Animated Women UK Host Keyframe for Success at BFX Festival

Animated Women UK were delighted to be invited by the BFX Festival to host a panel. BFX has been held annually by Bournemouth University since 2012 and is the UK’s largest visual effects, computer games and animation festival with innovative techniques and research being showcased to ‘inspire new talent and educate the next generation of practitioners’.

The Animated Women UK panel hosted leading women from the animation and VFX industries and aimed to provide tips on how to navigate the often complex waters through personal anecdotes of how they got to where they are today and a question and answer session where they shared their views on gender in the industry today, the progress that has been made throughout their careers and their top tips on getting into animation.

LoveLove Films’ Managing Director / Producer Georgina Hurcombe organised and hosted the panel bringing together Natalie Llewellyn, Head of Development at Jellyfish Pictures; Lizzie Hicks, creative producer at Blue Zoo; Chloé Deneuve, artist at Blue Zoo; Hannah Elder, Junior Production Manager at the Walt Disney Company; and Natalie McKay, Acquisition and Animation Coordinator at the Walt Disney Company.

Sharing their insights next to Bournemouth’s beautiful beaches, the overall outlook of the interview was very optimistic.

THE PANEL

Natalie Llewellyn is a development executive at Jellyfish Pictures tasked with growing a development slate of original content primarily aimed at the kids’ market. Natalie has over 20 years of experience in roles including Head of Global strategy at kids’ production company Platinum Films and assistant producer on CBeebies’ Everything’s Rosie at V&S Entertainment.

Lizzie Hicks is a Creative Producer at Blue Zoo – a role she earned by doing a placement and working her way up through junior animator, animation director and project manager.

Chloé Deneuve is a character animator at Blue Zoo. She studied animation in France before moving back to the UK with one goal in mind: to work at Blue Zoo, which she achieved.

JoAnne Salmon is an animator at LoveLove Films. JoAnne’s first director’s role at LoveLove Films allowed her to tell the story of her journey since graduation – Chin Up, an animated documentary was funded by MoFilm.

Hannah Elder is a junior production manager at the Disney Company. She’s often referred to as a ‘puppy wrangler’ due to her current project – 101 Dalmatian Street, based on the novels and original Disney films.  Following a TV Degree at Bournemouth University, Hannah did an internship at the Disney Company, before a move to HIT Entertainment followed by a return to Disney to work on 101 Dalmatian Street.

Natalie McKay is an Acquisitions and animation coordinator at the Disney Company who also did an internship with the Walt Disney company. Natalie started out at Woodcut Media working in factual a couple of days a week before finishing her TV Degree at Bournemouth University and returning to work with Disney.

After the introductions, Georgina Hurcombe led the panel through a series of questions to provide an insight for audience members in how to get their first jobs and navigating their way through the complex media and animation industries.

WHAT CHANGE HAVE YOU SEEN DURING YOUR TIME IN THE INDUSTRY?

When asked what had changed in the industry during their time in it, Chloe Deneuve stated that there are already more female role models who she can look up to, and through the Helen North Achieve Programme run by AWUK, she has met with many women who can inspire her. Georgina Hurcombe noted that companies are seeing the importance of female voices and are taking the opportunity to celebrate them. Natalie Llewellyn observed that thanks to there being more non-gender-specific activities for young people to be creative and an encouragement of creative activities, there is less inequality for those coming into the industry now. JoAnne noticed that there was a great spirit at female-focused events of supporting each other and celebrating each other’s achievements. Natalie McKay has found seeing women in a range of different roles at Disney, including management ones, very inspiring for her.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?

Not having a clear direction following education was a common theme.  Chloe highlighted her difficulty in getting companies to see her in person, rather than just through emails. To combat this she stayed with a friend in Paris for a week and told companies that she was there for just a few days and keen to meet them – this got the companies’ attention, and got Chloe into actual meetings with the companies.

Natalie studied at a time when there were no media degrees available, but she knew she loved stories and wanted fiercely to move into that kind of space. Natalie did a number of internships for different companies and proved her passion and interest to them.

Lizzie suffered from imposter syndrome – a feeling that you’re not as good as other people are at work – which two-thirds of women suffer from in the UK (Forbes, 2018). Lizzie felt as though someone would “find her out”, but knowing that she deserved her place at Blue Zoo was a big step for her.

“My boss always says that the most you should want from a conversation is another conversation.”

Natalie McKay – The Walt Disney Company

The AWUK Panelists

WHAT MATERIALS DO YOU THINK YOUNG PEOPLE NEED TO SHOWCASE WHEN LOOKING FOR A JOB?

Answers for this varied depending on the roles, with Natalie McKay and Hannah Elder highlighting the importance of good, natural emails and following up after a conversation.

Natalie said that she sometimes spends hours on an email, because that becomes the first impression when it lands in an inbox, so each one should count for something.

All of the panel stressed that research is key – know the company you are emailing or sending a showreel to and tailor everything specifically to them.

Lizzie Hicks said that she looks at a showreel straight away, so students should put their best work first, not spend loads of time animating their name at the beginning and showing story based work rather than just animation exercises.

Georgina told the story of one of her staff members, Joe, who put together an animated cover letter when applying for his job. He then went on to do a placement at LoveLove Films, and a permanent role was created specifically for him because of his hard work and eagerness to learn.

“Don’t get too upset if someone doesn’t like your stuff – so much of the industry is about personal taste.”

Lizzie Hicks – Blue Zoo

WHAT CAN INTERNS OR PLACEMENT STUDENTS DO TO STAND OUT?

Much of the advice for interns was similar from all of the women on the panel: be friendly, know what you want to get out of the experience and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Natalie noted that a can-do attitude and passion are key and that doing something that you love can be a springboard for a great future. Chloe and Hannah said that writing things down impresses them and is something they did themselves to keep track of everything they were learning. Natalie added that knowing what you’re good at, and how you want interviewers or employers to remember you is great for interns.

WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS ON GETTING INTO THE INDUSTRY?

Natalie began by highlighting the importance of getting on with people in a natural way in the media industry. Natalie said, “my boss always says that the most you should want from a conversation is another conversation.”

Hannah also talked about the importance of meeting people and keeping in contact – events like those held by Animated Women UK are a great way to get to know people in the industry. Hannah also stressed that students should use their time wisely and gain as much experience as they can. Hannah finished by telling the audience not to give up – “the industry can be competitive but persevering is worth it.”

JoAnne had some wise words for the audience: “enjoy what you are doing and meet other people who love what they do. Keep learning, ask questions and be nice to people as it’s how you get where you want to be in the industry.”

Chloe said that networking – not just inside the industry – was super important for her.

“Networking with people in other industries can open up your mind and help you to learn even more.”

Chloe also highlighted the importance of listening – really listening – to what people are telling you, and showing an interest.

For Natalie a sense of humour is key: “You will meet wonderful, creative and ‘interesting’ people.  Be nice to people, because you never know when you might meet them again. Be kind to yourself, but be realistic about your skillsets and open to learning from those more senior than you.”

Georgina discussed the value of networking, going to film festivals in the industry that you are interested in and taking volunteering opportunities such as the CMC volunteering if possible. Branching outside of film festivals to other types of festivals is also useful as you never know who you will meet.

Georgina mentioned one of her favourite mottos – “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”, stressing the importance of seeking out opportunities in the industry.

Lizzie Hicks finished with one important piece of advice – “don’t forget to be creative!”

The panel also took questions from the audience.

The overall message from the panel was very positive, discussing the new opportunities available for women, and how inspiring it is to see women in a range of roles in Animation and VFX. One audience member stated “Inspiring words for next gen female animators, film students and passionate digital creators. (@TraceyMayHowes).

3D ARTIST MAGAZINE

Before the panel, the women were interviewed for 3D Artist Magazine, by journalist Bradley Thorne.  

Look out for the article in an upcoming issue.

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