Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Women in Animation: Samantha Inoue-Harte, Part 1

Samantha Inoue-Harte 1
There are a lot of smaller animation conventions and anime festivals around the country, one such being "Alma Con" up in Alma, Michigan. Smaller cons and fests can be places where you find those rare little gems that'll keep you coming back year after year. And every now and then, you'll hit the jackpot! In February 2015, the organizers of Alma Con released their finalized schedule shortly before the convention. When I saw a listing for a woman who would be running a couple panels on animation, my curiosity was piqued. Since Alma is less than an hour's drive from my home, I made the trek up North with a friend. That's where I had my first encounter with Samantha Inoue-Harte. Only once before in my travels have I encountered such an exciting bundle of positive energy in the animation community (that being Haitian-Canadian animator Martine Chartrand). In mere minutes, Sami had the entire crowd eating out of her hand as she told us stories of working on animation projects for Disney and several Japanese anime studios, acting in movies like Grindhouse and Idiocracy, and doing voice acting for anime shows like Trinity Blood, Dai-Guard, and Final Fantasy Unlimited (she's the "Chocobo"). After her hour presentation was over, the entire crowd followed her out into the hall where she continued to regale us with more stories of working on-site with Troublemaker Studios (Robert Rodriguez's studio) and trying to get networks like Adult Swim interested in the 3d animated adaptation of Motofumi Kobayashi's Cat Sh*t One. After the crowd thinned out somewhat, Sami readily agreed to being interviewed for my blog. Unfortunately life, as it often does, got in the way. But, we stayed in touch, talked back and forth a bit over the year, and met back up again at Alma Con 2016. This time, everything worked out and we were able to complete our interview just in time. Thank you again for the interview, Sami, it was well worth the wait.

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SIH: Hello Charles! This is Samantha Inoue-harte but feel free to call me, Sami or Samu.  Most of my family is Japanese and due to the fact that the "th" sound really doesn't exist in Japanese I really don't get called "Samantha" a lot and will probably not respond to it...however, if you say, "Samansa" I will.  lol.

CW: What is your current job description?

SIH: My main job title is Animation producer and as for description....well, I develop animated content for transmedia platforms for Western and Eastern audiences.  By that, I mean that I come up with ideas for new anime or feature projects, pitch them, develop the ideas that interest my partners, navigate through multicultural business practices, create presentation decks, budgeting, story development, overviewing scripts, making sure script translations are done correctly, etc.....in other words, a lot.

Sami and grumpy cat 1
CW: You've worked in the animation industry for 19 years. What roles have you performed during your career in animation?

SIH: I was lucky enough to be the assistant to a fantastic animation director by the name of Sam Fleming when I was a freshman in college.  I was a receptionist, cleanup artist, colorist, inbetweener, animator, character designer, layout artist, background artist, scriptwriter, storyboard artist....and eventually I worked my way into various animation studios and by 2005 I started Saiko Studios where I finally became the animation director for Spike TV's Fresh Baked Videogames under Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty).  I rarely draw anything anymore, my role now is more of a story developer.

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

SIH: I graduated high school in Illinois and originally thought I would attend Northwestern or some other college in the Illinois area.  Had a full scholarship offer at the Rhode Island Institute of Art and looked at Sheridan.  But my mother had cancer so my family decided that the best thing for us was to move to Texas to be close to MD. Anderson in Houston so that she could get the best care possible.  I knew nothing about Texas and called A&M and the University of Texas at Austin to see if there was an animation program.  The advisor at UT@Austin informed me that their college had the state's leading Animation program and I immediately filled out an application.  Found out upon arrival to Texas that there was no animation program at the University of Texas and so I had to make changes to my plans.  I was LIVID.  I had already been accepted and my family had already spent a lot of money to move to the Austin area from Illinois.  I was stuck.  So I ended up choosing to pursue a double major for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio art and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History focusing on the Italian renaissance.  I became an avid art historian.  But the lack of animation programming at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 was the reason why I began pursuing a position at an animation studio.  I worked throughout my college career at an animation studio while doing my double degree at the University.  I still get a little angry sometimes, but at the same time, if I had not been mislead by the advisor, I would not have pursued my animation career so early in my life.

Sami teaching 'grumpy animator' what a "Glomp" is. 2
CW: You have worked for American studios and with Japanese studios, what are some of the differences, difficulties and challenges to working in a Japanese Animation studio vs. an American studio (or vice versa)?

SIH: Wow....hmmmm.... good question.  As for the differences between American and Japanese animation studios....the first thing that comes to mind is the studio space size.  Every American animation studio I have ever been in is larger compared to Japanese studios.  Ceilings are higher, hallways are wider, offices are bigger, there is more cartoony decorations, brighter colors on the walls, there is always some sort of videogame console somewhere in an American studio.  Japanese studios....are compact by comparison.  The environment at a Japanese animation studio is also a little more serious.  You don't see a lot of cartoony looking characters decorating the walls and I have never witnessed any animator in a Japanese animation studio playing videogames from their desks, there are no action figurines decorating artist's workspaces like they do in America either.

Now, my main challenge and difficulty that I have faced in American studios and Japanese studios?  Well, let me make one thing clear, I do not work in a Japanese animation studio, I have never been an animator in a Japanese animation studio.  I work WITH Japanese anime studios and partner WITH them to develop new animated content.  So I can never really say that I work IN a Japanese animation studio. 

Dai-Guard 3
But back to the question....the one challenge and difficulty that I have faced in both American and Japanese studios is the fact that I'm a woman.  I have, unfortunately, been paid less as a female artist at American studios when doing the same jobs as men.  I have been treated with less respect for being a woman and have been laughed at when I have previously tried pitching ideas.  There have been times when, as a woman, I have been excluded from Animation studio functions like lunches or getting company items.  For example, there was one studio where all the employees were given matching company jackets.  All the female employees were excluded from this perk.  When asked if the female staff could get a jacket, we were told that we could if we really wanted them but that we would have to pay $150 for a jacket.  Needless to say, I don't believe any of the female employees received one. It's the opposite in Japan.  I may be a woman, and though that has posed some unique situations in Japan, I am a producer, therefore I am presented with more respect and am treated like a guest whenever I go to Japan.  It is awkward in business meetings because as a woman, I would traditionally be the person responsible for pouring tea to the rest of the people in a meeting. But as a producer, I do not have to do that, so the lowest man on the totem pole has to do this.  No one is rude enough to mention anything about it, but it does cause some awkward moments.  I am a woman, but am treated as a man.  And I am fine with that.  :)

CW: What do think is the most important skill set animators should work on to prepare themselves for the industry?

SIH: I cannot stress enough....animators need to work on life drawing.  I get a lot of new aspiring animators who come to me with sketchbooks full of "Anime" styled artwork, but unfortunately, many aspiring artists are not able to draw the human figure realistically.  In order to create a new style or your own personal style of artwork, you have to be able to draw a human figure realistically.  Bones lay a particular way, muscles sit on bone, skin covers the muscles....and if you don't know how each layer works with each other or how they lay on each other when a human is posed in a dramatic pose, then how can you be expected to understand how to animate a character? 

CW: Throughout your career, you have done live action acting and voice acting. How does your live-action work influence your animation work?

SIH: My live-action work has actually helped me with my composition and staging in my animation work.  Using myself as a character in a film, I am able to see where the director sits, how the camera is angled, and I am then able to see the set from the director's perspective.  I have recreated camera shots that I acted in and transposed those shots into my storyboards to create more of a live-action feel in some of my projects.  Voice acting....it has helped me with my mouthflap animations.

CW: Now that you've made the shift to producing films, do you prefer animating or producing?

SIH: I do miss animation and may do it from time to time on some personal stuff, but producing has become my passion.  It's amazing to see a story get developed from inside of my head and then be transformed into something that everyone can see.  You are working closely with talented animators and creating characters from your mind. You layout whole worlds and create maps, create costumes, layout a whole plot, etc.  I feel I am able to create more as a producer than I ever could as an animator where my supervisor would hand me a stack of papers or computer files where I have to animate characters that I had nothing to do with the creation of.

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Be sure to come back next week for part two of Sami's Interview where we continue discussing her shift from animator to producer, talk about her work on the animated feature adaptation of "Tailchaser's Song", and hear her advice for young ladies who want to work in the field of animation.

1. Image copyright Samantha Inoue-Harte and used with permission.
2. Image copyright Charles Wilson.
3. Image copyright ADVFilms.

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