real time and give players the option to actually interact with that world is really cool.”
During her studies at Toronto Film School, Tapia took on three roles she credits with shaping her path towards landing her dream job at MPC Film: she was named the Design Lead for her graduating class’ capstone game, Pest Control; she was granted an internship at instructor Kyle Skidmore’s Cat Splat Studios; and she also took on a tutoring position.
“From the capstone leader experience, I learned how to manage a team. From the internship, I learned how to work from a lower position experience. And from the tutoring, I learned how to help others understand the different processes and how to grow in this business,” she said.
“I think those three skills were fundamental to my becoming an asset to any business I applied to work at.”
Also central to her landing the job so quickly out of school, Tapia said, was the fact that she sought out help from Toronto Film School’s Career Services team well before graduating to assist in her job search.
There, Career Services Advisor Natalia Markman was able to help Tapia update her webpage, optimize her portfolio, and provide clarity to her resume.
“That’s where Career Services was really helpful. With Natalia, we worked on organizing my resume and my webpage to make sure they were easy to read and targetable for companies to find me as a candidate for a potential jobs,” she explained.
“You have to make your resume visually appealing to make it stand out from all of the other resumes that big companies like EA, Ubisoft, and in my case, Disney, receive all the time.”
As an international student, Tapia knew she had to get a job quickly. And after applying to – and being rejected by – “a million” different video game studios, she decided that instead of getting discouraged, she would simply diversify the nature of the companies she was applying to.
“I was running out of time, so I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot and apply to movie companies for VFX, because, thanks to TFS, I have the capability of doing that, too,’” she explained, noting that she researched production companies using the Unreal Engine 3D animation tool as part of their pipeline and targeted them in her job search.
That’s when Tapia found MPC Film and discovered its connection to Disney. Intimidated at first, she decided to apply on a whim.
“Obviously to work on a Disney film, you have to be the best of the best, but I trust myself. I don’t have 20 years of experience, but I thought if they would give me the chance, I could be the best. That I would put in everything I had to get up to the level that they needed me to be,” she explained.
Shortly after sending in her resume and portfolio, Tapia received a call for an interview, where she discovered her skillset as a generalist was exactly what MPC Film was looking for.
Within a few hours of the interview, Tapia received a job offer. And within a few weeks of receviving that offer, MPC Film had not only helped her remedy her immigration issues, but had also paid for her relocation to Montreal, where she just settled into her new apartment.
Despite still adjusting to her non-student life, Tapia said she’s excited for what’s to come in what will hopefully be a long career with MPC Film.
“My family is so proud of me. Everyone on my team has at least four or five years of experience, and here I am freshly graduated from school for the first time, just experiencing the world. I’m nervous to be an adult, but I’m ready for this,” she laughed.
“My goal is to keep getting better and keep understanding the pipeline and scale up in the company…Disney movies are meant for touching your heart, so one day I would love to manage a team and be responsible for a big part of something that is going to change so many lives.”