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Member Profile | Natalie LLewellyn | Head of Development

Member Profile | Natalie LLewellyn | Head of Development

Can you give an overview of your career to date; including what inspired you to go into the field you’re in now?
Well… I got my first TV job straight out of university as PA to the Producer on one of ITV’s most enduring and successful dramas, Midsomer Murders. I was passionate about storytelling and I worked my way up from Production Assistant to Series Script Editor and eventually Associate Producer. Not only did I learn how to bump people off in a multitude of imaginative ways (‘death by drinks cabinet’ is a particular favourite), but I was privileged to work closely with some of Britain’s finest screen writers such as Anthony Horowitz, Alan Plater, Michael Aitkens and Hugh Whitemore.

During my ten-year stint in TV Drama, I was also Producer of ITV’s SAS drama series, Ultimate Force and headed up the TV development division of talent agency ARG Talent. Here I developed and packaged event dramas such as The Crooked Man with Ross Kemp and BAFTA award winning, Ahead of the Class with Julie Walters.

I made the switch to children’s animation after my son Rufus was born. With two kids under two I needed to be closer to home and working less unsociable hours (well that was the plan anyway!). I took a massive pay cut and started over again as PA at a local indie where I progressed to Assistant Producer on preschool series, Everything’s Rosie for CBeebies. I fell in love with children’s television – I could tell magical stories and create wonderful worlds and characters that were near impossible to achieve in live action. Plus, I had my very own focus group at home, providing constant inspiration and feeding me endless content!

After three series of ‘Rosie’ I moved on to Platinum Films where I focused more on the commercial side of the business, specifically international programming distribution and character licensing. I distributed boys’ action-adventure series, Matt Hatter Chronicles (CITV/Nickelodeon) into over 80 territories worldwide and helped manage the international consumer products roll-out.
In 2018, I joined award winning VFX and Animation Studio, Jellyfish Pictures as Head of Development to oversee its newly established original kids’ content division, Jellyfish Originals.

What is it like to work in your role? And what are you working on?
Jellyfish Pictures is a phenomenal studio with amazingly talented people from all over the world and a brilliant ethos and creative culture. No two days are the same in my role - I could be head down in a script or building a brand deck one day or negotiating a major broadcast contract or pitching a show another day. It’s this variety that keeps me stimulated, focused and passionate about what I do, and I can honestly say I’ve never been more contented professionally.

We are developing our own original animated children’s content, curating long-form animated series, serials and family features and working with some great writing talent. I’m blessed to have a first-class art department at my fingertips and together with our brilliant Creative Director, Tom Brass we experiment with different design styles and animation techniques to deliver stand-out visual content that will hopefully win us that all important commission.

We’ve got quite a few projects on our slate in various stages of development, which are all very different in tone, demo and look. Stan & Gran – an upper preschool show co-produced with Jollywise Media - is probably the furthest progressed but we’ve got a number of exciting 2D and 3D properties coming down the pipeline, some of which I will be presenting to market at MIPCOM next month. I can’t say much more, otherwise I’d have to kill you (and I’ve got form remember!).

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Generally, either my cats or my kids! But in truth, I’ve always been highly motivated and fiercely ambitious, and I work best in the morning, preferably with a strong cup of coffee in the couple of hours before everyone else officially comes online. I’m so lucky to have a job I love and to work with people that genuinely inspire me every day. I make cartoons for kids, what’s not to love?!

What was your biggest challenge personally?
Mmmm… that’s a tough one because over the course of a twenty year career there have been many challenges – at the time they’ve always been significant, but it’s only in retrospect that I can put them into perspective and appreciate that in overcoming them, I’ve carved out the path that has got me to where I am today.
I think change can be one of the biggest and most daunting challenges anyone faces professionally and personally. Fear of the unknown or making the wrong decision can be paralysing. However, in my experience change, no matter how difficult, has always been progressive and rewarding and I’d encourage anyone to embrace it rather than fear it.

You partook in the Animated Women Helen North Achieve Programme earlier this year - can you please tell me a bit more about that and, why you applied?
The Helen North Achieve Programme is a super opportunity to meet and support other women from the VFX and Animation Industry. It was great to hang out with 23 other women in the business and to learn from their experiences whilst also sharing some of my own knowledge and expertise.
I wanted to take part in order to ‘give back’ but actually I walked away having gained a huge amount. The course offers valuable, constructive and engaging career advice for women at every stage of their professional journey and it was a welcome chance to hone old skills, learn new ones, reflect on my own career and consider the future.

How do you feel the Achieve Programme has helped you since you finished it and what would you say is the most important thing that you learned?
I certainly benefited from the experience and I’d recommend it to women in the VFX and Animation industry at any stage in their career. I’ve made some good friends, been inspired to keep pushing hard for what I want to achieve in life (both personally and professionally), learnt to listen more and probably most importantly, accepted that it’s okay to say no sometimes. We are wonderful women, but we don’t always have to be Wonder Woman.

What advice would you give to women who are just starting their careers in the industry?
Be passionate. Ask lots of questions. Seek out a mentor (or two!). Be brave. Make mistakes. Smile. Don’t settle. Take care of yourself. Make notes. Follow your gut. Set goals. Believe in yourself.

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Why Everyone in the South West (And Beyond) Should Attend Cardiff Animation Nights

Why Everyone in the South West (And Beyond) Should Attend Cardiff Animation Nights

This month was my first time at Cardiff Animation Nights. Having just relocated to Cardiff from Los Angeles, I’ve always heard nothing but amazing things about the free bi-monthly event from my UK cohorts, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity to finally check it out.

The screenings the night I attended were held in the back of Kong’s Cardiff in the city centre. With the help of strategically placed signs at the bars initial entrance, I navigated through a maze of dimly lit back hallways and swinging doors, until I reached a massive hidden room full of buzzing animation enthusiasts of all ages. It was as if I left Cardiff behind and instantly stepped into the colourful world of animation like Charlie stepping through the doors of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for the first time.

I didn’t have to worry about stumbling back to Kong’s for a drink or two during the night either, as the room had it’s own bar where I could grab a pint and speak with co-workers or other individuals I met who came to enjoy the shorts. Screens and rows of benches were set up on opposite ends of the room, to ensure no one missed a second of stellar animation. If you couldn’t manage to find a seat, like me, there was still plenty of room to either stand or sit on the floor.

At every event, Cardiff Animation Night strives to showcase independent animated shorts from all over the world. Their aim is to give locals the opportunity to see these unique films on the big screen, to immerse themselves in the films that are making their way through the global animation circuit, while also meeting other like-minded aficionados. At their most recent screening, they showed 11 shorts from the US, Ireland, Poland, France, Belgium, and Israel. 

One of my favourite things that happened during the event was when the second part of the screening was temporarily paused due to some minor flooding happening in Kong’s – we had been blessed by yet another welcoming summer rainstorm. Despite the fact they had brief technical difficulties as they waited for the staff to clean up the water, which extended the showcase by at least a half hour, the room lit up, everyone was still engaged and kept the atmosphere lively.  It was yet another opportunity to turn to the stranger next me and continue conversing about storytelling, animation, and honestly life in general.

If you love animation, work in the industry, or just want to experience something new and have a great night out, then Cardiff Animation Nights is definitely for you. As someone who’s new to the Cardiff animation community, I felt welcome and at home, like I finally found my tribe.

All thanks to the support of the lovely people at Cloth Cat Animation, and from audience donations, Cardiff Animation Nights is run by Lauren Orme, Christopher Wright, Dani Abram, Chris James, Laura Tofarides, Telor Gwyn, Josh Flynn and Adam Bailey; and various other volunteers and individuals from the local animation community and beyond.

by Nia Alavezos

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Events, South West, 0 comments
Mental Health First Aid Training | A Member’s Account

Mental Health First Aid Training | A Member’s Account

Chloé Deneuve, a Character Animator at Blue Zoo attended a one-day Mental Health First Aid training course within her company Blue Zoo. Led by Tara Kent from MHFA (Mental Health First Aid England). Here are her impressions and takeaways from the day.

The clinic aimed to provide a number of studio staff with the knowledge of how to recognise the signs of someone struggling with a mental health issue, how to provide initial help and how to guide them towards getting professional help while being mindful of our own wellbeing. As someone who has experienced a real struggle with mental health, I’d like to highlight the importance of this training day and urge all companies to offer this training to their staff.

Despite reportedly affecting one in four people in the UK, mental health is not often talked about in the workplace. It’s common practice for most companies to offer First Aid training, yet surprisingly few offer Mental Health First Aid training. In fact, failing to recognise the mental health of employees is very shortsighted of companies. Aside from the ethical benefits of having a happy workforce, on an economic level doing so also benefits a business –  if employees are happy, production and quality go up. For peak performance in the workplace, we need a certain amount of pressure: too little and we’re bored, too much and we become stressed, less productive, and in some cases, can become mentally unwell. Let’s remember that a workplace is nothing without the force of its people and for a company to succeed, the wellbeing of its staff is absolutely essential.

Working in a creative industry can be a high pressured environment – as our work is visual, the criticism can be high. When the visuals in a show or film are deemed good, as artists we rarely get praised by the audience, yet when the visuals are esteemed to be poor, we get all of the backlash. Little does the audience know what can happen behind the studio doors. Our producers have a budget to stick to, we all have deadlines and things constantly need to be fixed. The client might change their mind about the direction of a certain shot or sequence and request changes without extending deadlines. By recognising signs that could indicate mental health issues, employers can help to address issues before they escalate, or in more severe cases, help staff get the help that they may need.  The job of a Mental Health First Aid Champion is to know how to help create an environment where everyone feels as though they are in a safe space and listened to.

This may sound obvious, but in reality, listening – really listening, is much tougher than it seems because while someone is talking, a lot of the time all we want to do is give our own opinion on the matter, which means we’re not really registering what the other person is saying. You cannot compare what you have been through with what someone else is going through, because everyone feels things differently and we need to understand that. The MHFA course teaches that when someone in front of us is expressing their struggles, we need to leave our own judgment at the door. It’s okay to not have the answer or solution to their issue, the important thing is to let them know that you are there with them – that human connection can make a huge difference.

We also need to remember that vulnerability is not a weakness, it is in fact very courageous. In a world where expectations are high and image is key, we’re expected to show mental strength and resilience, to know exactly who we are and where we want to be in 5 years time. It’s okay to not know these things, and it’s okay to ask for help and support from the people around us. I really believe that a problem shared, is a problem halved. Equally, it is important to remember that you can only help people when you yourself are in a good place. Self-compassion is key, we are all our own worst enemies. I know that I wouldn’t talk to anyone the way I talk to myself sometimes, but I now recognise it, and I talk to myself how I would talk to a friend or colleague in need.

My hope is that more companies offer Mental Health First Aid training, but on a more individual level, I would like everyone to notice the people that they work with, ask them how they are doing and to start to create that safe space in their offices and home lives. I know from my own experience, that someone doing so, can make a huge difference.

If you’d like to find out more about MHFA training along with the different types of courses you can offer your company, visit their website: https://mhfaengland.org/

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Events, Homepage, 0 comments

In Memoriam | Helen North

It is with great sadness that we have to let you know that Helen North passed away on the 22nd December 2017 after a battle with cancer.

Helen was Career Development Director on the AWUK Board and had become a great friend to many of us personally, as well as a passionate supporter of the organisation. She spent her early career at Skillset, working with Kate O’Connor, pioneering training programmes across the Creative industries.

Her determination to drive for gender equality led her to AWUK where she became one of the original board members in 2014 where her voice was always a vital, caring and direct contribution to any discussion.

Helen was the architect and driving force behind our Achieve Programme, which focuses on career development for women in VFX and Animation, and we are incredibly proud to be able to continue her work this year with the launch of our 2018 programme, which we have renamed in her memory The Helen North Achieve Programme.

Helen leaves her husband Matt and two children Coral and Seren.

The family have created a charity page for Helen and ask that anyone who would like to, make a small donation to one of their designated charities.

Please leave any messages in the comment section of this blog post, so that they can be read by others and shared with Helen’s daughters, Coral and Seren.

Posted by Claire Hogg in , 1 comment

An open letter from Lindsay Watson

‘A Letter from our Founder’ Lindsay Watson

Lindsay Watson

Hey – What’s going on?

A reflection on the past 4.5 years…

and a glance towards the future

MeToo: Sexual harassment in the workplace

I started writing this note a few weeks ago, just after the Escape studios event…but since then so much has changed!

While I don’t want the actions of one man to overshadow what should be a celebratory message, I can’t go very far without addressing the prevalent issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. It was the reason I set up Animated Women UK and is the reason I will continue to comment on the topic as there is such a great need for better resources and representation for women.

I, like many women, have been for as long as I can remember. Whether it took place in the playground, at school, in public, in University or beyond it’s a sad truth that according to the Independent over 50% of women have been harassed in the workplace (2017). While forming a network of supportive friends and colleagues is helpful, providing resources for those who need to report and take action against this crime is also important to us:

Online; hashtags have been used by many brave women. What next? I’d like to nominate some of the men I’ve met in my career for a ‘Boys Club’ award ceremony; perpetrators of this crime can be named and shamed…but what will stop them committing such acts in the future? Perhaps a ‘Boys Club 2.0’ whereby men stand up to other men they’ve noticed in their industry by confronting their behaviour, thus taking the responsibility solely off of women’s shoulders…petitions, protests; any other ideas?

Let’s not forget that misogyny can be committed by women or self-inflicted. Victim blaming, secrecy and gossip about other women are all behaviours that come under the patriarchal veil of this behaviour.

Action taken in the UK

However, to focus solely on this area would negate some of the powerful work we’ve done over the past 4.5 years. I’d like to highlight that we:

  • Represent over 1,250 newsletter subscribers – that’s around 25% of all women working in animation and VFX in the UK!
  • We have produced over 34 events
  • Have over 90 members
  • Continue to plan for the next 3-5 years growth
  • Advertise dozens of job ads

With the help of Louise Hussey and the rest of the AWUK board and volunteers we have made huge inroads into raising the profiles of women in our industry, improving working networks, providing mentoring, showcasing women’s work and creating new research.

A huge thanks goes out to the women who without their support on ‘day 1’ none of this would have been possible: Alison Warner, Jocelyn Stevenson, Kate O’Connor and Helen Brunsdon.

We continue to offer to work in collaboration with the BFI (see their new Diversity Standards here), and various other UK events, festivals and conferences to achieve our aims. Get in touch if you haven’t yet!

An ideal situation

As Lisa Simpson once said “Lord Buddha, I know I’m not supposed to want stuff, but come on!” Gender equality shouldn’t be a feminist utopian ideal; it’s a basic human right, but one that we as women are continually fighting to have recognised. In order to create real change, things like positive discrimination policies, further research and start-up IP and business funding for women is essential. Governments must also find new ways to value women’s needs and contributions, then take them seriously. Perhaps if a panel ends up being all-male (a “manel”) one man can give-up his place to a woman expert he knows.

I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve accomplished though; starting AWUK has been an epic task and one of the hardest things I’ve done. My personal policies have improved over the years – rather than striving for perfection in my work, I aim to be “good enough” (i.e. as good as any man) and to try not to judge other women too harshly – being compassionate with others and myself. I started Animated Women UK because I was angry, but I used my anger to fuel creative action and produce positive change.

It starts with trusting yourself; if you can do that you can trust others…then you can make decisions, and some of those decisions might even involve an element of risk!

That being said, I find it difficult to find the kind of work that is well paid, stable, encourages female characters/empowerment in animation and supports women’s day-to-day lives. I don’t want to end up another female statistic; having to leave the industry at 35 (un-married, no kids) because I can’t find the work I want. I’m too afraid to ask for investment in my own projects, yet too ambitious to want to spend another 10 years ‘working my way up’ to a position where I get to choose projects. Do I need to forego stability in exchange for creative freedom? Time will tell.

The future…

Never before have women been so educated and connected – we are a global force to be reckoned with. Yet as women in the public eye we deal with so many external negative forces that becoming one remains unappealing for many; our fears, insecurities and self-doubts are encouraged instead. See Mary Beard’s ‘The Public Voice of Women’. This in turn creates circumstances ripe for in-fighting, bullying, separation and isolation…thus keeping us quiet.

True collaboration is about sharing power, decision-making, authority and responsibility. There is an unlimited supply of power for women who choose to create it. There’s a window for change to happen quickly and efficiently. How we react to that is up to us. There’s great stuff happening all around the world and hopefully the momentum will continue.

On that note, Animated Women UK would not exist without thousands of hours of support from our advisors, board members and volunteers. If you would like to get involved please contact us!

Join us!  Become a member of AWUK.

Posted by Claire Hogg in , 3 comments