Ryan Hobbs loves The Lion King. As a young boy living on a farm in Quyon, he would watch the Disney film three or four times a day, and to this day it remains one of his favourite and most-watched films. However, Hobbs has a connection to the franchise that most people can’t claim: continuing the classic story through animation.
Hobbs has been an accomplished animator working at Mercury Filmworks in Ottawa for 15 years. In his time there, he has worked on several series for studios like Teletoon, Disney and Netflix. His proudest project is a series called The Lion Guard, which follows Kion, son of The Lion King protagonist Simba, as he protects the Pride Lands.
Though Hobbs has been living in the city for many years, he started out as the son of farmers Gardell and Linda Hobbs, who are still the owners of Dellaway Farms, where Hobbs grew up.
“I think it’s fair to say I just did not enjoy farm work. The daily manual labor did not speak to me,” Hobbs said. “I always had a bit more of an artistic side and found that more fulfilling. I know my parents were very aware that from a young age I did not want to farm.
“I can say that my dad loves farming. And I think he wanted the same thing for me ... but they want me to be happier, doing something I’m passionate about. So I’ve felt supported in that regard.”
In an interview posted to the Mercury Filmworks Facebook page, Hobbs says his first exposure to animation was through the credits of the cartoon Astro Boy, where they showed a breakdown of how they animated the character.
“I liked cartoons and drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sonic the Hedgehog from the comics at a young age. My first memory of understanding animation was around age six or seven and seeing Astro Boy on TV; during the credits, they do a frame-by-frame of Astro Boy running and slowly speed it up from still images to full motion, and it clicked.”
Shortly afterwards, Hobbs made his first animation: a paper flipbook that featured a skateboarder flying to the moon and being eaten by an alien.
During his time as a student at Pontiac High School, he discovered a lot about art that was crucial on his artistic journey. It was there that he was able to learn from Carol Bretzloff-Holmes, an artist who taught at the high school for 35 years.
Bretzloff-Holmes was the first professional artist in Hobbs’s life and opened his eyes to the real possibility of pursuing art as a career. Bretzloff-Holmes remembers Hobbs being a humble student who sat quietly at a desk in the back of the room and had a huge drive for art.
“I remember that he was very focused. He was very creative, he was quiet. He was very, very polite. And he was just totally focused on art,” she recalled. “I had a lot of really wonderful students, but there were some very, very special kids. And Ryan was one of them.”
Hobbs said that in rural areas like the Pontiac, art programs can be very limited in terms of support, and he noted that the artistic opportunities and support given to him at Pontiac High School were very beneficial to where he is today
After graduating, Hobbs left the Pontiac in pursuit of his dreams. He attended Heritage CEGEP’s visual arts program in Hull for a year where he continued exploring multimedia art. But there was just something that that program was missing: cartooning.
It was there that Hobbs learned about Algonquin College’s animation program from a friend and “the rest is history,” as Hobbs said. The college’s animation program is a highly competitive one and is ranked as the tenth top animation school in the world. Hobbs graduated from the renowned program in 2005.
In his last semester at Algonquin, he was hired by Mercury Filmworks, where he still works to this day. Since joining the team, Hobbs has worked on several animated shows and has earned the title of supervisor on many of them, including The Lion Guard.
“If it was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to animate Simba when you’re older. Twenty-odd years from now, you’re going to be animating a Simba.’ I’d be [shocked],” said Hobbs. “That connection of child to adult, that you’re working on the thing you participated in so heavily as a child ... I feel really proud going to work on Lion Guard.”
He also helped with the Netflix original series Hilda, the second season of which is set to be released in December. Hobbs helped with the very first episode of the show, but acted as supervisor on the upcoming season and is excited for it to be released to the public.
Hilda follows the adventures of a young girl who lived in the wilderness as she moves to the city and befriends unique people and creatures alike, something Hobbs says he can relate to.
“I really like her transition from a rural environment to an urban environment and there are difficulties involved in that. I do feel that while I have certainly acclimated to living in a city, there are definitely times and perspectives of my own [that are] fueled from having grown up on a farm ... So I do feel like that’s something I can share with Hilda as a character.
“I definitely hope Pontiac readers will take a look at Hilda on Netflix, and if they like it, well, season two is going to happen in a month or two.”
While Hobbs loves animating himself, one of his favourite roles to play is as a mentor and a guide to young animators and other artists.
“I just enjoy working with other people like collaboratively and being a mentor figure to younger and newer animators, and being there with them as they grow … helping them figure out their journey as part of becoming a better more experienced animator,” Hobbs said.
And it hasn’t just been students who have been influenced by the animator’s guidance. His mother Linda is a quilter and began creating better landscape quilts with some help from her son and his teachings of artistic elements.
Bretzloff-Holmes was also touched by Hobbs, often being surprised at his ideas and the energy he brought to the arts.
“We did have a very good student-teacher relationship. What can I say? He was a delight to teach. He raised the bar, he inspired all of those kids around him as well as me. He gave as much as he got back.”
Hobbs encouraged anyone interested in art or animation to pursue it if they’re truly passionate about it.
“I feel like sometimes in the Pontiac, growing up there, I feel like I had limited ideas of what I could do, in terms of the job prospects of the area. The possibilities are close at hand, even Ottawa is right here. It’s not ‘Well, I need to go to Los Angeles to participate in cartoons. Your possibilities are not as limited as you may think they are.
“If you’re interested in art, just make art. And you are allowed to be bad at it. The single biggest key to anything, how to get better at something: just do it.”
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