Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Women of Animation: Catherine and Sarah Satrun, Part 1

Catherine and Sarah Satrun
I first learned about the Satrun sisters many years ago through their illustration work and prints, though it wouldn't be until several years later that I met them in person at the Grand Rapids Comicon. Regulars at the convention scene, the Satrun Sisters embody an entrepreneurial spirit as they divide their time between freelance animation work, selling their original artwork online and at conventions, and producing commissioned art.

As we proceed through the interview, I've selected works of art that Catherine and Sarah have created, works that I think represent their unique style as well as ones that appeal to me personally. And if one of them catches your eye, click on the hyperlink in the picture caption, you'll be taken to their Etsy store where you can purchase prints. Additionally, they have a Society 6 storefront where you can buy merchandise printed with their artwork. And you can view their full line of artwork and animations on their website: sketchyduo.com.

Veteran animators and twin sisters, Catherine and Sarah Satrun hail from the Chicago-area where they work as freelance animators and illustrators for both independent and corporate clients... but, I think I'll let them tell you their story:

CW: What are your current job descriptions?

CS: We're freelance animators and illustrators. We do concept art, character design, storyboarding, animation, and illustration.

SS: We wear many hats, doing whatever is needed--just having that skill-set to go anywhere.

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

CS: Twelve years.

SS: Time flew by!

CW: How did the two of you get into animation?

CS: After college we did some storyboarding and concept art for independent projects--things like indie films and personal-type projects. Like concept art, pitches, and storyboards. And that gave us experience, just get our foot in the door so we'd have that experience on our résumés. And then we approached Calabash [Animation] to see if we could get some freelance work. Then that December after graduation we started doing some clean-up work at Calabash and from there--we got a lot of experience at Calabash and that's where our skills started to really develop.

So, from there we got to go on to get more animation work--independent contractor-type work at other studios and other indie projects.

"Steampunk Flying Pig"

CW: Where did you two study animation?

SS: Columbia College.

CW: Right down there in the heart of Chicago?

CS: We would've loved to go to CalArts or someplace else like that and travel. But there was no way we could afford that. Instead, we got Associates of Art [degrees] at community college and then transferred over to Columbia College.

SS: We couldn't afford to go live in the dorm and have that kind of college life experience. It was out of the question.

CS: We were lucky to have Columbia College here. That really helped a lot.

SS: That was back in the day before we had all those online schools and stuff and that online training.

CW: You mention that Columbia was a good choice for you, being local and a more affordable choice, was there a lot of cross training? Story, drawing?

SS: Well for us, we didn't have the typical experience. Because we did one degree first, and all our "Gen Eds" first, we transferred over. And then in two, two-and-a-half-years, we squeezed in all of the curriculum so we were super art and animation heavy, we had to do it all at the same time. We would have loved to take other classes like watercoloring, painting, sculpting, and illustration, but there wasn't enough time in our schedules.

CS: Every class was like a studio class for us. It was really hard and the teachers even commented, it was not recommended to do what we did but we still did it.

SS: We handled it. And we were still working and then doing school work and homework and all the projects and I don't know we just made it happen.

CS: And handled part-time jobs on top of that. Sometimes you get a lot more hours than you want and then we were animating, I remember multiple times having to animate... quickly whip out the animation like a few hours--one hour even before it was due. I remember doing that. Like we go in, y'know, we were spending all our time commuting and working part-time jobs, you just make it work. You have a lot of late nights. A few all-nighters.

CW: When did you know that you wanted to be an animators?

CS: Pretty much our whole lives, since early grade school it was really, really obvious to our parents and all of our teachers and other classmates that we were going to be artists, professionally. There was just no question that we were going to do something in the arts. Because we've always loved to draw and we've always loved the art of animation, it just always seemed natural to go that route.

CW: Was it mainly the art of animation itself, like the physical act of drawing or were you also involved in the music or the color design?

SS: We were always interested in the visual art, the drawing aspect of animation, because we were always drawing. And then, do you remember, there's was this vintage toy little projector and you put these yellow large plastic cartridges into it and it was like a little projector projecting on the screen and you would hand crank it and it would have little short clips of film from classic animated shorts... Mickey Mouse and the ghost, that little animated sort. Robin Hood, I think it had him dancing...

CS: The whole chase scene from Robin Hood...

SS: Right, so we had all these little cartridges of clips, little clips from a whole bunch of different films, so when we were really young, we had that, and we went frame by frame and you could just see the movement and you understood that "omigosh these are all just drawings" and look how it comes together and it was just so beautiful. We always appreciated the art of animation in terms of the hand craftsmanship, so I think that was a really big influence on us.

The Fisher Price Movie Viewer Theater

CW: Was there someone in your past who encouraged you or inspired you to become animators?

[both laugh]

CS: Our Dad just walked in...

SS: You just asked that question when our Dad walked in [the room]...

CS: Our parents, yeah yeah, growing up our parents they bought us a lot of books and art supplies when we were little. And actually our Dad was the one who brought home the projector. He brought that home from an auction, so that was a big thing and then like our Mom, instead of toys she kept buying us books and art supplies, so that was really good.

Also, when we were in Junior High, our Dad took us to hear a Disney animator give a talk at a mall. So we got to hear an actual Disney animator talk about animation and also how hard he had to work--he really emphasized how hard he had to work to get into animation and also specifically Disney too. I think he applied like five or more times, so he emphasized how hard it was and how hard he had to work to get there. So that was really good to hear that.

Sarah Satrun

Since Catherine and Sarah had so much information to gift us with, this interview will be separated into three full posts, so check back next week for Part two of my interview with the Satrun Sisters. But before you go, please take a look at Sarah's demo animation reel.

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  • Portrait photo, artwork, and animations copyright Catherine and Sarah Satrun, used with permission.
  • Interview edited for length and clarity.