Peri Friend

No art degree? No problem

No art degree? No problem

If you’re interested in a career in animation, but don’t want work as an artist, read on! We hear from 4 women working in a range of roles across the Blue Zoo on their roles, what they love about their roles and their advice. 

Sara-Laila Francis  - Talent Acquisition Team Lead

Stephanie Gauld - Digital Director

Kayley Mills - Digital Marketing Apprentice

Shivani Patel - People Advisor

Stephanie Gauld - Digital Director

How would you describe your role in a sentence or two? 

My role is about working with a fantastic, strategic and creative team to deliver beneficial and entertaining experiences for our audiences around our animation IPs, and launch these within joined up promotional campaigns. 

 

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I really enjoy knowing that what we do makes a difference to our audiences - engagement metrics, heart-warming comments from parents globally on social media and user testing where you see the impact of what you’re creating on children’s faces is by far the best!

 

What was the draw of animation for you?

Children’s animation is fantastic to me because literally anything is possible - from the crazy creations of Phineas and Ferb and the imaginative worlds of Studio Ghibli to the brilliantly visual way of teaching phonics and maths in Alphablocks and Numberblocks. 

 

How did you get into your role from studying?

I studied English and French as my undergraduate degree and went on to do a postgraduate in Medieval Literature (essentially fairy stories!). My first proper job was as a writer of children’s and romantic stories and as an editor within a magazine company. This was great as it taught me about project management - print schedules aren’t forgiving! I then moved to a dot com, where my role was to create a set of children’s characters and a games platform, as an offshoot of pets.com - with characters, games and embarrassingly a rap… After a friend at the BBC showed me a role within pre-school digital education, I joined this department but was quickly brought into children’s to start up CBeebies Interactive, which I led for five years and was a huge amount of fun (I remember receiving a vhs of Blue Cow from a company called Blue Zoo! We all loved it!) This was a great role as it taught me a lot about teamwork, how creativity thrives collectively and working with a very wide range of IP owners.  I was then headhunted by Disney to set up their virtual worlds team in Brighton, heading up Club Penguin for EMEA and setting up an international team. I then tried to freelance/consult while my boys were tiny but was pulled into roles such as Digital Publisher for Egmont Books UK and Head of Digital for Acamar Films. I also freelanced for companies such as Liverpool FC. For these companies, I was developing creative and financially viable multi-platform strategies, pulling together the right talent to deliver them or delivering them myself - which takes me to now at Blue Zoo and Alphablocks Ltd!

 

What advice would you give someone looking to move into your role?

If this is a role you’re interested in, working in a creative assistant producer role would be a great step - whether this is within games, VOD platforms or social media, refining project management skills. Then it’s about getting exposure to as many different IPs as possible so you start to build up an understanding of what works or doesn’t and learning about the various digital platforms. Reading industry blogs is also important so you’re aware of the shifts in consumer behaviour. 

Shivani Patel - People Advisor

How would you describe your role in a sentence or two? 

As the People Advisor, I’m the first point of contact for all employees and mangers, providing comprehensive generalist HR support and advice across the business. 

 

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I love meeting our new starters and helping employees across the business; whether that’s helping them settle in, answering questions or dealing with more complex situations, knowing I've helped someone is extremely motivating and rewarding! 

 

What are the biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges I face in my role is having difficult conversations and/or delivering bad news. No matter how many times you’ve had to handle these situations it never becomes easier but I remind myself it’s part of the role! 

 

What has surprised you about your role or working in animation?

The amount of incredibly talented people in this industry! 

 

What do you think the benefits of working in a creative company are, compared to elsewhere? 

The culture is amazingly supportive, fun and inclusive. 

Kayley Mills - Digital Marketing Apprentice

How would you describe your role in a sentence or two? 

My role focuses on B2B Marketing, which involves generating awareness of your brand to potential clients/ businesses. I spend most of my time organising and writing posts for all social media platforms, replying to enquiries and coming up with ideas for future posts which also spread the word on our mission to create animation as a force for good! 

 

What do you most enjoy about your job?

The thing I probably enjoy most about my job is that I get to hear all of these amazing stories from other BZ'ers and their experience in the animation industry which always inspires new ideas for social media posts. 

 

What was the draw of animation for you?

For me, the draw of animation was how it can bring people together. For example, when I saw our BZ Short 'In Shapes' for the first time, it really spoke to me and made me realise just how important art can be. 

 

What do you think the benefits of working in a creative company are, compared to elsewhere? 

There are so many benefits of working in a creative company. For starters, creative freedom and your own ideas and opinions are valued and welcomed. Flexible working is something that is also fantastic and doesn't come with a lot of companies outside the creative sector - for me this means that I get to have a relaxed morning and go to the gym or for a long walk in the morning to clear my head before I start work which means that I feel ready and prepared for the day ahead.

 

How did you get into your role from studying?

Throughout my whole education, I was always convinced I'd go to university and become an English teacher or a journalist as this always seemed the most obvious option for me as a massive reader. However, following my A-levels during the pandemic and an unconditional offer to study English Literature at university, I realised it wasn't the route I wanted to take. I realised that an apprenticeship was the way forward for me. Whilst I was looking for an apprenticeship, I stayed at the same job I'd been in since I was 15 which was a Supervisor at my local bakery. That's when I came across Blue Zoo and the Digital Marketing Apprentice role that they were advertising. I've been here for nearly a year now and wouldn't change a thing! 

 

What advice would you give someone looking to move into your role?

The best piece of advice I could give someone wanting to go into Marketing is don't give up. It might sound cliche but I was applying for over two years when I finally secured my job and thought I'd never leave where I was. Whilst I let this completely affect my confidence, please try not to. Just because you may not have the qualities needed for one company, doesn't mean that you're not what another company is looking for. 

Sara-Laila Francis - Talent Acquisition Team Lead

How would you describe your role in a sentence or two? 

I head up the wonderful Talent Team here at Blue Zoo Animation.  I am responsible for implementing and delivering external recruitment strategies, as well as leading on key searches for specialist roles to attract and onboard diverse talent. I also oversee internal resourcing and forecast internal suitable opportunities for our current crew.

 

What do you most enjoy about your job?

It's honestly such a rewarding feeling, being able to offer great talent an opportunity they may have studied, or worked hard for, specialising in their craft that they are so passionate about. 

 

What was the draw of animation for you?

Blue Zoo and its reputation. I had only ever heard good things and fortunately, it's all true. Everything Blue Zoo works on is always so different from the last, and their inclusive shorts programme has been so successful each year - the quality of animation is beyond, and the stories the shorts tell just transport you to another world, they're incredible.

 

What do you think the benefits of working in a creative company are, compared to elsewhere? 

Being around super-talent people, creative problem solving and the awesome company culture. There's a choice of being remote, or hybrid, flexible working etc - so there's a healthier work/life balance.

 

What advice would you give someone looking to move into your role?

Don't be afraid to challenge yourself! I've been able to merge my passion for film and TV with my experience in recruitment into a role I never knew was out there, when I graduated, so I am truly doing what I love to do! It's important to research what the studios or companies look for, when recruiting for Talent Acquisition. Those role descriptions can really tell you what skills and competencies are needed.

Bios

Kayley is a Digital Marketing Apprentice for Blue Zoo, working in their Marketing team, helping to implement internal and external communications. Previously, Kayley worked as an Assistant Supervisor in her local bakery and ran a well-known book club on Facebook. 

Sara-Laila is a Talent Acquisition Team Lead at Blue Zoo Animation. Sara-Laila has worked in high-volume recruitment for 10 years, and across the VFX and Animation industry for 8. She has a passion for hiring creative and technical talent, building strong working relationships, and essentially working hard to offer some of the best opportunities in the industry to great talent. 

Stephanie Gauld heads up digital strategy, products and services for Blue Zoo Productions and Alphablocks. Prior to this, she held a variety of consulting and contract roles developing digital strategies, tactics and digital products for companies including Liverpool FC and Acamar Films. Steph previously worked at Egmont as Digital Publisher, developing new IP and stand-alone digital products, including a no 1 app in 28 markets, and at Disney where she set up the EMEA virtual worlds team, including launching the BAFTA-winning, leading virtual world, Club Penguin, in Europe. Prior to this, Steph set up the CBeebies interactive team for the BBC, creating the strategy and overseeing digital content across 47 brands.

Shivani is a HR professional, currently working as the People Advisor for Blue Zoo. Shivani started her HR career within the Retail Industry but have since moved to the creative sector and is loving every second of it!

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AWUK Raising Visibility | Ruth Ducker

AWUK Raising Visibility | Ruth Ducker

We firmly believe in the importance and impact of raising the visibility of women within Animation and VFX in order to support and inspire others. As a members' organisation run by volunteers, we welcome involvement from you, our members, to make this happen! In this new blog series, we ask recent event speakers to share their experiences with us. 
If this inspires you to also get involved, please contact our Panel Producer, Debra Coleman, at debrac@animatedwomenuk.com

Introducing Speaker: Ruth Ducker

Please introduce yourself/tell our other members a little bit about yourself.

My name's Ruth and I'm a Series Director. I am currently Directing a show for CBBC with Tiger Aspect Kids, Called Super Happy Magic Forest (June 2023). I have been Directing, Both Series Direction and Animation Direction for over 12 years and have worked on shows for, amongst others, Disney Asia, Universal Kids, Milkshake and CBeebies. I came to Directing having worked in animation, previz and layout on many wonderful projects including Peter and the Wolf, The Secret Show and The All New Captain Scarlet. Animation was my second career, having lived as an exhibiting artist while I brought up my kids.

Cave Dailies Poster

What events have you contributed to, on behalf of Animated Women UK?

I have been a mentor as part of the AWUK program since it was launched in addition to that I have contributed to a few events on behalf of Animated women. I have had the pleasure of being part of an industry panel at 'Stardance Animation festival' twice. The first time via zoom during lockdown. The second time in person. I have contributed to 'Cave Dailies' as well as giving an introduction to the mentor program at the latest AWUK meet up.

Stardance Flyer

Please tell us a bit more about them: what was involved? Was it in person, or remote/virtual? Who was the audience? What was your role?

The first Stardance Festival was an online event, held during the lockdown, Cave Dailies is also a regular online event. Both of these panels are aimed at students and recent graduates. The intention is to demystify the industry as well as give insight into what skills are most sought after in the industry and advise on good work methods as well as approaches to finding work.

I enjoy the remote events as it is easier for me to fit them into my busy work life schedule, they also reach a much wider audience. The second Stardance Festival and the AWUK meet up were in person events. Despite the convenience of online events it is still much nicer to be able to talk face to face as well as having the opportunity to be introduced to new people.

My role in all of these events is to share my industry experience and the journey I have taken to get to my position. As I have worked across multiple disciplines in many different companies I am able to see what are key requirements that all companies look out for in an employee and I am able to share that knowledge.

Stardance Panel

What do you get from being a member of AWUK? And what does 'raising visibility' mean to you?

I always enjoy these experiences. At AWUK I am always inspired by the talent and enthusiasm I see in women at the beginning of their career and also take great comfort in being able to share common experiences with the experienced women. The only thing I would do differently is perhaps make more time to do more to give back to the community of AWUK. We all need role models to aspire to, when I started out there were few and I frequently wished for advice on how to navigate a male dominated workplace, I wish AWUK had been around when I started out. I am happy to say I have found much camaraderie and encouragement from being a member. It is encouraging to see how much change has taken place in the industry over the last few years, thanks to AWUK and similar organisations, combined with the increasing pressure from broadcasters to be more inclusive of diversity the landscape of Animation is very different than it was even 5 years ago. There is however still work to be done, so for me 'raising visibility' is about being a role model and being able to share my experiences that hopefully will encourage women to have the highest of goals for their career.

Promoting mentoring at AWUK 2023 event

Any final thoughts to share?

I would like to thank AWUK for the support encouragement and networking they provide for women. I particularly recommend the Helen North Achieve program, which gave me confidence to own my own achievements.

Posted by Peri Friend in Raising visibility, 0 comments
AWUK Raising Visibility | Alex Davy

AWUK Raising Visibility | Alex Davy

We firmly believe in the importance and impact of raising the visibility of women within Animation and VFX in order to support and inspire others. As a members' organisation run by volunteers, we welcome involvement from you, our members, to make this happen! In this new blog series, we ask recent event speakers to share their experiences with us. 
If this inspires you to also get involved, please contact our Panel Producer, Debra Coleman, at debrac@animatedwomenuk.com

Introducing Speaker: Alex Davy

Please introduce yourself/tell our other members a little bit about yourself.

Hello! My name is Alex Davy, well actually it's Alex Connolly but you know how is it after you get married but people know you for your previous name, so I guess I'm Alex Davy for my career, but Alex Connolly when on the phone to the nursery.

I'm a storyboard artist and first time director for the upcoming Bluezoo short 'Armour'. Also juggling a 9 month old, long covid and house move (Not literally juggling my baby please don't call the authorities)

What events have you contributed to, on behalf of Animated Women UK?

I gave a talk at Animex 2022 this year about being a first time director and first time mum. It was a surreal experience as to be honest, does anyone ever feel like they're an expert at work and have the right to talk to others? Or is that just me? Either way, I was plonked in amongst some really talented speakers who were giving quite technical and proficient talks about VFX, games and animation, giving
their expertise about how these incredible shots were made and what kind of tech was involved to achieve it,

...then there's muggins here giving a silly talk about being a mum. It got quite a few laughs though, and at the end a very sweet woman came up to me thanking me for talking about what its like to be a mum working in animation because it seems like no one ever...talks about it? Like you have to hide your baby from zoom calls in case the CEO's find out and you're yeeted off the project, OR if you're just THINKING about having kids and wondering how on earth that's even possible with all the unpaid overtime, working through sickness etc etc etc

Spoiler - turns out the answer is to just lose your marbles

Alex Davy giving a talk at Animex

Please tell us a bit more about them: what was involved? Was it in person, or remote/virtual? Who was the audience? What was your role?

The talk was in person, which was the first time I'd done anything like that since my daughter was born. There was a green room and everything, even a fancy dinner the next day. I remember getting picked up at my house by a driver Animex had organised, putting make up on in the car whilst apologising to the driver, 10 minutes earlier asking him politely (shouting out the window) to wait a tic because none of the posh clothes I had before pregnancy fit my body anymore and I was just having a teensy breakdown.

Fast forward to the dinner and I'm walking about with an inane grin on my face because I was doing career stuff again! I was talking about animation! I was an actual person again and not a 1-woman-cafeteria as Ali Wong puts it. I had make-up on, and EARRINGS. DANGLY EARRINGS.

The audience for the talk was a mix of other industry professionals (terrifying) and students (equally terrifying but a bit sweeter). I'm amazed anyone came to be honest as put 'being a mum' in the title of any talk and you've already alienated all the blokes, and most students who aren't quite in that mindset yet? Either way somehow it was a full house and we had some laughs as I muddled through the creative decisions behind the short, what its like working alongside your male CEO and trying to stand your ground creatively but also not shit yourself because he's the big big boss. Its been a huge learning curve and I can't wait to do it again.

'Armour' short, directed by Alex Davy for Blue Zoo - concept/look dev

How did you find the experience? What did you learn/gain from being involved? Anything you would have done differently?

Next time round being a director I won't be as much as a fanny as I have been on this one - meaning I won't fuss over whether people want to listen to me, or if people thought a decision I made was stupid, It takes a bit of getting used to, learning that the people involved actually like your idea and want to hear more about that idea, that you'll be listened to and appreciated? Maybe its just the juxtaposition of making a firm creative decision and directing others to implement it... after washing out the baby bath because Robin has pooed in it

I've also learnt a huge amount from working with Tom Box - I spoke about this in my talk, working with the head CEO is terrifying, people who say its not are either incredibly confident or lying. But just watching his demeanour, how calm he is whilst juggling numerous tasks, and how diplomatic he is made me want to emulate him a bit.

'Armour' short, directed by Alex Davy for Blue Zoo

What do you get from being a member of AWUK? And what does 'raising visibility' mean to you?

Well... I was able to give this talk at Animex specifically about that experience (of the challenges of being a Mum and working in animation), and that one woman who came up to me afterwards seemed to make it all worth it, there was a real connection between us for this kind of unspoken topic in animation, so that was nice. So I suppose raising visibility means being open with others than being a mum in animation means you're going to lose your marbles, but the more people talk about it instead of pretending none of us have children or want children, might help change things for the better?

Any final thoughts to share?

Long covid is shit!!

 

Watch the 'Armour' Short

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AWUK Raising Visibility | Bianca Iancu

AWUK Raising Visibility | Bianca Iancu

We firmly believe in the importance and impact of raising the visibility of women within Animation and VFX in order to support and inspire others. As a members' organisation run by volunteers, we welcome involvement from you, our members, to make this happen! In this new blog series, we ask recent event speakers to share their experiences with us. 
If this inspires you to also get involved, please contact our Panel Producer, Debra Coleman, at debrac@animatedwomenuk.com

 

Introducing Speaker: Bianca Iancu

Please introduce yourself/tell our other members a little bit about yourself.

Hello! I'm Bianca Iancu, currently the 3D animation lead over at Bomper Studio where we create short-form content for advertising, branding and broadcast. I specialize in leading teams to create playful, stylized character animation across a range of diverse projects for clients like the BBC and Big Fish Games. I've previously worked in kids' television at Blue Zoo Animation on Go Jetters and the award-winning series Pip & Posy as well as on the short film Sinking Feeling for suicide prevention charity Papyrus. Before that I worked as an animator and artist in video games. I occasionally guest lecture for NextGen Skills Academy, help shortlist entries as part BAFTA Film and Games juries and enjoy supporting the next generation of animators as part of mentorship programs like Access: VFX, Screenskills and AWUK. I love being active in the animation community, sharing tools and resources with anyone looking to learn as well as exploring how animation can help shape storytelling in each of these different formats.

Still image from one of our latest promos for the mobile game EverMerge

What events have you contributed to, on behalf of Animated Women UK?

I was kindly invited to take part in a panel for Stardance Animation Festival last year where myself and a group of top-shelf ladies from studios around the UK discussed our personal experiences and the subtextual yet very real issues women universally seem to face across animation-related workplaces. Many of our encounters were similar and it was both a comfort to know that no single one of us had experienced these things in isolation as well as a sign that more work needs to be done. I've also taken part in a recurring panel format, dubiously named 'F*ck Up Night' where we took turns to talk everyone through stories of mistakes we'd made, lessons we learned from them and how we handled the consequences.

Following these, I was put in touch with the organisers at Animex Festival who were interested in a speaking contribution from me. This is an annual international festival taking place in the North East which is divided into Animation / VFX and Games where speakers from all over the world come together for a week of talks, critique sessions, screenings and live events with attendees. I had such a wonderful time being counted among creators whose work I admire and being on the contributing side, giving people advice and feedback on their showreels.

Stardance Festival event poster for our Animation & VFX panel.

Please tell us a bit more about them: what was involved? Was it in person, or remote/virtual? Who was the audience? What was your role?

Both panels were during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and had to take place online, with AWUK members and public attendees joining to listen and watch via Zoom. Gathering around to swap cautionary tales is something that naturally happens in my peer groups. Our role was to give less experienced audience members a seat at the table, shattering the perception that professionals don't make mistakes and allowing them to learn from ours. It's been one of my most memorable engagements to date because of how novel a topic it was for me and how simultaneously unguarded and courageous we as panellists had to be to make it work.

Animex however was an in-person event hosted by Teesside University in Middlesbrough, although I believe some of the talks are recorded and uploaded online afterwards. The audience was a combination of students and professionals keen to see behind the scenes of their favourite productions and further their knowledge of the industry. My talk was titled '3D Animation Workflow on a Series Production' and as guest speaker it was up to me to familiarize the audience with this type of production pipeline, describe common pitfalls to avoid, provide tips on how to break into this line of work as well as explain what we generally look for in an animation showreel.

By a stroke of luck I also got to meet someone I'd been mentoring online via AWUK who happened to be in attendance. It was wonderful to be able to say hello in-person for the first time and see them doing so well. I only wish we had more time to spend chatting between me running around for the festival!

Our F*ck Up Night event as featured in Animation Magazine.

How did you find the experience? What did you learn/gain from being involved? Anything you would have done differently?

The online panels were very laid-back. It was eye-opening to find out more about my fellow panellists' experiences as women in generally male-dominated workplaces. I learned a lot from them and was honoured that they felt comfortable allowing us that intimate glimpse of failure. Despite how isolated we all were, it was wonderful to come together and share in this moment of vulnerability. I think it worked really well that everyone was sharing these experiences from their own safe spaces at home rather than in a room full of people. That lent itself well to the sensitive topics at hand and I think really allowed us to be more open. I'm not sure I would have done anything differently! I'm really glad I got the chance to get to know more of the women at AWUK doing the quiet, often thankless work of supporting other women in UK animation.

Animex was definitely nerve wracking in the lead-up as it was my first speaking engagement since the pandemic and I'd lost the habit of being around so many people, although I relaxed the minute I stepped up in front of everyone. My confidence noticeably improves each time I venture outside my comfort zone so continuing to do that is always a thrill. In retrospect, it would have been wise to put my slides on a USB drive as a plan B in case Google Slides decided to fail on the day but I mercifully managed to get away with it! I had such a wonderful time making new friends, being counted among creators whose work I'd admired and being on the contributing side, giving the people advice and feedback.

Delivering my talk onstage at Middlesbrough Town Hall

Delivering my talk onstage at Middlesbrough Town Hall.

What do you get from being a member of AWUK? And what does 'raising visibility' mean to you?

Members have access to a monthly newsletter outlining upcoming online or in-person events taking place in the organisation as well as access to support and industry-specific statistical research. On a less formal level it feels like being privy to a welcoming secret club, where it's safe to be open about mistakes because everyone in it understands that making them is especially hard on women who often bear the scrutiny of failure much more intensely. If there's an issue I'm facing at work or need advice on I know I have this group of women, well-equipped to turn to for support because they have likely had to navigate the same sensitive, subjective issues themselves. Also it's generally just a great place to be making more female friends with shared interests, particularly if you're struggling with that at a studio where we aren't so present.

Raising visibility to me means taking those small interstitial actions to support women every day either by standing up for them when they're not in the room, giving them space to finish speaking when interrupted, calling out internalised misogyny in my circles and in myself, openly discussing pay gaps, spotlighting my female friends' achievements, mentoring young women and showing up to do things out of my comfort zone because it matters that they see themselves succeeding in higher-level roles. Ultimately it's offering a reminder that our artform will always be more rounded coming from an equally balanced group of creators whether that's related to gender, race, ability or economic background.

Any final thoughts to share?

I'm very inspired by AWUK and aim to keep furthering this cause not only via public events but also through the work I make. My hope is that in future we won't need any extra subversive organisational work to support and elevate women to a level where they are seen. It will simply be the norm.
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AWUK LAUNCH SEEN!

AWUK LAUNCH SEEN!

On 20th October AWUK: SEEN launched with it’s first event Start. Support. Grow. We hosted a networking and panel with women of colour in the industry at various stages in their career, who shared their own experiences, and advice for women looking to begin or grow in their career.

A massive thank you to your panelists: Sharlayne Flanders, Yukai Du, Bianca Farquharson and Julia Helou and also to everyone that was able to join and support, it was great to see many of our community and allies connecting, but also supporting any queries that anyone else had in regards to their own careers.

There will be some collaborative events and workshops that we will be launching and hosting soon to help women further develop and expand their current skill set.

Posted by Peri Friend in SEEN, 0 comments