Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Women in Animation: Eiko Tanaka

I'd like to end this month of profiles on Women in Animation by sharing some information about a great success story in the field of animation: Eiko Tanaka.

Eiko Tanaka founded her own animation studio, Studio 4°C (1), in Tokyo back in 1986 after working "as a line producer on Hayao Miyazaki's MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE" (2). In the past twenty-five years, Studio 4°C has worked on such films as "Spriggan", "the Animatrix", "Batman: Gotham Knight", "First Squad: The Moment of Truth", and two of my personal favorites: "Genius Party" and "Genius Party Beyond". Additionally, Studio 4°C has worked on television series, commercials, video games, public service announcements, and their own animated shorts (3). And if that wasn't enough, she apparently is also "the chief executive office of a producing company called Beyond C" (4).

Having had both Spriggan and the Animatrix in my collection, I hadn't given much thought to their production companies until I went to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema back in 2008. It was there that I saw both Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond. Having been raised on a steady diet of anime (and it's ofttimes uninspired visual style), I was blown away by the wide range of story and visuals projected on the screen. It was fascinating to see such an established a studio break out of the 'big eyes-small mouth' stereotype of Japanese animation and push the boundaries of the artistic medium using the gift for technical precision and quality that is so prevalent in Japanese society. The following is a trailer from WFAC's presentation of Genius Party which clearly illustrates the skill and vision of Eiko Tanaka's company.



My last word for this month is to mention the professional organization "Women in Animation". WIA is a very affordable professional group for pros and students who work in the field of animation (5). WIA currently has chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. If I had a daughter who wanted to know what it was like to work in the field of animation, WIA is probably one of the first places I would suggest she start looking for information--since their membership roster is a who's-who of animation studio creatives, executives, and independents. As networking is one of the best ways to gather intel about a job field (and a pretty good way to find employment and educational opportunities), I view this collection of women (6) as having one of the widest spectrums of job experience in the field of animation. The women of WIA are a resource that should be consulted by any girl wishing to pursue a career in animation at any level.

1. Although one source I found (Crunchyroll.com) lists her as a co founder along with: Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato
2. Source: Studio 4°C website - company hyperlink
3 Source: Wikipedia Entry - Studio 4°C
4. Source: Wikipedia Entry - Eiko Tanaka
5. Annual membership is currently $50 for professionals and $25 for students.
6. And no, you don't have to be a woman to join WIA. As my current membership will attest, 30% of WIA's membership happen to be men.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Women in Animation: Ellen Besen

Ellen Besen
I had heard of Ellen Besen, but we didn't meet until 2009 when I was giving a presentation at the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International. Since I hadn't spoken in public for a while, she took me under her wing and helped me focus not on my discomfort but on the importance of the information I was presenting. Since then, Ellen Besen has been the angel sitting on my shoulder who quietly and patiently encourages me to become a better animator than I am. I think that my fondest memory of Ellen so far was when we were sitting at a pub in Toronto and talking about the style and structure of story in animated films. With that one discussion, Ellen made an elegant critique of "The Incredibles" (my favorite Pixar film to date) and showed me where the strengths and flaws of the movie were. Ellen continues to challenge my best ideas and shows me that I can take them further than I had ever dreamed possible. If you have the chance to read it, I cannot recommend her book "Animation Unleashed" highly enough. In it, you'll discover why that evening at the pub in Toronto listening to Ellen challenge my entrenched ideas was so valuable. Ellen tackles difficult abstract concepts with a very approachable style that cuts through the mist and shines a spotlight directly on the heart of the concept itself:

"Animation is particularly effective when it communicates with movement. But this potential can only be tapped when movement is given a meaningful role."

From page 16, Making Movement Matter, Animation Unleashed, Ellen Besen (author).

Two of Ellen's films, "Illuminated Lives: A Brief History of Women's Work in the Middle Ages" and "Sea Dream", are currently on display for viewing at the NFB's Mediatheque in Toronto and their Cinerobotheque in Montreal.

Here is our third interviewee in this year's Women in Animation series, Ellen Besen.

*   *   *

Q: What is your current job description?
A: Hard to pin down these days. I’ve played a lot of different roles in this field over the years and find that I return to all of them from time to time. I am still filmmaking, consulting on other people’s projects, both personal and commercial, teaching (private classes only) and writing about animation storytelling. Most important project right now is the new book- an in depth look at animation and hybrid storytelling techniques which I am co-writing with animation filmmaker/professor Aubry Mintz.

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
A: Began my studies at Sheridan College in 1971 and have been in the field ever since.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
A: Producer, director, animator, filmmaker (doing the whole thing), professor, mentor, event/festival organizer, curator, journalist and author

Q: Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
A: My three favorite film projects are Sea Dream, NFB 1979; Slow Dance World, Independent 1986 and Stroke, commissioned for 11 in Motion 2009.

Also proud of my book, Animation Unleashed, MWP 2008 and the new book, Whole Cloth Storytelling (working title), MWP- work in progress.

Q: How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?
A: A lot in some ways and surprisingly little in others. When I started, there were very few women involved in the field and there was some resistance to their participation. Now they are more accepted and participating in greater numbers but still way less than you’d expect- commercial animation is still a guy’s game in so many ways. Why is this so? Are fewer women applying to the schools or are they applying but not being accepted? If the latter, is this a bias among teachers, a genuine deficit in preparation or an orientation within the field itself which favours one set of skills, one approach to design, story, etc over another?

Worth noting, the substantial female audience for anime which is going to grow up with its leading edge generation may prove to be the true ground breaker for women in this field.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
A: Because of any or all of the above, you need even greater persistence and commitment, I think. It is a hard field by its nature- for anyone, male or female, wanting in, you have to dig in and you have to love the medium in order to be able to make the commitment required. But male or female, if you are talented, persistent, disciplined and comfortable in a team situation (not much room for big egos in the trenches!)- you stand a reasonable chance of advancing.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
A: That depends on her goals. if she wanted to work in the studio system I would suggest that she develop her art skills to a reliable level before tackling the animation curriculum. If she were interested in a more independent approach, developing a personal style to both visuals and story- and jumping right into the filmmaking would offer a real advantage. As would developing enough technical skills to be self sufficient from idea to finished project.

For all young women- be bolder- don’t be afraid to ask for a challenge and to take one on if offered even if you aren’t 100 percent sure that your skills are in place- a lot of learning takes place on the fly.

Q: What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?
A: Try to dig past the hype about the field and form a realistic picture about what it means to work in animation. Look for a genuine affinity with the medium- it’s not a field for dabblers. Encourage them to see a variety of animated works with different techniques, approaches to story and thus widen their frame of reference. Encourage them to observe movement in the real world and to develop their art in whatever technique suits them.

*   *   *

*The image and quote used is copyright Ellen Besen and used with her permission.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Animated Inspiration: Song of the Sea

Well, today is St. Patrick's Day. So, while I do my yearly dance to avoid drunk MSU students while running errands in East Lansing, you can all enjoy this teaser for "Secret of Kells" director Tomm Moore's next animated film: "Song of the Sea."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Women in Animation: Jessica Bayliss

Jessica Bayliss
I first met Jessica Bayliss at the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International. At the time, she had been teaching at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and had expanded this into a pair of lectures for KAFI. Jesse started out with a demonstration on Adobe After Effects then followed it up with with a lecture on stop-motion animation where she showcased her thesis film The Furry Revolt (available for viewing on her website). The model of grace under pressure, Jessica handled a room peppered with veteran animators with ease--including my gruff demeanor as well as Gary Schwartz quizzing her on what she learned about stop-motion during production of her thesis film. In the end, Jesse was the one who convinced me to upgrade to Adobe's Production Premium Suite and learn how to use After Effects (a decision that would pay for itself when I used it on the blackwork cap digital restoration project for the MET/BGC). Since then, I've read her blog and enjoyed following her adventures in California.*

So, there I was, sitting in a movie theatre on opening night for Tron Legacy, listening to the Daft Punk soundtrack as the credits rolled by. It was a rare treat to look up and see Jessica's name come up under Post-Production. A quick e-mail later confirmed that she did indeed work on one of my favorite films. While I'm sorry that she's no longer teaching here in Michigan, Jesse has made the most of her time in California. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next at her new job for Toon Zone Studios.

Our second interviewee in this month's "Women In Animation" series is Wisconsin-native turned California girl: Jessica Bayliss.

*   *   *

Q: What is your current job description?
A: I am currently working at Toon Zone Studios. it is a small animation company in LA. I mostly do editing, but being a small studio we all have many jobs.

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
A: I have only been in the entertainment industry for the past 4 years and it is just recently that I made the official switch from live action feature post production or animation. That was the goal all along and it just took a little while to get there.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
A: It is still early in my career so it has all been some form of post production thus far, but we shall see what the future brings.

Q: Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
A: hmmm... ?

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
A: Since I am so early in my career, this is really the only question that really struck me as something I felt I could answer. I am still struggling to get my own career off the ground. It was not that long ago that I packed up everything that would fit in my car and drove out from the midwest to LA with no job, no place to live, and knowing no one. I can tell you that was the best decision I ever made.

The best advice I can give you is to do what I did and just be bold. Be as bold as you possibly can. Take a leap. It is easiest to be bold when you start. When you are young, fresh out of school you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It makes it a lot easier to take chances and bold steps in you life and career when there is so much to gain. Just knock on every door and talk to anyone who will talk with you. It will be worth it. Eventually someone will remember you and give you a chance. It is all about networking. Talent is useful, but networking is what will make your career. It is all about who you know (and what they think of you). It might sound disheartening that it so frequently comes down to knowing the right person and being in the right place at the right time, but I think that is a good thing. It is something you can control and something you can change. It is completely within your power to go places where you will meet the right kind of people and put yourself out there. My dad used to say that its not about being in the right place at the right time, its being in the right place ALL the time. So go out there and meet people. Put yourself and your skills out there for the world to see and it will pay off eventually. Be bold. The more you gain, the more protective you get of it and the harder it becomes to be bold. So do it NOW! Be as bold as possible for as long as you can. You won't regret it.

*   *   *
* Talent apparently runs in the family. If you get the chance, check out Jesse's sister Jamie--a fine-artist and photographer


The image used in this blog entry was taken by Kevin White, is copyright Jessica Bayliss, and used with her permission.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Women In Animation: Jessica Borutski

Jessica and the Star-nosed mole
My first experience with Jessica's delightfully quirky sense of humor and subversively cute character designs was her film 'I Like Pandas' which she showed on Channel Frederator. Since then, I've kept an eye on her work ranging from All Girl Arcade and Fairies and Dragons to her independent animation with her recently launched website: Foolish Kingdom (yes, I admit, I've spent lots of time playing 'Leaf Rider' and have two of her paper pandas on my desk). Jessica also worked on Dainty Production's trailer for last year's Ottawa International Animation Festival (one of the high points of the festival for me) which can be viewed on YouTube. Despite lots of near misses at the Ottawa Festival, I've never met Jessica in person. I basically 'cold-called' her with my blog request and found that she was happy to help out with lots of advice to future animators. I can't say enough good things about her. :)

So here's our first interviewee in this year's Women in Animation series, the bunny herself: Jessica Borutski.

*   *   *

Q: What is your current job description?
A: Storyboard and Lead Character Designer

Q: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
A: 7 years

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
A: Animator, character designer, storyboard artist and colorist

Q: Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?
A: I am very proud of my work at Fuel Industries. All Girl Arcade and Mcdonalds Fairys and Dragons. Also I have redesigned the Looney Tunes which has been an amazing experience.

Q: How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?
A: I don't feel there has been a big change. It is a male dominated industry but I feel it's due to the nature of the job. More men are into cartooning. But I have noticed alot more students at Algonquin are female.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
A: I don't feel there is any obstacles. I feel men and women are treated the same in the industry. It's more about your artistic skill not if you're a man or a women.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
A: Work very hard at becoming a great artist. Study life and film. Take out of your environment and life things that excite you, and draw and make stories about it.

Q: What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?
A: Just keep drawing. If you love it you will get a job. People with a passion for animation will naturally do well because they practice it all the time. Always draw from life. Reference everything you draw. Never copy another artist's style, but be inspired and create your own unique style from your influences.

*   *   *
* The image used in this blog entry is copyright Jessica Borutski and used with her permission.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Women in Animation: 2011

Since International Women's Day is in March, and last year saw me using my blog posts over the month to profile four prominent female animators who have had an influence on my career, I thought that I would take a different approach for March 2011's blog posts.

I have a sister who has a sister-in-law and a niece. I'm told by Tricia (sister) and Rose (sister's sister-in-law) that Gabrielle (niece) considers me to be one of the 'coolest old dudes that she knows' partially because I work on cartoons and partially because Gabrielle and I watch a lot of the same Anime. Visiting Trish in Boston is usually pretty fun for me because, even though I don't go to as many Anime cons as Gabrielle does--nor do I cosplay like she does*--we do speak the same language that comes from the shared experience of Japanese animated film. Needless to say, when I finally break down and have kids, Gabrielle is who I hope they'll turn out like. Would make things so much easier if they accept Dad's career choice. But, that's neither here nor there.

However, it does highlight the point that I don't have much experience with girls, be they toddler, tween, teenage, or anything in-between. Whenever girls come up to me and say that they want to get into animation (an experience that I have more often as I attend more cons and the influence of Anime extends further and further into the female community), I never know what to say other then to speak in generic advice that would work for both girls and boys.

So. Back to International Women's Day and blog posts in March dedicated to Women in Animation. This month, I came up with four biography questions and four career advice questions, then e-mailed them to prominent women animators who I have met in my travels--some work in the film industry, some are educators, and some are independent animators. My instructions were to answer any of the questions that spoke to their hearts.

Bio Questions:
  • What is your current job description?
  • How long have you worked in the animation industry?
  • What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
  • Is there a book or film that you worked on that you are particularly proud of?

Career Advice Questions:
  • How have opportunities changed for women pursuing a career in animation today as opposed to when you started your career?
  • What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
  • If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
  • What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?

Therefore, I'd like to dedicate my Tuesday blog posts this month to my sister's niece: Gabrielle and all the girls who see "Smudge Animation" printed on my badge at conventions and ask me about how they can become an animator. I hope that the advice that everyone shares over the next month helps them find their way as they embark on their own unique career path.

I would also like to thank all the women who helped me put together this series of blog posts. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedules to share your career experiences and respond so thoughtfully to my questions. All of your hard work and dedication to our craft continues to inspire me.

Their interviews can be read at the following links:

* Though I'm not into cosplay, I have debated the merits of getting back in shape and shaving my head so I can take Gabrielle to A-Kon dressed like Major Armstrong from Full Metal Alchemist. Not sure if that would make me the coolest old dude she knows or just the strangest! :)

Animated Quotes: Chuck Jones

"The purpose of making films is to delight. The purpose of making films is to excite. The purpose of making films is to have fun. Not a bad set of rules for a marriage-which needs some sensible rules. Do these rules apply only to your expected audience? No, they only apply to you."
--Chuck Jones, page 62, Stroke of Genius, A Collection of Paintings and Musings on Life, Love and Art