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The right – and left – career choice

His name appears on the credits of an Academy Award-winning film, but Hollywood isn’t where you will find Jason Lynch, writes Annie May.

In one job he brings blobs of plasticine to life, in the other he helps keep people alive. As both a nurse and animator, Jason Lynch’s two occupations couldn’t seem more separate.

A “bit right brain and a bit left brain”, on finishing school, Lynch was interested in finding a career in either physiotherapy or the creative arts. Torn between the two, it was his mother who advised him to take the more stable path. While he didn’t gain the marks needed for physiotherapy, he decided to follow her advice and study nursing until he could transfer to his chosen field.

Six months into his degree, Lynch fell in love with nursing, and close to two decades on that hasn’t changed. However, he never completely put aside his passion for creative endeavors and away from the hospital wards did a few small freelance illustration jobs and web page designs.

It was when a client asked him to animate a logo for his website – and reconnecting with his affection for Ren and Stimpy – that gave him the push to enroll in an animation degree at the Queensland College of Art (now the Griffith Film School) in 2000.

An exhausting three years followed with Lynch studying fulltime and nursing three days a week at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital in Brisbane. At first he had his sights set on being a 2D animator, but when a component of the course called for him to do something with plasticine, he soon put down his pencil and entered the world of 3D.

Midway through the course, Lynch knew where we wanted to be: Aardman Studios. Famous for its stop-motion, clay animation productions, particularly those featuring plasticine duo Wallace and Gromit, working for the British studio may have seemed overly ambitious for a nurse who hadn’t yet completed his animation degree, but Lynch wasn’t deterred.

When he heard there was a Wallace and Gromit feature in the works, he became more determined.

Applying for a number of positions, each was unsuccessful with the major problem being the fact that he lived in Australia. Still he didn’t give up, and in 2004 he and his partner, also a nurse, moved to the UK.

They both easily picked up nursing work, and for four months they lived in a backpackers while Lynch applied for any job that came up at the studio, from parking attendant to model-maker.

Finally his persistence paid off and an audition was scheduled.

“The nurse in me came out. Other than teaching me how to make beds, nursing has taught me many life lessons like you can’t just wait around for things to happen – imagine how disastrous for patients that would be,” Lynch says.

The original audition was for a junior position on another Aardman production, but instead he was hired as the assistant animator for Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

“It was perfect timing. It had started to look hopeless and the process had been so drawn-out that we about to head back to Australia. Instead we signed a lease on a house, bought a car and stayed for a year,” he says.

The film took the 2006 Academy award for full-length animated film.

Returning to St Andrew’s, the transition back to nursing fulltime was not an easy one. “It was like I’d been shown the good life and then had it taken away from me,” Lynch says.

It wasn’t that he had lost his desire to be a nurse.

“It was hard for a number of reasons. I was down in the dumps about having to leave before the film was completed, our house was being renovated and my wife was seven months pregnant.

“Once things at home settled down and I started making films at my house, I was happy as Larry. I also woke up to the fact that it wasn’t like I was an out-of-work actor making coffee, but I was doing something I enjoyed.”

Soon after his return to the hospital, a nursing education position came up, giving Lynch a new focus. Then he was given another “dream opportunity”, working in Melbourne on Oscar-winning Adam Elliot’s latest project, Mary and Max, released in cinemas last month.

Again, Lynch would have been happy to do anything – including making coffee – to be a part of the film, but he got the role of key animator and for 12 months spent his days bringing to life the memorable characters.

As with crediting his involvement with Wallace and Gromit to being a nurse, Lynch says the same for Mary and Max – although this time he means it more literally.

“I really wanted this job, so with the aim of offering something different from others, I made them aware I would use my nursing skills in any way needed at no extra cost,” Lynch says.

“Health and safety is an important consideration, and my plan must have worked because as well as animator I was the on-set nurse.”

Working with blobs of plasticine may not sound like it requires the service of a nurse, but Lynch says he was called on at least once a week to administer first-aid.

“There were scalpel cuts, chemical vapours in the eyes and even a sliced leg.”

He also had to treat himself once when a flying piece of wood sliced the top of his head, leaving him with a permanent reminder of his time on set.

Bringing together his two occupations didn’t end on returning to the hospital. Making use of both his training in animation and nursing, Lynch built a cardiac training aid for his colleagues at St Andrew’s. The project also gave him the opportunity to revisit the skills he gained when working on B-grade horror movies.

It can squirt blood, produce a thumping pulse and develop a haematoma, allowing training nurses to experience everything from feeling bleeding under the skin to dealing with a burst artery.

While there are simulated patients already on the market, these cost around $20,000 and do not bleed like Lynch’s creation, which cost $120.

“I used an old shop dummy and equipment that I had from working on various movies and from the hospital, which was easy to access and kept within the budget,” he says.

The simulated patient has proved to be so successful that St Andrew’s is discussing collaborating with Lynch to produce them for the medical market and designing other versions for specific training courses.

Learning coordinator for cardiac services, Shauna Northwood says as one of the highest acuity rated hospitals in the country, its nurses need to have nine out of ten competency skills while most other hospitals only require four.

“Having the artificial body allows our nurses to practice in a safe environment as many times as they like so they are completely confident when the time comes for them to look after a real patient on the ward.”

For Lynch, it allowed him to keep having the best of both worlds.

“It’s difficult to be a fulltime animator and St Andrew’s has been very supportive in that they allow me to take time out so I can fulfill both careers. It’s nice now to be able to give something back while being allowed to use both sides of my brain.”

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