Living the immigrant dream while working as a Lead Character Modeler on the smash-hit kids’ animated series Paw Patrol, meet Morena Protti

In this episode of the “Life as A Canadian Immigrant” series, Morena Protti goes into the details of her experience and journey so far. As a Lead Character Modeler on the hit children animation series, “Paw Patrol”, Morena is convinced that her hard work is a huge factor in her overall success.

Please tell us about yourself.

I am a Graphic Artist in the Animation industry by day and a Health & Life coach by night.

Where in Canada do you live and what do you enjoy about this city?

In the past, I lived for 3 years in Montreal, 1 year in Vancouver, and the last 11 years in Toronto.  I was looking for a place to be stable with my work and Toronto offers plenty of work opportunities. I also like the more diverse population in comparison with the other cities in Canada.

What motivated you to migrate to Canada?

Working in animation. The market in Canada is one of the top 3 in the world. Part of it is because the Canadian Dollar is lower than the American one, and another advantage is that the government subsidizes a portion of my salary through Tax credits, in order to incentivize the growth of this industry in Canada.

What are the key differences you can point out between living in Canada and back home?

I’m originally Italian. The tax and bureaucratic system make it more difficult for my kind of work to be sustainable. I was paid very low, and the market was very small, therefore extremely competitive, so even if I had a lot of work opportunities due to my particular skill set, the lack of jobs available made so only a few people had a good sense of collaboration and sharing, while that was more of the general behavior in Canada. 

Projects in Italy were also generally short and so I had to change work, or work in various cities every few months.

As a young woman, I was reminded more times that I was wasting my time, as I soon will have to stay home to take care of the kids, simply because of my gender. On top of that, as a junior, I wasn’t free to share my opinion, and give personal inputs and creative ideas, which are a big part of my personality. I only had to obey the directions and keep my mouth shut. I haven’t had this kind of attitude towards me in Canada. I can share my knowledge freely and I had seen pregnant women be hired at my current company. Nobody ever cared about my family situation or desires, when hiring me. There are actually policies against harassment and discrimination. 

We also welcome the ideas from juniors and we evaluate together if we can implement them or if they’re good per se, but cannot work for our particular general work set-up. But we don’t discount them just based on their work seniority. We actually welcome enterprising kinds of people with a lot of interesting inputs, as in a creative environment we’re always shifting our system to allow a better, efficient, and more functional work-flow and try to keep everyone happy. There is a lot of consideration for the team and the employees’ satisfaction.

As a Lead Character Modeler on the hit children animation series, “Paw Patrol” what’s a day on the job like? Also, how does it feel to be a part of a show that has such a global impact?

I’ll go with it as the WFH situation, as it seems will be the main way we’ll be working anyways in the upcoming future.

While I still do some of the artistic and technical character work myself, my main duties are to revise and support my junior’s work, both artistically and technically. I help them to convert a single flat design of a character into a full 360 digital sculpture and help them with proportions and details to look overall pleasant and balanced before we show this to the director. This saves the director a lot of time in revisions, as he’s busy with all the other departments. 

I also organize 1-1 and group training, weekly group check-ins to keep the overall sense of the team and show each other their progress, and I’ll do video meetings with my team members individually, where we share their work on screen and make interactive revisions on the spot.  I’ll do more elaborate Photoshop paint over when I need to develop further an idea and test something in my mind 1st. 

Another part of the work is to distribute assignments to my team and communicate with the other departments to find the best technical solution to the design, as our approved digital sculpt then gets converted into a more technical, production-friendly digital mesh, and we add as well a wide array of facial expressions sets to each character (things like eyes blinks, smiley mouth, sad eyebrows, phonemes, etc). I like to use some of the coachings I have learned on the side to help my team work out personal work challenges and stressors. I like to make a positive impact on other people’s lives.

When you are not busy with work as a Lead Character Modeler, what other things do you do?

In the last few years, I’m really interested in coaching and yoga, so I spend a lot of time studying and practicing those. In the past, I also did 3D printing and did some pretty famous designs, but I’m now more interested in health-related topics as I grow more “mature”. I take walks outdoors every day, hike in nature when I can, and sometimes I join a duet karaoke on Smule 🙂

What pathway brought you to Canada, would you advise other intending immigrants to go through the same?

For the kind of work I do, I knew the best working projects are in North America. I was young and highly driven to achieve my work goals and leave everything behind (family and all I knew) in order to get what I wanted, a better job in a better country (not food-wise, sorry guys!). 

Most Italians I met here went back to Italy after a few years because they have challenges adapting to the differences in Canada. My attitude was different. My parents (from back home) and I, always looked at the positives I was gaining from living and working in Canada, and being able to support myself comfortably at a young age, something far from my Italian peers’ experience. 

We also love how the people in this country are generally kind and available, and how it is quite a safe place to live in, even as a young woman. I could finally leave behind the constant stress to get mugged or harassed. In regards to my immigration process, I came to Canada at 23 years old on a work-sponsored Visa almost 16 years ago, and 3 years later I did my PR on my own in Quebec. I got my Citizenship as soon as I could. 

The whole process is far from being a breeze and made me really proud of my accomplishments. Some people in the movie industry are still immigrating in the same way I did, passing from a sponsor work visa to a PR and eventually citizenship. But not all of my colleagues have enough qualifications to do that. Some elements are very important, like age, education, or language, if you don’t have a family to sponsor you in Canada.

Therefore, the majority of my colleagues immigrate here by converting a school degree into a work visa, or through a few years of work/holiday visas their country offers (not an option for Italy which offers only a 6 month open work visa) or through spouse sponsorship, and most often a lawyer is involved.

I had a particularly conducive personal situation, thanks to my previous education, the language proficiency in English and French (both important where I was at the time, in Montreal) and my busy resume, through the various freelancers graphic jobs I was taking since highschool through college, and then I got hired as soon as I graduated from college.

Some people occasionally would tell me I was lucky, but I feel that’s the opinion of an outsider. My parents always reminded me that I helped my luck with all the efforts at school, the extra jobs I was taking since before graduating, and my determination. As it’s been a long time since then, I cannot tell how it is nowadays. The immigration process is constantly changing and it also varies by the province you want to settle in.

I think it would be really helpful to look into what you need, in order to convert a visa into a PR, before you take the big jump and move here, so you know what you need to add to your skill set in order to favor your odds and propel yourself in that direction from the very beginning. This is where I see the service that HumanSquad offers is very valuable to take things under another perspective and cover the grounds we didn’t think of, on our own, to allow us to go further and not let go at the first adversity.   

What advice do you have for those looking to move to Canada?

I think it’s very important to complete a postgraduate degree, do some jobs in the area you’d like to work in Canada, build up your resume, and to know well English or French. This will make the immigration process easier. If you don’t have a good linguistic basis already, watching movies in the original language and reading as well, will make it much easier to integrate on the job and in society in general.

In regards to relationships, you may find it easier to bond with other immigrants, because of the mutual background experience, but locals are as well generally very welcoming and curious to know you and your country’s history and culture. They rarely make you feel like an outsider. If you end up bonding with other immigrants, there is always a shifting dance in people who come and go, so just take that as a fact of life, and take the positives out of it, being glad to have had the privilege to have shared some of it together.

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