On the south-side of Esplanade, just west of Lonsdale, sits an original heritage building signed with the intriguing words “Think Tank”.
From the outside, one doesn’t get much of an idea of what goes on in this old building, but venturing inside, you are transported into a future full of computer-generated alien worlds where strange and beautiful creatures are created and brought to life. Movie magic awaits within.
Displaying their prodigious design and modelling talents, much of the interior is done in a ‘Jules Verne – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ motif, complete with doors done up as hatches and faux brass riveted walls with elaborately beautiful windows, artful lighting and other lovingly crafted details.
Doorways lead to roomy, strikingly designed studios, each with multiple state-of-the-art dual-monitor graphics stations, one dedicated for each student.
Wandering from studio to studio, it’s fascinating to see some of the artwork and models that decorate the rooms. Near the ceiling, a Star Wars X-Wing fighter is being chased by an Imperial TIE fighter, while across the room, King Kong battles a T-Rex while clutching a minute Ann Darrow.
The school’s instructors are all working industry professionals, the men and women who actually do the animation, modelling and visual effects we see in the theatres and on TV. In addition to “rock star” industry instructors, students also have carefully chosen mentors throughout their semester that give them one-on-one time to discuss specific industry questions.
Scott Thompson, whose business card reads “Top Dog”, was an early entrepreneur. At nineteen, he and his brother started a sport fishing business and a marine pub. Schooling for film and photography lead him to later become an animator/supervising animator, as well as a teacher in other schools, but he eventually wanted to be his own boss again. With the addition of a partner to look after the technical side, the result was Think Tank.
Unique on the North Shore, the school feels Lower Lonsdale is the optimal place for the business as being a jump-off point to so many destinations, close to studios and an easy commute from downtown. Now in its tenth year of operation, the school highly sought after and continues to fill every seat each semester.
Students have worked on such well-known films as Life of Pi, Avengers 2 The Age of Ultron, Man of Steel, Maleficent, Godzilla, Pan, Batman vs Superman, and San Andreas. Also the instructors just finished up such major projects as Hobbit 3, Chappie, Big Eyes, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
During the tour, Scott introduced me to a group of older students, computer graphic artists who had formerly worked with Global, but who were seeking training to re-enter the workforce. In consultation with industry peers, Scott was able to fashion a custom curriculum to re-purpose the group as matte painters to provide backgrounds for features such as those seen on Game of Thrones etc. Calling the group his “rising stars”, Scott tells me he will miss them when they rotate out to guaranteed placements.
As I photographed in the centre, the astonishing level of work being done by each and every student reminded me of Scott’s comment that during a visit by a major European effects house, they had related how unique it was to visit a school and have every single student displaying outstanding work. With unique new entertainment technology on the horizon in the form of stereoscopic virtual reality, Think Tank looks forward to embracing a new paradigm in production that will lead to an even greater demand for highly qualified personnel.
Next time you walk past the building, just imagine the creative imagination and talent that boils and bubbles within, conjuring up magic with which to amaze and entertain us. And all in Lower Lonsdale!