There was a time when Phillip Stamp was a history graduate from Memorial University with a plan to study in Halifax, perhaps in architecture.
Years later, the St. John’s native found himself in filmmaker George Lucas’s California home, working on “Star Wars” animations.
Stamp had set his sights on attending Nova Scotia Technical College (now part of Dalhousie University), until a magazine study was published, rating Canadian graduate programs in terms of the number of students and the number that got jobs after graduation. There were 67 graduates from the school of architecture at Nova Scotia Tech. Number employed? One.
Stamp moved on in a different direction.
“I thought about studying animation, and thought it would be something I’d like to do,” he said, chuckling.
He enrolled in the animation program at Ottawa’s Algonquin College, with the goal of going on to study at Sheridan College near Toronto and, once again, his plans were derailed. A year into the two-year course, he got a job at an local animation studio.
“It was the early ’90s, and animation was starting to make a comeback, with studios kicking out new projects,” Stamp said. “I thought, if I’m making coffee or sweeping the floor there, I’m still around, but I ended up getting a job as an animator.”
Stamp never went back to his studies: he continued to work on a number of well-known TV series and projects, including “The Busy World of Richard Scarry,” animated specials of Lynn Johnston’s “For Better or for Worse” comic, “My Little Pony” and “Gargoyles,” a dark urban fantasy cartoon which resulted in a video game adaptation and a spinoff comic series.
Admittedly “insatiably curious and frequently interested in what other people are doing,” Stamp eventually added storyboard art and visual effects to his resumé, as well as 3-D animation — a rare combination in the mid-’90s — which opened doors for him in terms of the breadth of jobs he was asked to fill.
The first project he undertook in terms of visual effects was a CBC series called “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne.”
“One of the most fun things that I worked on was a movie starring Will Farrell called ‘Stranger Than Fiction.' … What was really fun about that is that we were developing a lot of things from the ground up.”
At a certain point, and Stamp still doesn’t know how it heard of him, Lucasfilm came calling, wanting him to work on some visual effects for movies. Hired to produce animated “Star Wars” material, Stamp and a handful of other animators often worked out of Lucas’s home.
“You know you’re not in Canada anymore when you drive on the property and you pass a Skywalker Ranch Fire Brigade firehouse,” Stamp said. “It was certainly a very interesting experience. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t intimidating, but you just get into the rhythm of the job you’re hired to do.”
“The Boy,” a YTV series about a child secret agent Stamp co-created, won the 2005 Prix Gémmeaux — the French language equivalent of the Gemini Awards — for Best New Series.
Stamp was later sent to Singapore, where he was animation director for Lucasfilm. Once that job wound down, he co-founded One Animation, a 3-D animation and visual effects studio there.
“Rob the Robot,” a One Animation 3-D animated TV series on which Stamp was an executive producer, director, writer and editor, still airs in Ontario.
Stamp left Singapore last year and moved back to Canada, with the intention of working as close to home as possible.
Since last fall, he’s been a supervising producer at Halifax-based DHX Media, which owns, markets and distributes children’s entertainment content, and is associated with shows such as “Caillou,” “Super Why!” and “Yo Gabba Gabba.”
The company is working on a number of new shows, including the preschool animated series “Doozers” with the Jim Henson Company, based on characters which appeared in the 1980s children’s show “Fraggle Rock.”
The series, consisting of 52 11-minute episodes, will air in Europe, the Middle East and Africa on Cartoonito channel starting this fall, and a number of North American broadcasters are interested in picking it up, as well.
“The show focuses on the Doozer characters, each episode with some kind of little problem they invent or create a way to solve,” Stamp said. “There’s lots of love, warmth and a high amount of respect for the original ‘Fraggle Rock’ characters, but these are not quite the same.”
There’s also a high regard for the Henson company, and Stamp said the DHX team is working closely with Lisa Henson, daughter of the legendary puppeteer/screenwriter/producer, who passed away in 1990.
“We speak to her on a weekly basis, and a lot of the creative decisions are made with her,” Stamp explained. “It’s been a really, really great experience working with her, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk with her about stories about her dad. Jim Henson was an individual a lot of people felt they knew, just because of the stuff he did. It’s been very, very gratifying to work with that company.”
It’s an exciting time to work in the animation field, Stamp said, and he expects the 100-employee DHX studio in Halifax to double in size in the next couple of years.
There’s a surprisingly high number of Newfoundlanders working at the studio in a range of positions, Stamp said, which he finds encouraging, since when he was starting out, opportunities for training or work in animation weren’t as evident.
“There are more opportunities, more schools, more places where you can train. There’s a lot of crossover, whether you want to do visual effects of video games or TV,” he said. “DHX is like the big kid on the block in Nova Scotia, but it’s not the only one. There are a bunch of game studios and production companies there. It’s always great to have a good talent pool that you don’t have to fly from across the country to work on something.”