Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Women of Animation: Catherine and Sarah Satrun, Part 2

I like faeries.

Maybe it's because of my mixed Irish/Scottish heritage. Maybe it's from having the 'Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy' segment of Fantasia being one of my earliest memories. But for whatever reason, and however you spell it, I've always liked fairys. So when the Satrun sisters offered a print with a visual style that reminded me of those early Disney and Don Bluth films, I had to own it.

Well, after the Post Office mangled the print, the three of us played e-mail tag as I sent them pictures of the crumpled package so they could get a refund from the Post Office and they sent me a replacement copy of the print--all the while being totally confused about which Satrun sister I was speaking to at any given time. A year or so later, I was finally able to meet them in person at the Grand Rapids Comicon... and I still got them mixed up. The phone interview months later didn't go any better. During the interview, I would ask a question and they would both answer while finishing each others thoughts. Needless to say, with their boundless enthusiasm and bubbly personalities, talking to Catherine and Sarah was easily the most fun I've had conducting an interview since starting this project! So I hope you'll enjoy part two of my conversation with the Satrun sisters as much as I did.

"Fairy Slumber"

CW: What's the industry like for animators in the Chicago area? To the best of my research, Calabash [Animation] is the only major studio out there.

CS: For character animation yeah pretty much and hand drawn type of 2d stuff, yeah, Calabash is pretty much it unless you do game animation or other more like corporate kinds of things. Like in terms of what we do, that little niche, it's basically just Calabash, that we know of.

Lately, we have been doing more corporate jobs, which is nice because we are doing a lot more storyboarding, character design, animatics, animation- The whole process! It's fun. Rather than just a few short scenes in a commercial. It's good to have a mix of different kinds of projects.

CW: As you've worked for studios and as independents, which do you prefer?

SS: They both have their advantages and disadvantages, so that's a tough one to answer. Working in a studio is nice because you have your one roll to do and don't have to worry about other things like the business side and meetings. Working as an independent for corporate jobs has been fulfilling because it's more hands on, and we have a lot more responsibility. I like the creation process from beginning to end.

CW: Why did you two decide to work together as a duo as opposed to going your own way in the industry? Do you have skillsets that balance each other out? Is it a clever marketing strategy?

CS: No, I feel like we're pretty even, and we sharpen each other's skills. When we work, because we both are always critiquing each other, we both go over, we overlap our work part of the time... How would you explain it?

SS: If one of us is stuck on something or tired of looking at a scene, the other can look with a fresh eye and point out how to improve it. That's important when you're working from home and don't have other coworkers in the same room.

It's really good, again because animation, it's all about teamwork. It's just natural. We never decided "we're going to work together" we never made that decision it just happened. Actually, as we've gone on we've found that it's common. There are other twins in the industry.

CS: Starting even in school, in art school, before going to Columbia college when were at Joliet Junior College getting our Associates in Art, we'd hear about other twins who have gone through, and at Columbia College we've heard about other twins who've gone through the program before and after us. And then out in the industry, we've met other twins who are in the industry who work together. And then even outside of animation other siblings, other twins and even triplets...

SS: In other career fields... We recently met two set of twins who are all writers and they work together.

CS: In other career fields, y'know, lot of times if that's what you're drawn to, if that's your passion, you do it. So it happens to be like: if two of you are doing it, it's a very collaborative field, so a lot of times it works out that they end up working together.

CW: Well, before you two the only twins I could think of was the Brothers Quay.

SS: Yeah, there's other animators out there, like the Bancroft Brothers. There's other siblings and twins. There's no point in denying yourself, like "Oh, well I'm not going to do this because she does that, I just want to be different." You're not going to deny yourself that opportunity in that--what your passion is. If your passion is the same then just go for it and don't worry about other people being judgmental, like "well, you should break apart, you should just do things separate" then, one of you is going to be denied an experience that both of you want.

When we do get jobs, when people first initially contact us, we do say we can either work together or separately--it depends on what they need, what amount of work that they need in their budget and timeline and all that. We can work separate. We have also worked separately on smaller jobs and stuff. But, usually with this field, workloads are higher so of course they're going to use both of us.

Mearra ~ Selkie from the Sea *

CW: So on a project like 'the Selkie from the Sea' that was definitely a project that you two both worked on?

CS & SS: Yes!

SS: Yes, that was.

CW: I'm hearing that was a lot of work there?

CS: Yeah, it just grew and grew and it changed. Omigosh, I still can't believe we did that, even though it was very limited and simple, it still was so much work.

CW: Do you ladies find it difficult to carve out time to do more personal work?

SS: Oh that is so hard.

CS: Yes. It is really hard to find time for personal work. We usually have to wait until between freelance jobs because freelance is so hectic when you have the job, you're just doing that all the time. So a lot of times we just have to wait until a project is over before we can really sit down and work on our own art, all of our own illustrations and everything.

We Are All Wonder Women

CW: You sell art and merch at conventions and online, take commissions, create and sell jewelry, all in addition to creating freelance animation, how important do you think it is to have multiple revenue streams as a freelancer?

SS: It's very important, especially now because freelance work is feast or famine so you never know how many months you're going to go without a studio or corporate job. So it's good for us to have multiple streams of income. Doing Etsy, doing commissions, doing conventions--which then leads to more commissions--all that stuff helps us pay the bills and keeps us afloat during the slow times.

CS: Sometimes a job will start but then suddenly due to business issues or financial issues or whatever variety of issues, a job will just suddenly fall apart. Like the whole job will be canceled. That's happened to us a few times. It's happened multiple times, actually... so it's essential to have other streams of revenue.

SS: Well sometimes like with [how] animation is so expensive if you have a job, and then like their client--it's always working through someone else--and like their client then starts to have to pay the bills for all this work and they're like "omigosh this is a lot and we can't do it". And there's like, y'know, a lot times there's like unexpected, just like weird things that happen...

CS: I think it's happened about four times to us...

SS: Yeah, like projects will just get like "oh we're not doing this anymore" because they either like run out of money or they decide they're going to do something different, or they said "oh now we're going to do it CG" or we're going to do it... there's so many different things that can happen to a project... so, anyways, it's really good to have backup for yourself. Be like: "okay, well, I'm going to do a whole bunch of commissions at this time or I'm going to create a ton of my personal art and sell it."

CW: Yeah, I understand, the project redefinition one is the one that gets me the most. I was working on a big project for the New York MET and they wanted three animations and we had already gotten the two spec'd out--we were working on them--and then they realized that "historically we can't reference this...we can't find a reference for this woodblock print animation that we want to do so we're just going to cut it." Still got paid well for the other stuff, but that was the one that I was looking forward to animating.

SS: And you just have to keep in mind that "it's just a job." Actually there's one time I did a whole video of something that I really liked. And, I can't go into it, but, it just got cut. And I'm not allowed to ever show it. And I really liked it a lot.

CW: It's a tightrope that you have to walk, especially when you're working with someone else's money.

CS: Yeah, I know. We've got to remember to keep updating our animation reels every now and then because you're not allowed to show work for so long and then you have to get permission and all that time goes by.

Catherine Satrun

Be sure to come back next week for the third and final installment with Catherine and Sarah Satrun as they impart some valuable advice for up-and-coming animators. But before you go, check out the animation work in Catherine's demo reel:

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* Due to privacy settings on Linda Marie Smith's Vimeo account, the "Mearra" video cannot be embedded. But please click on the link to view the promo video for Mearra ~ Selkie from the Sea featuring animation work from Catherine and Sarah Satrun.
  • Artwork and animations copyright Catherine and Sarah Satrun, used with permission.
  • Interview edited for length and clarity.