Day 300 - Tzanko

Day 300 - Tzanko (3rd person I approached)
October 27, 2014 - The first person I approached was a gentleman who looked like he might be waiting for a business meeting. Although he was sitting on a bench overlooking the waters at False Creek. I asked him if he would chat with me. He smiled, telling me he was sorry, but he was just finishing his lunch break.

"I only have enough time to meditate before returning to work," he said. Best ‘I’m busy’ response I can recall!


Tzanko (Ss-ank-oh) was eating what I assume was his lunch. As I approached him, I noticed a large brown seagull was also trying to get his attention. Tzanko had dropped a small piece of his sandwich on the ground just in front of his feet. The gull was waiting for his moment. I explained to Tzanko what I was doing and asked if he would chat with me. I also asked if he wanted me to leave him alone with the bird. He laughed, saying

“No, that’s fine. Sure I’ll chat with you, no problem.”


Born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, shortly after Tzanko’s birth, the family moved to Sofia, the largest city in Bulgaria.

“I spent summers in Plovdiv with my grandparents on my father’s side, like for two or three months at a time,” he told me. Tzanko has one younger brother.

“He’s nine years younger than I am. We’re not physically close, he lives in (the USA), but we’re close as brothers. I definitely helped out where I could when we were younger, yes,” he said.

“We lived with my mother’s parents in a two bedroomed apartment for a while. It’s quite typical of the Bulgarian culture. I have friends who aren’t married and still live with their parents.” The seagull made it's move and got the bread, ate it, and waited for more.


“I was named after my father’s father. And my younger brother is named after my mother’s father. Again another typically Bulgarian tradition. I think I’m the fourth or fifth generation to carry the name forward. It also makes inheriting property easier, because it’s in the same name. Traditionally a son gets the (paternal) grandfather's first name and the father's name as a second name. Then the family name,” said Tzanko. He said that after not having been to visit Bulgaria for some eighteen years, he went back and visited his grandfather’s grave for the first time.

“It was kind of strange to look at a tombstone with my name on it.” His mother is an Engineer, and his father was a teacher, researcher and scientist.


In high-school, he attended a school that focussed on technical training and sciences.

“I completed the first two semesters of Grade twelve in Bulgaria. My mother had gotten a job with the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, DC. She went ahead in September of that year while I completed the semester of school. My father meanwhile had gotten a  position teaching at a university in Scotland. There was definitely some tension for my parents during that time. My father found it hard to give up what he considered to be the height of his career, to go to Washington and have my mother be the prime breadwinner. They worked through it though, and we all lived in Washington, DC,” he said. Tzanko went to a high school in DC that was affiliated with George Washington University (GWU).

“I went into Grade eleven there. But because of the GWU connection, some of the classes were taught by professors and at college level. So I was doing Calculus 33, and Drawing 101 at the same time,” he said. 


Tzanko returned to Bulgaria by himself staying at the family’s apartment in Sofia.

“I went back and graduated from high-school. I wanted to get my Bulgarian diploma. It was the first time I had been alone in Sofia. I think at least half of my class moved in with me and we partied at night and went to school during the day. I had to work hard because I convinced my teachers that I could write the exams before everyone else.” Three months later, Tzanko graduated and headed back to Washington DC. He then went on to graduate from his American high-school.


“I had always had an interest in animation. Being in America was useful. Remember, as a communist country, in Bulgaria if your father was an engineer, you became an engineer. The son of an engineer becoming an animator is virtually unheard of. In America, you never know who you are talking to. You hop in a taxi and maybe start to talk with the driver. You ask him, I don’t know, maybe ask for advice about which girl you should date and the guy is a surgeon back in his home country,” he said. 


Tzanko entered a competition and had a drawing selected to be included in an exhibition at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.

“I was there the night of the show opening and was speaking with the Dean of the school. He asked me what I wanted to do. I had been applying to art colleges but didn’t want to go anywhere too far from DC and my parents. The Dean offered me a full scholarship to Corcoran. I spent the next four years there studying animation,” he said.


He graduated from Corcoran School of the Arts. Tzanko had a friend living in New York.

“At first he had the rough time that it can be arriving in New York with nowhere to live. Then he landed a sweet loft apartment in an old converted factory in Williamsburg. From the roof, there was an unobstructed view over-looking the skyline of downtown New York (Manhattan). I moved to New York and spent the next decade living there,” he said. Tzanko was working in web design, and doing animation in the evenings.

“I didn’t have any real web-deign experience, but the technical skills from high-school helped. I did that as my day job, then I’d go for a couple of beers, head home and work every night,” he said. HIs father has reached the pinnacle of his career.

“He is an actual rocket scientist now. For real. He designs the propulsion mechanisms,” he said, with pride and maybe some comical disbelief.


After a couple of work visa renewals and extensions, the options were becoming limited as far as his ability to stay in the US.

“I could leave and go back to Bulgaria for a year and then try again. I knew I eventually wanted to get into animation as my career. I started a worldwide search for a studio to work with. There was one in Vancouver that was interested, and we went back and forth a bit. They told me I wasn’t quite up to the task. It seemed that Vancouver was where my future was, and I came here to go to the Vancouver Film School. It was a year long program. I only intended to stay here for that year. But I fell in love with another student, and we started dating. We’ve been married for almost seven years now. Next month, November. My wife is an animator as well. It works well because we can support one another and bounce ideas off each other. There’s an understanding of the creative process. 


Tzanko now works for a prominent, animation studio here in Vancouver. With offices around the world, the studio produces animation in cartoon, television, film, and music videos for companies like Disney and Nickelodeon. I took his photograph and thanked Tzanko for his time. I asked if I had kept him longer than he intended, making him late going back to work.

“Well, that’s just one of the beautiful things about this studio. The beauty of a creative environment. There aren’t any set hours. Sometimes you might not be able to come up with anything, and then other days it’s going so well, you work into the night. They don’t care if you come back from lunch late. As long as you get your shit done, it’s all good.” #notastranger