Top Netflix series ‘Hilda’ animated in large part by Algonquin College alumni

Since graduating from Algonquin College’s animation program and joining Mercury Filmworks as a junior animator, Sara Connelly had been dying to be put on Hilda’s animation team. “When I first got to see a preview of Hilda, I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Connelly said. “It’s beautiful, the storytelling is so wonderful, […]
Photo: Roxanne Lamarche-Silmser
Pictured left to right; Jason Kelly, Sara Connelly and Jean-Luc Sauvé, all Algonquin College animation program graduates, in the animation department at Mercury Filmworks, standing behind a cardboard cutout of the main characters of Hilda.

Since graduating from Algonquin College’s animation program and joining Mercury Filmworks as a junior animator, Sara Connelly had been dying to be put on Hilda’s animation team.

“When I first got to see a preview of Hilda, I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Connelly said. “It’s beautiful, the storytelling is so wonderful, the animation is really good and it has a really unique style.”

The animated show’s story follows a young girl named Hilda and her new life in the sheltered fictional city of Trolberg. For her entire life, she had been living alone with her mother in the woods filled with mythical creatures. Episode by episode, the viewer watches the conflict that arises from the change in environment and the character development Hilda goes through.

Connelly’s hopes for involvement in the series came when she was assigned as an animation supervisor for the production of the show’s third and final season.

She isn’t the only one who fell in love with Hilda as a consumer. After all, it’s Netflix’s second highest-rated original animated series on IMDb as of Oct. 10.

Hilda’s first two seasons have also earned it 11 awards and eight other nominations, including Annie awards and Daytime Emmy awards.

Connelly also isn’t a lone Algonquin College alumna inside Hilda’s production studio, Mercury Filmworks. In fact, Algonquin College alumni make up a majority of the people behind both this show’s animation team and the animation department at Mercury Filmworks as a whole.

When the animation industry was booming in the late 2010s, over half of the 150 to 175 animators at Mercury Filmworks were Algonquin College animation program graduates, according to Weldon Poapst, a talent recruiter at Mercury Filmworks and a professor at Algonquin College.

The ratio in Hilda’s production team was even greater. Connelly said that around 80 to 90 per cent of the team she led had graduated from the college’s animation program.

Jason Kelly, another animation supervisor and Algonquin College animation program graduate, also led a team made up of mostly Algonquin College graduates.

The high ratio of Algonquin College animation graduates in the company is, in part, thanks to the decade-long relationship between the college and Mercury Filmworks.

The college is included with other animation programs in Ontario in an internship program. It was established to get animation students more experience in the field. Students in the internship program are also paid a wage as they contribute to professional projects.

Mercury Filmworks gives out an award of excellence to a third-year student they feel has the most promise every year.

“Mercury Filmworks will continue to support Algonquin College’s animation program in the coming future,” said Weldon Poapst. “Our outreach is very community-based and we want to help out new talents as much as we can.”

Hilda’s third and final season releases on Netflix on Dec. 7. The show has grown close to many members of its production team since its inception.

“I feel like the best way I can describe Hilda is that it was like the studio’s baby,” said Rachel Scott, a layout artist at Mercury Filmworks and graduate of Algonquin College’s animation program. “There was so much excitement around working on Hilda. The style of the show is so fun and the characters are just so lovable, for example.”

The animation team at Mercury Filmworks has been working on many other projects on top of Hilda. One is a new installment in the animated short series Don’t Walk Home Alone After Dark on YouTube, releasing on Oct. 13.

Mercury Filmworks’ other projects have included Molly McGee, Kid Cosmic and The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse.

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