Jessica Canter ‘04 Surface Texture Artist, Hollywood

Jessica Canter ’04 grew up in the small town of Ross, Ohio, watching Disney movies. She adored the Lion King, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. But she never imagined she’d one day be helping to make animated films herself.

Fast forward to today, and Canter is a professional surface texture artist in Los Angeles. She recently completed six years of employment at DreamWorks Animation, working on major movies such as Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens, Shrek 4 and The Croods.

“Sometimes it’s a little unbelievable going back and thinking how I managed to get hired and come out here,” said Canter, who graduated from BGSU with a Bachelor’s in Digital Arts. “I just love being able to do what I love. Being an artist for your job is really wonderful.”

As a surface texture artist, Canter paints objects, backgrounds and characters in movies, using digital tools on a computer. Each task can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a month, depending on size and complexity. Her work includes the Punch Monkey and the canyon where the family lives in The Croods, the fireworks factory in Kung Fu Panda 2, Fiona’s clothes and armor in Shrek 4, and the taco truck and tomato plant in Turbo.

Canter enjoyed drawing and painting as a child and always knew she wanted to work in the art field. Her parents suggested she study graphic design, but then Canter heard about a friend’s relative who was studying animation at university. She was immediately drawn to the idea.

“I got really excited,” she said. “I’d always loved animated movies, but it was a career my parents and I knew little about or how to get into.”

The alumna researched colleges and discovered Bowling Green’s digital arts program. She said she loved that the faculty members were professional artists themselves. Canter said her studies at Bowling Green inspired her to work in the film industry and got her started with the skills and artistic training she needed to get there. She went on to deepen those skills by earning a Master of Fine Arts in Digital Effects at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, graduating in 2006.

Getting a job on big-budget animation movies is no easy feat, Canter noted. Her big break came when she heard about an apprenticeship program at DreamWorks that trained animation graduates fresh out of college. Canter contacted the recruiter and was invited for an interview. She could barely believe it when the company called her back with a job offer.

“My phone rang and I saw the number and I didn’t pick it up. I was so nervous,” Canter said. “It was really surreal.”

Seeing your work and name credited on the big screen is a great feeling, she said.

“The first couple of movies I watched, no matter how many times I watched it … every time something that I worked on came up on screen I was like, that’s mine, that’s mine!” Canter said. “It’s really exciting.”

For other students looking to break into the animation industry, Canter recommended researching the latest trends and exploring the many different ways animation skills can be used beyond just movies. Video-game companies, for example, need surface texturing experts to help make their products, and it’s an industry that’s growing quickly, Canter noted.

The alumna left DreamWorks in July to spend time with her new baby. She now works as a professor at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood, teaching the latest digital surface texturing techniques to the next generation of animation artists.