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Club proves to be game-changer
Scholarship helps Panniqtummiuq study animation in Vancouver

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 14, 2014

It only took one week of computer coding to turn one Pangnirtung woman on to a new career. Now Talia Metuq is getting help to make that career happen.

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Talia Metuq, seen here at the Pinnguaq coding camp in Pangnirtung in February, is the recipient of a scholarship from the firm to help her study 3-D animation in Vancouver. - photo courtesy of Pinnguaq

Metuq was part of a Code Club camp run by the Pangnirtung technology company Pinnguaq in February, and she is the first recipient of a $6,000 scholarship that will help her study 3D Modelling Animation Art and Design at a private art college in Vancouver starting in September.

"I'm excited and nervous," Metuq, who studied digital image design at Fleming College in Haliburton, Ont., said of the one-and-a-half year program. "I'm excited to go and live away from here for a year, and nervous that I've never been to Vancouver before."

"I think it's awesome," Pinnguaq founder Ryan Oliver said. "It's probably the best possible result we could have had from the code club is to have someone completely base a life choice on what they learned at it."

The 21-year-old was introduced to 3-D animation by a guest speaker from EA Sports, one of the world's largest video game design firms, where Oliver has friends.

"We had conference calls every day (with EA Sports) to show there's more to game development than programming, and I think that's important. It's art. It involves some math, but essentially, when you watch a Pixar movie, that's all 3-D modelling. It's everything related to modern animation."

As part of the scholarship, Metuq will be working five to six hours a month at the Pangnirtung firm's technical office in Vancouver, where Oliver has two employees, who will also help her make the transition to the big city.

"I want to be a game programmer in the future, and work for Ryan," she said. "I have some games I want to make. I would like to make an Inuit hunting game. I'll be working on it while I'm away, but when I come back, I want to finish it. I want to watch people hunting first because I want to make the game realistic and see how they hunt before I start."

Pinnguaq, which means "play" in Inuktitut, focuses on creating original, mass-market-ready product that will promote Nunavut and Inuit culture through technology.

"Right now, we're outsourcing our 3-D modelling to a really awesome team in Michigan," said Oliver. "It's not long-term sustainable. You're always going to be in a better position if you build capacity internally. If she wants, she can stay with us. Everything we do (related to games) involves 3-D models."

Metuq was disappointed that few Panniqtummiut took advantage of the chance to learn from experts in a field that clearly has the potential to create opportunities for those eager to participate.

"Not a lot of people participated in it," she said of the February camp. "A lot of teenagers play (EA Sports') NHL Hockey and other stuff. I would love to inspire people from here and around Nunavut for going to the college for 3-D modelling, animation and design."

As far as Metuq and Oliver know, she would be the first Inuk to pursue 3-D animation as a career. To build on this success, Oliver said his firm is working on repeating the camp in Pangnirtung and Iqaluit in the fall.

Plans to run the camps in the summer were delayed so the firm could focus on getting its first big game, Qalupalik, ready for the world's biggest games expo, Gamescom, next month in Germany.

"We'll focus on the people who do come," he said of the workshops, "continue to build their success stories, and I think it will attract more and more people."

Oliver said he hopes more people will find careers from the camps, but the new scholarship will be available to any Nunavut student starting a post-secondary education in innovation and technology.

"It's really good," Metuq said of the award, adding she'll be looking for other funding because the program is costly. "It's helping me with tuition, and working with two people, I'll have more experience."

Metuq's cousin, Paulette Metuq, is currently studying graphic design at the same school Talia will attend, the Visual College of Art and Design. In the long term, Talia has ambitions to team up with Paulette to start a firm in Nunavut, but for now, she said she's looking forward to the experience of living in the city and working with Pinnguaq.

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