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Doug Campbell: Sheridan alumnus wins Emmy for his work on Game of Thrones

Doug Campbell with Emmy Award Sept 2013
Doug Campbell with Emmy Award Sept 2013

Behind Doug Campbell’s Emmy Award are 100-hour work weeks, feats of technical wizardry and, above all, a passion for visual effects.

The 1982 graduate of Sheridan’s Classical Animation program received the 2013 Emmy for his work on Game Of Thrones in the category of Outstanding Special Visual Effects. Campbell was part of a nine-person team recognized for work on season three of the hit HBO series.

He led a team of about 50 artists and support staff who contributed to the series over a nine-month period at Toronto’s Spin VFX studios. Among the crew was animation supervisor, Peter Giliberti who graduated from Sheridan’s Classical Animation program in 1997. “It was the most challenging work I’ve ever done but the most rewarding,” said Vancouver-based Campbell, who had been nominated four times previously for television series – twice for The<>Borgias and twice for Stargate SG-1.

A visual effects specialist for over 25 years, Campbell found his niche soon after leaving Sheridan. A couple of months after graduation, his friend and former classmate, Lisa Regnier who was working for a visual effects company in Toronto, asked Campbell to help her move their office. “I came in for one day and stayed for seven years.  I never had a day off,” Campbell recalled. “We worked 16-hour days but I loved it. I learned every aspect of FX. You couldn’t have torn me away.”

It is that kind of passion that will serve today’s animation students and new graduates well over the long haul, Campbell maintains. “I would encourage potential students to go into something they love. They’ll enjoy it more, won’t mind working the long hours and it will be a lot more rewarding. Don’t enter a field based mainly on a paycheque.”

Campbell has first-hand experience with the lure of a well-paying job at a young age.  The Hamilton, Ontario native worked for the steel company Stelco for two years following his high school graduation. “At the time, I was making more than my father who was a pharmacist,” he said. “It was hard to walk away from the money but I knew I wanted to do something different with my life.”  With a lifelong interest in drawing and the support of his high school art teacher, Campbell set his sights on entering Sheridan’s animation program, landing one of 90 coveted spots out of approximately 3,000 applicants.

Over the years, Campbell has held leadership roles at Stargate Studios in Toronto, and eventually opened Spin West VFX in Vancouver in 2003, as animation opportunities grew in British Columbia.  He returned to Toronto from 2010-12 to work on The Borgias, and couldn’t pass up the offer to head up the visual effects team on Game of Thrones.

“It was tough being away from my wife back in Vancouver, but she was the one who said, ‘you’ve got to take this!’ We are both big fans of the show,” said Campbell.

Creating the special effects for each episode of the third season was no easy feat particularly since the Game of Thrones crew was not privy to scripts or cuts of the shows beforehand. “But the quality of the work we did was very close to feature film level; we just completed it in a shorter time frame. I was glad to be a part of that,” said Campbell.

The standard of excellence apparent in today’s television programming is a trend that Campbell welcomes and hopes will continue. “Not only for our industry but for viewers of these shows. These bigger budget TV series are more interesting than many feature films being put out today. The series creators put in the time to develop story lines and characters,” he said.

Campbell is currently in Vancouver contributing his skills to the feature film SIN CITY 2 scheduled for release in October 2014.