Train­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Women by Ellen Wolff

How many of to­day’s an­i­ma­tion and vfx schools are pre­par­ing women stu­dents for top po­si­tions in to­day’s com­pet­i­tive film and TV in­dus­try. by Ellen Wolff

Animation Magazine - - Content -

The buzz about an­i­ma­tion’s girl power has been es­pe­cially strong this sea­son, fu­eled by writer/di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Lee’s Dis­ney hit Frozen. Not to take any­thing away from the legacy of Dis­ney’s Nine Old Men, but a gen­er­a­tion of women is writ­ing some new chap­ters. Brenda Chap­man right­fully picked up an Os­car for her lead­er­ship on Pixar’s Brave, while Jen­nifer Yuh has been at the helm for two in­stall­ments of DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda fran­chise. One of this year’s most ac­claimed an­i­mated shorts, the in­no­va­tive 3-D Get a Horse!, is also both di­rected and pro­duced by women—Lauren MacMul­lan and Dorothy McKim re­spec­tively.

That trend is oc­cur­ring in tele­vi­sion too, notes Brooke Keesling, who man­ages an­i­ma­tion tal­ent de­vel­op­ment at Car­toon Net­work. “We have Re­becca Su­gar, who di­rects the net­work’s Steven Universe.” she notes. “At Car­toon Net­work there is no short­age of women.”

Keesling is uniquely po­si­tioned to see ta­lented young women come into their own. Be­cause in ad­di­tion to her day job re­cruit­ing for the Car­toon Net­work, Keesling teaches a Film Pro­duc­tion Workshop at CalArts. “I ba­si­cally men­tor stu­dents through the mak­ing of their films,” she ex­plains. She knows what that takes, since Keesling earned her MFA at CalArts, and her film Boo­bie Girl won the Gold Medal at the Stu­dent Academy Awards in 2001.

CalArts has a long tra­di­tion of pro­duc­ing award-win­ning an­i­ma­tors who make their marks as pros, and since the num­ber of its fe­male stu­dents has ex­ceeded males in re­cent years, we’re see­ing more women get their pro­fes­sional shots. Ni­cole Mitchell, Stu­dent Os­car Gold Medal­ist in 2008, earned an An­nie nom­i­na­tion for her work on Dis­ney’s Win­nie the Pooh, while 2002 Sil­ver Medal­ist Jen Sachs is now di­rect­ing an an­i­mated doc­u­men­tary called The Fan­tas­tic Flights of So­phie Blan­chard.

In re­cent years, Rin­gling Col­lege of Art and

“Young women don’t think they can’t suc­ceed, be­cause they were never told they couldn’t. You don’t have to tell lit­tle girls

that they can do any­thing. They al­ready know that!”

— Brooke Keesling, Car­toon Net­work’s Man­ager of An­i­ma­tion Tal­ent De­vel­op­ment,

De­sign has also seen sev­eral fe­male grads launch promis­ing ca­reers. Af­ter win­ning the 2011 An­i­ma­tion Gold Medal, Jenna Bors be­came an an­i­ma­tor on com­mer­cials and on Sony’s Arthur Christ­mas, while 2007 Bronze Medal­ist Bevin Carnes worked on Green Lan­tern and Ice Age: Dawn of the Di­nosaurs. In 2011, Ste­vie Lewis earned a Bronze Medal and be­came a vis­ual de­vel­op­ment artist at PDI/ DreamWorks. And this past year, Lind­sey St. Pierre, Ash­ley Gra­ham and Kate Reynolds shared the Gold Medal for Dia de los Muer­tos, which they helped fi­nance by mount­ing a savvy Kick­starter cam­paign.

“They were so fo­cused and ded­i­cated that some­times I for­got how young they were,” says Rin­gling teacher Heather Thom­son about her stu­dent medal­ists.

Thom­son, who’s a ’96 Rin­gling alumna and has taught there for 13 years, says, “We have a lot of fe­male stu­dents, and I think the num­ber is in­creas­ing.” Per­haps as a re­sult, the mes­sage young women are hear­ing to­day is dif­fer­ent. “They’re not be­ing told that they need to be twice as good to be con­sid­ered ‘ good.’ They come with ex­pec­ta­tions of suc­cess.”

New Paths to Suc­cess

Young women an­i­ma­tors are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the growth of adult-themed an­i­ma­tion to gain footholds in the in­dus­try. Ca­reen In­gle, who

grad­u­ated from USC’s School of Cin­e­matic Arts, has cre­ated an­i­ma­tion for Co­nan, while her fel­low alumna Laura Yil­maz re­cently worked on shorts for Com­edy Cen­tral’s new se­ries TripTank. And Yil­maz’s per­sonal film, Places Other Peo­ple Have Lived, is a fes­ti­val stand­out.

The ex­plo­sion of an­i­ma­tion on the web has also cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male artists with dis­tinc­tive voices. An­i­ma­tion pro­ducer Carolyn Bates from the Shut Up! Car­toons se­ries re­calls see­ing the an­i­ma­tion of Emily Brundige when Brundige was still at CalArts. Bates re­calls, “When were look­ing for some­one for a ‘tween’ girls project, I re­mem­bered Emily.” The re­sult­ing web se­ries, Pu­bertina, fea­tures an­i­ma­tion, voices and even mu­sic by Brundige.

“Emily Brundige was my stu­dent,” says Mau­reen Selwood, a vet­eran teacher in CalArts’ Ex­per­i­men­tal An­i­ma­tion pro­gram. “She was in a class that had 19 women and one man. Emily was very pas­sion­ate about sto­ry­telling, and once she be­gan to re­al­ize her po­ten­tial as a writer, she knew who she wanted to be in a very pub­lic fo­rum. For a lot of young peo­ple, the web is where they have to be­gin.”

And the web has also be­come a plat­form for in­tro­duc­ing fe­male an­i­ma­tors from an ever-grow­ing range of coun­tries and cul­tures. As ex­am­ples, Selwood points to Momo Wang from China, Asavari Ku­mar from In­dia and Sara Gun­nars­dót­tir from Ice­land. “A lot of ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent is com­ing from Asia,” says Selwood, who reg­u­larly cu­rates shows around the world. “I teach a class that has a woman from Le­banon and one from Pales­tine. I’m see­ing women who are not used to feel­ing em­pow­ered, be­cause of the coun­tries they come from. But more women are feel­ing that they have per­mis­sion to break through in a man’s world—and not just in an­i­ma­tion and the arts.”

“In one class I teach, one of the first as­sign­ments is to cre­ate an artist state­ment,” Selwood adds. “I was sur­prised at how per­sonal and open they were. Ten years ago you would never have seen that kind of open­ness in shar­ing per- sonal sto­ries. We talked about whether it was wise to re­veal so much, and the women in the class were fe­ro­cious in say­ing, ‘Ab­so­lutely!’”

Hear Them Roar

Deeply per­sonal films are es­pe­cially ev­i­dent

“I feel like there are two dif­fer­ent paths: there is the Hol­ly­wood in­dus­try, which has not been very hos­pitable to women, and the world

of in­de­pen­dent an­i­ma­tion, which has been very nur­tur­ing.”

— Ag­nieszka Woznicka, Rhode Is­land School of De­sign

among an­i­ma­tors with an in­de­pen­dent bent, ob­serves Ag­nieszka Woznicka, who teaches in the Film/ An­i­ma­tion/Video pro­gram at the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign (RISD). “I feel like there are two dif­fer­ent paths: there is the Hol­ly­wood in­dus­try, which has not been very hos­pitable to women, and the world of in­de­pen­dent an­i­ma­tion, which has been very nur­tur­ing.”

Woznicka’s par­tic­u­lar ex­per­tise is in stop­mo­tion, and she has seen sev­eral of her stu­dents em­brace that form of an­i­ma­tion and build a ca­reer do­ing it. By way of ex­am­ple, she cites Hay­ley Mor­ris, whose poignant RISD film Un­done used stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion to ex­plore her grand­fa­ther’s de­scent into Alzheimer’s disease. Mor­ris has since be­come a suc­cess­ful in­de­pen­dent an­i­ma­tor in N.Y.C., and a film fes­ti­val fa­vorite.

“A num­ber of our grad­u­ates move to New York and do a lot of free­lance work and mu­sic videos,” says Woznicka. “They’re still work­ing with their class­mates, and re­ally help­ing each other. I find that en­cour­ag­ing to see.”

CalArts’ Keesling agrees. “I al­ways tell my stu­dents; ‘Look around you. Th­ese are the peo­ple you’ll be with for years to come. So play nice and help each other out. This is your core net­work that will help you get jobs out in the world.’”

How strong—and how soon—a net­work of young fe­male an­i­ma­tors builds its in­dus­try clout is an open ques­tion. Mau­reen Selwood ex­pects, “It may take another three or four years to re­ally see the growth of women who are keen to be­come di­rec­tors.”

It’s likely that the rise of so­cial me­dia, and sites like Kick­starter, Vimeo and Tum­blr may help ac­cel­er­ate the pace. Even the TED Talks site has

shone a spot­light on artists like Miwa Ma­treyek, who com­bines an­i­ma­tion and live per­for­mance to ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fect.

“Young women don’t think they can’t suc­ceed, be­cause they were never told they couldn’t,” says Keesling. Para­phras­ing co­me­dian Sarah Sil­ver­man (who no­tably de­liv­ered writer Jen­nifer Lee’s lines in Wreck-It Ralph) Keesling as­serts: “You don’t have to tell lit­tle girls that they can do any­thing. They al­ready know that!” Ellen Wolff is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who cov­ers an­i­ma­tion, vis­ual ef­fects and ed­u­ca­tion.

Un­done

Places Other Peo­ple Have Lived

The Fan­tas­tic Flights of So­phie Blan­chard

Dia de los Muer­tos

Pu­bertina Mau­reen Selwood Heather Thom­son Carolyn Bates

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