BY MATTHEW FOX
As a U of C drama student in the mid-1990s, working on large film productions wasn’t what Jordan Thistlewood (BFA’97) pictured doing after graduation. “I really wanted to go into lighting big musicals and Cirque du Soleil shows because they are full of spectacle. They have a lot for a lighting designer to sink their teeth into, with a budget to back it up,” he says. “Then I was seduced by computer animation and film special effects. Reading the lighting credits for Toy Story and Jurassic Park opened my eyes to another set of possibilities.”
Thistlewood got a “big rush” on his first light hang at the U of C’s Drama Department production of Uncle Vanya. “I was blessed with a sense of wonder to learn more and more,” he recalls, “and being a sponge made people notice and they opened doors for me.”
Armed with a solid technical and creative skill set, Thistlewood began networking and landed work as a lighting lead with Toronto-based C.O.R.E. Feature Animation. Production was starting on The Wild, a Disney-distributed animation feature that starred the voices of Kiefer Sutherland, James Belushi and even Don Cherry. With more than 300 creative and technical staff for the project, it became the largest movie production ever in Canada.
“Working on The Wild took my career from zero to 60 in three-and-a-half seconds, and it held that pace for two years,” Thistlewood says. “I worked my way up through the production to eventually being the supervising shot finaling lead — the person who works with the lighting and compositing crews to make sure things look the way the production designer thinks they should. My role was part technical advisor and part lighting director.”
Thistlewood’s hard work has paid dividends. “The cream of the crop moment occurred when C.O.R.E.’s president introduced (Monty Python actor and film director) Terry Gilliam to me during a studio tour,” Thistlewood says. “The president explained I did the lighting in The Wild that Terry had just commented on liking so much. Terry paid me a nice compliment. I’m a big fan of the production designs of Terry’s films, so I was pretty happy that day,” he recalls.
What’s next for Thistlewood? He’s enjoying a break from the long days that are the norm when a film is in production, and says C.O.R.E. is positioning itself for the next big project.