Into the Spider-Verse art director creates scholarship with Toronto animation workshop

Patrick O'Keefe remembers saving up money as a kid to pay for courses at the Animation Portfolio Workshop in Toronto. Now, thanks to his success with Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, he's creating a scholarship for aspiring animators.

Patrick O’Keefe wants to give back to the ‘village’ that helped him grow as an artist

Patrick O'Keefe, one of the art directors of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is from Toronto. (Provided by Patrick O'Keefe)

Patrick O'Keefe remembers saving up money as a kid wherever he could to pay for courses at the Animation Portfolio Workshop in Toronto.

"A little bit of money seemed like the biggest thing in the world," he told CBC Toronto.

He doesn't need to worry about money anymore. And now he wants to give back by providing a scholarship so an aspiring artist can attend the same animation workshop that gave him his start. 

"This is for someone who was in my position who just needs to hear from an art teacher that they've got a lot of promise and just need to keep working," he said.

O'Keefe is one of the art directors of Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, an animated film that was released last Christmas and has won many awards, including an Oscar and multiple Annies, which are given out every year by the International Animated Film Association.

Told from the point of view from Brooklyn teen Miles Morales, the film explores a world where multiple Spider-Men from parallel universes exist. 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse helped "reshape the landscape of the animation business," O'Keefe said.

It was a critical and financial success, grossing over $375 million U.S. worldwide.

The artist, now based in Los Angeles, grew up with his single mother, who raised four kids. Watching her work two jobs to make ends meet is where O'Keefe says he developed his work ethic, but there were a lot of mentors who guided him to where he is today. 

"Thankfully we lived in a community in which a village is there to help raise the child," he said. 

Now, he wants to give back to that community.

The scholarship

O'Keefe has partnered with the Animation Portfolio Workshop, located on St. Clair West near Christie Street, to create a scholarship and mentorship opportunity for an aspiring animator.

He attended the program when he was in high school and says the workshop's directors, Gerard Sternik and Vince Peets, were some of his first mentors. 

The student who is awarded the scholarship will receive tuition for the spring course, which costs over $5,000, and will receive materials from Gwartzman's Art Supplies — a store on Spadina Avenue near College Street.

The scholarship extends further than money. O'Keefe's goal is also to develop a relationship with the student by having monthly video-chat meetings to discuss their work and aspirations.

As a young kid, your control is limited, he said.

"You can control your work ethic and passion but things like your financial situation and the opportunity to meet people in the industry are often out of your reach."

The Animation Portfolio Workshop is where O'Keefe got his first introduction into the industry and where he set the groundwork of his skills, Sternik said. 

Vince Peets, left, and Gerard Sternik are the directors of the Animation Portfolio Workshop on St. Clair West. (Samantha Moya/CBC News)

The workshop is for students who are trying to get into animation programs at post-secondary institutions. 

"It's hard to get into animation school; some people apply three or four times before they get in," Sternik said.

At the workshop, classes are six hours long and students spend their time drawing, including live models and drawing for animation, which involves creating geometric forms, storyboard panels and layouts, Peets said. 

When they narrow down the applicants for the O'Keefe Scholarship, O'Keefe will choose the winning student, with the help of his mother. 

"It's never a bad thing to take a helping hand," O'Keefe said.