Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Women in Animation: 'Canadian Animation' Resources

Well, I'm sorry to say that my last interview for this month isn't finished yet. So, I'll be posting my final interview for the month a bit later and will cross-post it on my social media sites. Apologies for missing the mark, sometimes life just gets too busy. But I promise you, it'll be worth the wait!

However, as I just got back from Schoolism.com's workshop weekend in Toronto, this seems like an appropriate time to talk about another valuable resource for researchers looking for that elusive bit of information on woman animators: the Canadian Animation website and blog.

Operated by my friend and fellow Toronto Animated Image Society member, Grayden Laing, the Canadian Animation website and Canadian Animation Blog have a plethora of interviews with animators from the Great White North. His blog includes many prominent woman animators like:

- Sam Decoste,
- Torill Kove,
- Jodi Sandler, and
- Moira Marguin.

Additionally, his Canadian Animation website has "Artist of the Day" posts for animators like:

- Katie Shanahan,
- Lynn Dana Wilton,
- Nicole Hewat,
- Marie Valade,
- Rachel Moore,
- Kathy Macdonald,
- Carla Veldman,
- Janice Schulman,
- Gwyneth Mitchell,
- Jessika von Innerebner,
- Hilary Moses,
- Lillian Chan, and
- Samantha Youssef.

If you keep an eye out for them, you're sure to run across people like Grayden who are working hard to bring recognition to animators, both women and men, and both well-known as well as those not-so-well-known. But rather than just relying on interviewers and bloggers, those interested in this facet of the animation world should not be afraid to get out there and find their own opportunities to meet these women of animation.

Case in point: this past weekend, I made a nine-hour round-trip drive to Toronto.

Schoolism.com held a two-day, live workshop with artists and animators discussing their careers and lavishing advice on people who want to improve their skills. I went there to hear Brave director Brenda Chapman's presentation with her husband Kevin Lima. After meeting Ms. Chapman on Saturday night, the next day we were all treated to a three-hour presentation where power-couple Kevin and Brenda talked about their personal history, the ups-and-downs of the animation industry, how the industry has changed across the span of their careers, and much, much more! As a special treat, they even showed their CalArts student films. Was it worth the time and money to make the drive? You bet it was! Even if I wasn't working on a project detailing the history of women in animation, the information that Brenda and Kevin provided was the kind of first hand data that students who want to work in the Hollywood animation industry need to hear.

Visiting with Brenda Chapman

Yes. Sometimes those opportunities may appear a little too far to visit. Yes. Sometimes it's going to cost you a pretty penny to attend events like this. But if you look carefully, you can find opportunities closer to home.

Case in point: Alma, Michigan is a 45-minute drive from my house. Back in February, I attended a small student-run anime convention at Alma College and got to meet animator, studio owner, producer, voice actress, and stunt-woman Samantha Inoue-Harte (talk about a modern-day "Renaissance woman"!).

Samantha teaching me what a 'glomp' is.
Filled with boundless energy and an enthusiasm that I have only seen matched by Martine Chartrand, Samantha turned AlmaCon into a four-hour tornado of funny stories, a realistic vision of what it's like to work in the animation (and film) industry, and tips on improving our skills as she showed us first hand how she animated characters for Disney's Lilo and Stitch television show. It's not often that you get the chance to watch an animator at work but Samantha turned it into a spectator sport where you're laughing while you're learning. I started animating over twenty years ago and her two-hour animation workshop hammered home the fact that there's always something more that I can learn about our craft.

Need another example? No problem. In a little over a week, Natasha Allegri, the creator of "Bee and Puppycat" will be speaking in Detroit at the Midwest Media Expo. Will I be braving the throngs of cosplayers to hear her speak? After hearing her presentation at last year's TAAFI festival, you bet I will! And I hope to see many of you up-and-coming animators there too.

So keep an eye out for opportunities (both local and distant) to connect with your favorite animators, as well as those that you haven't heard of before. I guarantee that you'll be glad that you took the time to listen to their wisdom and experience. Whether it's our history or our craft, I'm always learning something new from animators who are kind enough to share their experiences in this roller-coaster ride we call 'animated film'.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Women in Animation: Blue Sky "Crew Stories"

Sorry I'm a couple days late with this post, I was at the local Anime convention this weekend, marveling at the fact that among the plethora of cosplayers with characters that I didn't recognize, I saw a guy dressed as Dr. Venture from the Venture Bros., two girls dressed as 'Bee' from Natasha Allegri's Bee and Puppycat and no less than three 'CatBugs' from Pendleton Ward's Bravest Warriors. Always nice to see some American animation slip into the fandom at the Cons and even more so to see a woman show creator get a little recognition from her fans.

Back to the interviews.

I'm going to do something a little different this year. Several times a year, I am contacted by young ladies who have seen these interviews, or the posts on my sister site: 'the Women of Animated Film', or have sat through one of my history of women in animation lectures. They usually ask me for information regarding a specific woman animator for a report they're writing for school or are working on their own historical 'women in animation' sites and ask where I get my info. So, I'd like to expand this year's interviews by providing a little insight into where I get some of my information as well as show what other studios are doing to archive their corner of the industry and encourage the next generation of animators.

Two years ago, I was interviewing a professional acquaintance of mine, who happens to work at Blue Sky Studios, about his history in the animation industry. When the subject turned to my interviews with women animators, he turned me onto a little side-project that they do at Blue Sky called "Crew Stories".

Blue Sky does not limit their interviews to just women animators but expands their coverage to include both men and women who work on their films in various roles. Additionally, they produce both short video clips and more long form written interviews for this project. The written interviews of women working on their films are linked below:
Followed by links for their video series on Vimeo called "21 seconds with..."
With a longer form video interview with their Lead Sculptor Vicki Saulls.

Personally, I migrate towards the written interviews because they get a little more in depth with regards to professional history and advice that they'd give people who want to work in their particular segment of the field of animation. But all the interviews that Blue Sky have done are invaluable tools for learning more about the industry and provide us with a look behind the curtain at the roles where women are working.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Women in Animation: Monica Brujenes

In the Fall of 2013, I met this vibrant young lady from Wisconsin through an e-mail that she sent to ASIFA/Central--inquiring about membership in our organization. With the core group of our members living in Michigan, she quickly became another one of our far-flung members. But Monica hasn't let distance separate her from being a part of the animation community. One of those rare individuals who immediately asks 'what can I do to help', Monica pounced on the chance to help make ASIFA a better organization--notably by volunteering to work on the recently relaunched ASIFA Magazine. During her interview, my expectations were immediately exceeded as I encountered someone with a wealth of experiences that you wouldn't expect to hear from someone so young. The interview only took thirty minutes, but before it was over, I was left wishing for more time to hear just one more story. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we'll see her make the trek across Lake Michigan and show up at a future Animator's Retreat so everyone at ASIFA/Central can experience her enthusiasm for animation first hand.

Kicking off 2015's interviews, it's a pleasure to introduce Monica Brujenes.

* * *

Monica Brujenes
Q: What is your current job description?

A: Freelance artist and owner of my own company (Subarashii Studio).

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

A: Not very long. Only since about 2012, that's when I graduated with my Masters Degree. And that's when I started freelancing as an animator. Before that, I was already freelancing, but just for graphic design and illustration work. I studied in Japan in 2006 as an exchange student and I worked on my first short film when I was there doing that. So yeah, I've been animating throughout college, that's when I started animating. But, I didn't start taking on paid work until after I graduated.

Q: Did you know that you wanted to be an animator when you were in Japan?

A: Yeah. Like ever since High School. That's when I decided I wanted to be an animator and I started looking into the different jobs in animation and trying to find out how I could learn animation. So yeah, I of course grew up watching cartoons and never stopped watching cartoons. Growing up I was surrounded by American cartoons but I always kind of was interested, if I ever found out about cartoons in different countries I'd get really excited about that. I didn't learn about anime until High School and it was through friends--they told me about Sailor Moon, a starting anime for a lot of us.

Q: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?

A: I've done everything. Mostly I've been working on small projects where I get to be the one woman show, essentially. I've done a couple commercials. For the one, I did for the small business 'Event Stagers'. She was a wedding and special event stager (providing the design, set up and decorating of special events), she had a rough idea what she wanted the commercial to communicate. But I essentially wrote up a little storyboard and then went through the whole process of boarding it and animating it for her.  I even added the sound too and I realized that I really don't like doing that at all! I realized how difficult it is adding the sound and trying to get professional quality, so I think that, moving forward, I'm going to try to get more help in that aspect of it. I've read a couple books on sound design, but it's just one of those things, when you're doing everything yourself it gets to be a bit much. And after doing that for a few projects, I'm thinking "yeah, next time it'd be nice to have some help with that aspect cause it's one of my weaker areas." I'm better at the pre-production and animating definitely.

Q: What made you choose animation as a major course of study?

A: It was a slow build up. I can't remember a defining moment other than I remember at one point I started asking my mom questions about how animation is made, like all of a sudden I got really curious, like 'I know that they draw it but how? How do they get that many drawings and how do they make it look smooth?' And so, yeah, there was a point where I was just... 'I really wanted to know how it was done' and I made up my mind that I was going to figure it out. So, yeah, I would say It's just a passion, I just love cartoons and always have.

When I studied in Japan, I met a lot of Japanese artists there who didn't like the Japanese art but were fascinated with Disney and Pixar. So they were really interested in what I was doing, which was pretty cool. They would say that my style is very American and looks like Disney and then I'd come back home and my friends back here in America would say "oh your style looks very Japanese." I always thought that was kind of funny.

Q: Have you worked for studios or as an independent?

A: For animation it's always been independent so far. I would like to work for a studio at some point, but it just hasn't happened yet. I did have an internship with Wildstorm comics when I was doing my undergrad. It wasn't animation it was with comics, but that was a really good experience. I was in the production department so they were responsible for all the prepress production, everything that goes into putting the books together, like compiling the artwork with the lettering files, sometimes putting together the inks and colors, eventually you get all the elements and put it into a book. And then, at the time, they also had their CMX Comics which was their Manga division. And so I helped do some of the work for that--kind of converting the books from Japanese to American. We had to scan in the Japanese pages, clean them up, delete the Japanese text so the English text could be put in, and in a few rare cases, edit the artwork to make it age-appropriate for the target audience 'cause you know values are different in Japan. I remember there was this one that I worked on that I think was called 'King of Cards' and one of the characters was topless, so I had to draw a bra on her and make it look like it fit in with the Manga style, stuff like that.

Q: Are you doing more personal work right now?

A: Yeah, at the moment actually I have been working on some ideas for animated TV shows and I'm just getting ready this weekend--I'm leaving to go to Kidscreen in Miami. There's this big industry conference so I'm going to take my ideas and pitch them and get some feedback. One is the preschool show called 'Penguin and Peep' and the other one I've been working on is called 'Moosebear' and that one is for ages six to eight. So I'm just excited for that.

Subarashii Studio
Q: So Subarishii is what you're going down there with?

A: Yeah, it's just the name of my company. I've been in the process of figuring out where I want to go with it and definitely at the moment, I'm using it for pre-production work and content development.  Or, how to attain my goals because I've always had in the back of my head: "oh it would be great to have my own animation studio/production studio." Subarishii means 'wonderful' or 'splendid' in Japanese so I though it fit with my art style which is very cute and happy.

Q: Can you talk about your reasons for starting Subarashii? As a content developer, are you trying to work outside of the established studio system to bring your creations to life? Or did you have the side idea of 'if this doesn't work out I can go to alternate funding sources like KickStarter or IndieGogo"?

A: It's been a process of me trying to figure out how to do... what exactly I want to do.

Penguin & Peep!
The ideas I'm working on now, like Penguin and Peep, I originally had thought about just going ahead and animating it doing shorts and putting them up on YouTube and getting it out there and seeing what would happen.

If you go to the conventions you can talk to them and share your ideas, so I decided before I just jump the gun and spend the time animating--'cause animating obviously takes a long time to do it well--that I would get some feelers out there and see what kind of response I get from the ideas and go from there to see what the next step is; whether or not someone is interested in helping me with funding or distribution or helping co-produce my shows or if not, then maybe I take a step back and do think about KickStarter or, you know, plugging away on something on my own.

Q: You're currently doing magazine editing work for ASIFA International, you're a member of ASIFA/Central, and you've started your own local life drawing club. How important do you think it is for animators to participate in organizations or start their own if none locally are available?

A: I was trying it out [Eau Claire Artist's Drawing Night], I haven't been doing it so far yet this year because I didn't get quite the response I was hoping for. I suppose it has to be done on an individual basis if you're into that thing, I personally think it's important for me because I've always felt that anytime I could get connected with other artists and be encouraged to practice more and have opportunities to practice drawing and talking more about animation has just made me a better and better artist. So I see the value in it definitely.

My Moosebear
Q: Given that the industry is now so heavily integrated with computer technology, how important do you think it is (if at all) for students of animation to learn classical techniques and non-computer animation styles: stop-motion, drawing, sand animation, painting, etc.?

A: I think it's really important actually to at least start out having a foundation in some kind of more tactile medium because it's just going to make you that much better when you go into the computer and work digitally. One of my instructors at the Academy of Art University said "do everything as if by hand." Meaning that even when you are working in the computer, put that same care and attention to detail and thought into what you're doing in the computer as you would if you were working in another medium by hand. So I think that using the computer does affect your thought process  a little bit differently, it's kind of hard to explain.

Q: Do you think there's sort of a detachment?

A: I'm not even sure what it is, I just know that when you work by hand, sometimes--at least for me--that's the best way to learn. Even just drawing by hand on real paper is different for me than when I draw with the stylus in the computer. Sometimes it's just quicker to get the idea out on paper than through that screen. But yeah, I definitely think it makes you a better artist. Anytime you can work with real media, it gives you that foundation so that you know how the real materials work and then when you go into the computer and you try to simulate a more hand-drawn look, you're able to do that.

Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?

A: I'm not sure if there's a really big obstacle for women more so than men at the moment. I feel like we have pretty good opportunities and I don't know of anybody at least in my classes or from my generation that's really come up with any strong opposition. I would say the biggest obstacle is the same obstacle that anybody has getting into animation--it's just a hard field to get in to. The hard part is developing your talent and breaking in.

Q: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?

A: I would say "practice, practice, practice!" "Don't give up" and "find a good mentor"--which of course if it was my daughter, it would be "me" (just kidding!). I would say the most important thing is practice... and never forget to keep it fun too, because animation is a fun business.

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: Again, I would say the most important thing is to develop their talent. Take classes in drawing or sculpture. Another thing would be to introduce them to other artists. My dad, when I was a little girl, he took me to the San Diego Comic Con cause we lived in San Diego at the time. And I remember going to Don Bluth's booth and getting to meet him in person and he was really nice to me and encouraged me and said something like 'oh you're into animation, oh that's so great.' I was kind of like awestruck as a little girl going to Comic Con and seeing how there are real artists, they make cartoons! And that kept me going, so I would say encourage them go to the conventions and meet professionals who are doing what you want to do and just keep working on improving your art.

* * *

Monica's work can be viewed on her company website "Subarashii Studio" at www.subarashiistudio.com and her professional website at www.artistmonica.com. She has uploaded her demo reel onto Vimeo.

The images and animations used in this blog entry are copyright Monica Brujenes and used with her permission.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Women in Animation 2015

Well, it's Sunday, March 8th and that means "International Women's Day" is today. But, why limit it to just one day?

2014 ended on a strong note for women in animation and 2015 is off to a good start. Some of the highlights were (and are):

The web series 'Bee and PuppyCat' was launched in November 2014. 'Bee and PuppyCat' is the brainchild of animator Natasha Allegri and produced by Frederator Studios. At the time of it's campaign, it held the record for the largest amount of money raised for an animated film in Kickstarter history (source: Wikipedia).

Also in November, across the ocean, veteran animator Joanna Quinn was awarded the ASIFA Laureate at the Bradford Animation Festival for her contributions to the art of animation over an extended period of time (source: ASIFA website).

Moving into 2015, in January, we saw a corporate shake-up in the animation world when producers Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria were promoted to co-Presidents of DreamWorks Animation (source: CartoonBrew website).

Also in January, Norwegian-born Canadian director and animator Torill Kove was nominated for an Academy Award for her animated film 'Me and My Moulton', marking the 73rd Oscar nomination for the NFB and the third nomination for Ms. Kove (source: NFB website).

Then in February, Signe Baumane released her feature-length animated film "Rocks in my Pockets" on DVD and also for streaming over the internet via a new distribution model/program created by movie studio: Yekra. This program allows people to join Signe's community of affiliates by enrolling with Yekra then embedding her film on their websites. At that point, the affiliates receive a small portion of the viewing fee when the film is viewed through the affiliate's actions (source: Rocks in my Pockets website).

Also in February, at Toronto's Radical Sheep Productions, the driving force behind Toronto getting it's own branch of Women in Animation, Michelle Melanson Cuperus was promoted from development Vice President to "executive producer for its entire slate of kids and family series" (source: Kidscreen website).

Staying in Canada, for the past two months, the National Film Board of Canada has been highlighting animated films produced by Canadian women animators. The first article, titled '3 keys for understanding and appreciating pinscreen animation' was written by Carolyne Weldon and was announced in the February 13th NFB newsletter. While more about the pinscreen itself, her article does discuss the work of animators Alexander Alexeïeff and Claire Parker. At the end of the article, you'll also learn about illustrator Michèle Lemieux who has picked up the torch with this oft misunderstood device.

The second article, titled 'Evelyn Lambart - Watch 6 Stunning Shorts by the First Lady of Canadian Animation' was posted on March 5th (and found in the NFB's March 7th newsletter). This one covers the woman who worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the NFB: Evelyn Lambart. Also written by Carolyne Weldon, this article briefly touches on Evelyn's history with the NFB's founder Norman McLaren before diving right into her solo films. On the linked webpage, you can read the article and watch six of Evelyn Lambart's short animated films for free. I don't know how long these films will be available for free viewing, so definitely watch them sooner rather than later.

And lastly, this year at the Annecy Animation Festival in France, they will be "placing women in the spotlight." From the November 2014 newsletter:

"In 2015, Annecy would like to acknowledge the contribution of women in the history of animation by paying tribute to the pioneers and highlighting the growing role of women producers and directors. This spotlight will take various forms and include:
- an all-female jury
- an Honorary Cristal award given to a major female animation personality
- the Annecy 2015 poster will also be created by a well-known artist from the world of animation. Her name will be revealed shortly!
- programmes devoted to films made by women."

These are just a small sample of the goings on in the world of women working in the field of animation and hopefully we'll see far more over 2015 than we did in 2014. But, as my regular readers know, in honor of International Women's Day, over the month, I post interviews of women animators from across the wide spectrum of animated film. So, next Friday, March 13th, please check back as I bring you the first interview: freelance animator (and ASIFA/Central member) Monica Bruenjes.