Profiles

Member Profile | Debra Coleman

Member Profile | Debra Coleman

This month we caught up with Debra Coleman who recently left DNEG after 16 years to set up Open Frame Coaching.  We find out how Debra got into the industry and what has led her to pursue this new adventure.

How did you get into VFX/Compositing?
Whilst at University, studying English Literature and Media Studies, I particularly enjoyed the practical photography and video modules, which was when it first occurred to me that a job behind the camera or in post-production might actually be a possibility – and an exciting one! After graduating, I moved to London and applied for every job in tv/video/film/post that I saw advertised.  Finally, after what felt like an eternity, but was actually about 7 months – was offered a job as a Runner at Cinesite.

It was at Cinesite that I really got an education in visual effects.  As a runner, I got to know everyone at the studio and found that most people were happy to talk about what they did, which provided an invaluable overview. I moved in into Video-to-Film transfers and then realised I had an interest in compositing, so started also doing some basic prep and roto work before joining the comp team. One of my first projects as a comper was Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – I think that’s when I truly realised the level of detail I needed to work at!

After 7 years at Cinesite, I felt the pull of working overseas and spent a very happy year and a half in California, at Tippett Studio. On my return to London, I joined Double Negative, which was small at that time and had a similar ‘family’ feel to Tippett and Cinesite. Not long after joining, I fell pregnant, which then led to me returning to work part-time – unheard of at that time! Ultimately, I remained at DNEG for 16 years, progressing into comp management roles as the company grew.

What do you like about it?
I’ve always enjoyed the blend of technical skills and creativity and using this to aid the story-telling process.  Following a project from concept, all the way through to final delivery showed me that anything is possible – sometimes to our detriment if the client is indecisive! I also just love the people involved as, in my experience, VFX artists, production and support teams share a passion and are collaborative, smart, creative people which I find inspiring and energising.

How did you transition to being a coach and how does it tie into VFX?
At the end of 2020, I left my position as Global Head of Compositing at DNEG to set up my coaching consultancy, Open Frame Coaching, providing coaching for VFX professionals and companies.  I realise this sounds like quite a departure, but actually, VFX and coaching have been intertwined for me for a number of years.

I think the seed was planted for me when I attended leadership training by Career Savvy (funded by DNEG).  I was also fortunate enough to also be coached by Jan Armstrong. This course opened my eyes to effective leadership and the power of coaching within an organisation.

Following many years of adopting an informal coaching approach as a manager, I decided to invest in a specific coaching course which I completed during our first lockdown of 2020. Since then, I have been building my coaching experience and ultimately decided to pour all my energy into this newfound passion. With my background in VFX, I’m finding that my clients choose to work with me as “I get it” which provides a handy shortcut during our sessions.

I also really, truly believe that all VFX companies could benefit from adopting more of a coaching culture to support and elevate everyone within their teams.

You took part in the inaugural Achieve programme. What did you learn from this?
I was delighted to be accepted on AWUK’s first Achieve programme, headed up by the wonderful Helen North. I thoroughly enjoyed every workshop, both getting to know the other ‘Senior’ women (what a way to be referred to!) and hearing the passion, potential and frustration of the junior and mid-level women. My main takeaway from this is how important it is for women to support each other at all stages of their careers: as women, we do face barriers and are better equipped to overcome these when we can reach out to each other for support.

Animated Women UK Achieve Programme Class of 2017

Animated Women UK Achieve Programme Class of 2017

What have you gained from being part of Animated Women UK?
Until attending my first AWUK event (with what felt like hundreds of us crammed into the upstairs room of a pub), I had never felt any need to call attention to the fact I was a woman in a male-dominated industry, however, Louise Hussey’s speech really struck a chord and made me stop and think about the lack of equality and opportunity for women in our industry and how wrong this is! It was also refreshing socially (being with women) and I came away motivated to ‘do something’.

Since then, I have overcome my nerves and sat on panels when asked as I understand the importance of representation and I ended up chairing the women’s group at DNEG, pushing for better representation and inclusion of women at the company.

Since that first event, I have continued to enjoy each AWUK event I’ve been to, finding it refreshing to meet other talented women from throughout Animation and VFX and finding inspiration in the speeches/panels put on.  For example, Sue Lister’s openness and honesty at the most recent zoom event was really powerful.

Why do you feel it’s important to support women and junior talent in the industry?
I guess I’ve already touched upon this, as it’s interwoven with my career experience.  I’m an advocate for flexible working for mums and carers; I understand the importance of representation; I would encourage everyone to either offer to mentor or seek a mentor (or both!).

Things are improving in terms of the number of women taking VFX/Animation courses and being offered junior roles, however, I strongly feel there is still a lot to be done to ensure women are able to progress within the industry at the same rate as their male colleagues. I believe that coaching for anyone moving into a new role of responsibility can hugely grow their confidence (and therefore ability), so would recommend this for companies looking to support their women. I am also keen to see women better supported on their return to work from maternity leave and offer coaching throughout this period too.  By truly supporting and retaining women at this stage in their career, it will ultimately help to improve representation in senior roles as well as contributing to reducing the gender pay gap over time.

Debra Coleman

Debra Coleman | www.openframecoaching.com

What have you learned during lockdown?
Oh, good question! I’ve certainly learnt all of the walking and running routes on my doorstep! And that marking the end of another day of working from home is essential for my mental health – I find jumping up and dancing to a good playlist, even for 15 mins, really helps with this!

Seriously though, as a mother of two teenagers, I have had an up-close-and-personal look at how lockdown has impacted our mental well-being – and it’s different, but noticeable, for each of us. Also, in my roles as Head of Compositing and as a professional coach, I’m noticing common themes of people feeling isolated and I think this is particularly problematic for those who are living alone, perhaps a long way from family. Whilst at DNEG, I ran a group coaching programme to help connectivity and well-being for those who were feeling isolated; I also set-up a monthly, zoom coffee morning for women only, both of which really helped.

Personally, I’ve also been reminded of the importance of reaching out to my friends and family – I may miss hugging them, but a phone chat still provides important support and connection at a time when we are probably all feeling quite alone.

http://www.openframecoaching.com/

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Achieve Programme, Homepage, Mentoring, Profiles, 0 comments
Member Profile | Lisa Graydon

Member Profile | Lisa Graydon

In this member profile, we asked Lisa Graydon, a voice-over artist and vocalist to share her story and discover that, in her case, voiceover work is a real family affair!

How did you get into voiceover work?

A number of years ago I was in a recording studio in Soho, London, singing children’s songs for a well-known company.

At the end of my singing session, the producer realised they’d missed some lines for the voice artists who had been there in the morning.  They wondered if I could try and voice the princess, seeing as I was singing her songs.

I did, and then also voiced a goat and a couple of villagers, and without realising it, my voiceover career started…!

Fast forward to now, and I‘ve voiced hundreds of commercials, radio ads, corporate explainers, and sponsorship campaigns.

Why do you enjoy animation and games work so much?

I’m a regular ‘looper’ for films and love ADR, but my biggest passion is voicing for animation and games.  In both, I can help the director ‘create’ the voice of whatever character is put before me. I feel confident, excited, and it’s where I probably feel most at home.

Playing with ideas for characters is immense fun.  Sometimes, my job is to try and match the voice the animator/producer was hearing in their head when they started the project.  Other times, I’m asked how I think they might sound from a detailed animatic or a single drawing.

In both animation and games, the scope and range of characters can be mind-blowing!  I’ve played a cloud, a scientist, a special ops leader, an American boy, an evil advisor, a mother cat, an old woman, chickens, a French warrior and many others.  My roles have required me to shout, whisper, cry, bully, laugh maniacally and even just mutter.

I invariably use all areas of my voice to produce a sound that will suit the character.  Sometimes a session is like a workout!

You have to leave your inhibitions at the studio door, but for some reason (despite being an ‘extravert introvert’) I have no problem there…

Recording feels like a wonderful, fun collaboration.  Being part of a creative, appreciative team, all with the same purpose in mind – to make the end result sound amazing for the project.

How and why did you build your home studio?

When our son, Alex, was six years old, he was chosen to voice the relaunch of Timmy Time for Aardman Animations.  With 78 episodes to record after a full day at school each week, I decided it was the perfect time to build a professional home studio with a large booth.

We are 25 minutes away from Central London studios, but I realised that a home studio would allow me to be inside the booth to direct him and that he could literally walk into the session after a snack rather than a commute.

It took a week to draw up plans, and after much advice and many phone calls, my carpenter and I built the booth in 5 days.  It weighs half a ton and takes up half the room so we had the joists checked by a structural engineer and then strengthened…!

Every episode of Timmy Time was recorded in my booth, with Aardman patching in.

What is it like directing children?

Inside the booth, I stand slightly behind and to the side of the children, and we work through scripts and auditions.  Sometimes the client watches via zoom, other times we work alone and send the finished .wav files.

How I direct depends on the age of the child and how they prefer support.

Initially, with Alex I would say a line and he would repeat it, but very quickly he found he could read ahead himself.  A child’s first instinct is always far better than them copying an adult – there’s an innocence to the read if they choose their tone themselves, naturally.

Later on he found it really helpful if I silently gesticulated with my hands – ie ‘Up’ for energy/tone up, down with hand and energy drops/tone drops etc.  We always stop for a quick drink, a short chat or joke, and to ensure he understands the script and do silly mouth exercises before recording and laugh a lot to keep things fresh.

My daughter, Maya, (now 16), is a studio veteran! She has been doing voice work since she was 5, and is extremely comfortable in a voice/vocal booth.
It’s what she chose for her work experience (a week at Soho Square Studios, London). She has an ear for accents to the point that she can be a ‘one-take wonder’.

How do you prepare for voice work?

When you voice, whatever the job, it’s best to start by warming up the face and mouth.  I like to do exaggerated chewing movements, say ‘wow!’ and make circles with my tongue.  I drink warm (not hot or chilled) water – and I’m always amazed at the amount I get through during a session…

I normally receive the script before the session, so I print it out and make notes with a pencil. I highlight my lines when necessary. I also have the script on the screen inside the booth.

I use the script to warm up before the session starts and to familiarise myself with it. I always check the pronunciation of an unusual name or word.

What do you use to record your work?

If I’m being directed remotely over Skype or Zoom etc, I hit record as soon as the client connects with me, so I can relax about that part.  I work on Logic Pro and only record what the mic picks up, so clients comments can’t be heard – unless they’re laughing very loudly and there’s headphone ’spill’ (I love finding those moments when I’m editing up a file!). When I run off the file, I just edit out any mistakes and all chat.

Even if the client is recording their end (for instance via Source Connect or Cleanfeed), I record as well my end as a backup – unless, for NDA reasons, they ask me not to.

For animation and game characters, I like to have the picture or a still from the animatic somewhere on my screen, to keep the character present in my mind as I voice.

Tell us about your non-voiceover work?

My husband James and I also have a recording studio at the bottom of the garden. This is where we write, record and produce music and vocals for commercials, film and TV, events, or for other artists.

As well as being a composer and producer, James coaches actors like Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams (Eurovision), Gwilym Lee and Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) and, at present, the stars of a new Danny Boyle project.  We’ve often had chauffeurs waiting outside the house, and a range of incredible actors walking down our garden path to the studio…!

What have you gained from joining Animated Women?

When I joined Animated Women I found a support system that made me believe I could achieve a lot more, and cope with what was already on my plate. I also found a great group of women who really inspired me – with their generosity and talent, their humour, passion and unapologetic ambition.

What have you learned during Lockdown?

Like so many others during this past year, I’ve realised I need to manage a lot in a week!  I’m a singer and voice artist.  I’ve taught myself to be an engineer and editor and I run my own business – invoicing, quoting, networking and promoting myself.  I’m also a mother, a teacher (I was homeschooling my son pre-lockdown, so at least I was used to it), a wife and to top it off, I foster rescue puppies.…

The last year has drummed in that it’s important to celebrate all the little ways we succeed and the goals we reach.  I recently won Voice Artist Of The Year 2020 and Best Demo 2020 (self-produced!) after 14 nominations.  I signed to a great new exclusive agent (Damn Good Voices) and am managing to keep my studio running smoothly and reliably through a pandemic.  I’m proud of these things.

So what if the washing machine still needs to go on and I forgot to post a birthday card?  We’re only human…

Let’s all take in the little ‘wins’ we’ve had – however small.  Start each day by making the bed really well….

Lisa Graydon is a member of AWUK. You can find out more about her and her work at https://www.lisagraydon.com/

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Homepage, Profiles, 0 comments
The AWUK Board in Lockdown

The AWUK Board in Lockdown

We recently reached out to some of our Board members to see how they were coping since lockdown began in March. How has COVID affected them specifically? How did they manage to find a balance between work and family life when they were both almost inseparable? How has working remotely affected their current positions? And what are their thoughts on the future of the animation and VFX industries?

This month we will be featuring the stories of Anna Gregory, Val Cazalat and Georgina Hurcombe. They each share their own struggles with lockdown from a dear parent’s death to managing work-life and parenting; we hope you can relate to their stories and find comfort in the time of COVID.

Anna Gregory 

In the Time of COVID – The Lockdown Days

At the start of lockdown, I realised this was going to be a real challenge for me, as well as for so many others. Not because I would have to work remotely, which I love, but because I was obligated by law to stay at my home until further notice. Why was that so unusual? Well, for me it was because for many years I had lived in three locations every week. I would spend a couple of those nights with my partner and for the rest of the week, I would be at my ageing parent’s home, helping care for them. 

I couldn’t help but keep asking myself, how would I feel about spending all my time at my own house for a change? What am I going to do? It did not take me long to sort out my first month, including enrolling in online courses, cleaning and clearing the house, and having the luxury of learning all that software I never had time to play with before. It all sounded good to me. 

Then I thought about my lovely Mum’s 95th birthday at the beginning of April and how we wouldn’t be able to spend the day with her. That was a blow. So, I decided to set up a Zoom birthday meeting.   

I must admit that a break from all that personal care was a real relief, but it did not take long for me to find I missed caring for my parents even though it could sometimes be a challenge. We were all being exceptionally good obeying the lockdown rules: Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives. No travelling unless necessary.

The birthday Zoom meeting turned out to be a great success! My parents really got behind it. My Dad was constantly fascinated by technology and always an early accepter of it. We even set up indispensable weekly Zoom meetings. It was a little compensation for the lack of physical contact with my family.

And I was getting on well with all my plans. I relished the weekly Zoom meeting together with regular phone calls. And on one particular call with my Dad, it was heartening to hear him chatty and sounding happy. I thought he would be missing us more. You can imagine how I felt when my brother called me the next day with the news that my Dad unexpectedly died that night. I was in complete shock. 

As a family, we worked tirelessly to keep my parents away from care homes and oh my goodness, did that pay off! When the paramedics came to check my Dad, they told my brother there was no COVID involved and the family could come to the house. We did almost immediately, as Mum really needed our support. 

And with that, it did not take long for my routine to get back to normal. I discovered I was classed as a key worker since I am registered with the local council as a carer. Which meant I could now spend all the time I wanted to with my Mum without breaking lockdown rules. The biggest issue for me after finding that out was I could’ve been there for my parents the whole time; I could’ve been there for my Mum when she needed me most and I could’ve said goodbye to my Dad. Instead of getting upset, I spared a thought for all those grieving families who couldn’t even see their loved ones in hospitals or care homes. 

This sad and tragic episode is bearable because my lovely Dad died peacefully in his bed next to my Mum, the love of his life for 67 beautiful years. This fact alone gives me great comfort in the time of COVID.

Val Cazalat

Life in Lockdown — The Accountants Perspective

On the 16th of March we were all asked to work from home until advised otherwise. The move was surprisingly easy; we already had IT systems in place enabling remote working and had carried out a test the week before to see if the system could take all 600 of us working from home at the same time. We left that evening fully expecting to be back in in a month or so. Five months on and it is we’re only just planning a return to the office.

The first month was frantically busy; long hours with phone calls as clients both in the UK and overseas wanted help with cashflow projections, loan applications, help with understanding how the furlough process worked, and access to the various government assistance programs. I was never one for video calls before lockdown, but they are now an everyday part of my life. So much so that a normal phone call is a rarity! We have settled down into our new way of working and are making sure we keep in daily contact with all staff (especially with the trainees). Generally, everything works well but my stress levels seem to be inversely proportional to the strength of my broadband. It was at an all-time high when Virgin Media went down for 6-hours just as I was about to host a client webinar. My stress levels returned to normal only after the aid of a large gin and tonic that evening.

A well-deserved gin and tonic

We have even managed to host lots of team socials for the office: quizzes, drinks (BYO obviously), bingo, yoga (thank heavens I didn’t put my camera on!) and online poker (surprisingly loads of fun). I still miss the buzz of being in the office and am looking forward to going back in for at least some of the time when we can.

Georgina Hurcombe

Reflecting on Lockdown

Many of us never saw this pandemic coming. If you had told me a year ago that a phrase I would use almost daily would be “turn your microphone on I can’t hear you”, or that I wouldn’t see some of my team members for months, and some of my proudest moments would be baking bread; I would have laughed! 

In February, I travelled to Miami for Kidscreen. Having heard limited stories of the virus, I was the only person in the airport wearing a mask (looking quite strange, I imagine). Who would have thought that months later, this look would be an everyday staple? 

I must say, I have been so touched to see how people have really come together and the efforts of frontline workers within our society. From the doctors and nurses of the NHS to the Amazon delivery workers, they have all been inspiring. It’s amazing how so many people have put their lives at risk to keep our society going.

Like many, I’ve gone through stages of fear, frustration and loneliness at not seeing friends and family members, but I’ve also grown and adapted in so many ways, as I’m sure we all have had to do. 

Home schooling has been challenging, especially with a 6 and 9-year-old in my household.  I’m lucky the children have been incredible and adapted to lockdown very well, but it’s certainly been tricky trying to carry on “normal” routines while juggling schoolwork. On one occasion, I had a very important Zoom conversation about a fund I wanted to apply for, and I had implicitly explained to the 6-year-old not to come in unless there was an emergency. Of course, he knocked on the door throughout the call, popped his head around the door and even danced on the spot until finally announcing his “big” emergency was that he didn’t know how to spell the word “boat!” 

Georgina in Lockdown

Sharing a workspace at home can be interesting…

It’s also great to hear so many positive stories about our industry, and how many studios have been able to adjust to working remotely in such an adaptive manner. I’m incredibly proud of my own team and how well they’ve adapted to the challenging situations COVID-19 has presented us with. I’ve got to know many people on a much deeper level with Zoom being such a normal part of life; I’ve met people’s family members, their children and their pets online! I’ve even pitched virtually at MIPTV kids series pitch.

Despite all the challenges, I do think the future is bright. We are hopefully going to be recruiting for Pop Paper City soon, hiring animators and production team members alike. I’m still nervous about what the future holds with the pandemic still ongoing and the potential of a second wave, but I’m also confident that our industry, country, and the world can rise to the challenges we face together.

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Homepage, Profiles, 0 comments
Producing Patience |  Sarah Kileen

Producing Patience | Sarah Kileen

As we enter week 10 of the ‘new normal’ I decided to sit at my (eldest child’s Ikea) desk, knees brushing my chin, and write about my experience over the last few weeks.  Home hot desking options that include the kitchen, the bedroom, and the back of the car, have certainly not been my most remarkable locations to work as a producer, but the challenges of working from home full time have been as significant as my new found love of gin at 5pm.  That part is misleading, it’s not new.

I am Managing Director of Fred & Eric, an animation and design agency that I run with my partners Jamie and Maggie.  We have a studio on Charlotte Street but are now scattered to East, West and South London.  It was important to all of us that our agency could always operate remotely, so setting up a working from home environment was an easy transition.  The challenges have come from two exceptionally difficult clients, aged 2 ½ and 6…. 

These clients are diva level demanding.  They insist on regular catch-ups by holding onto my chin in a vice-like grip to make sure I understand their brief.  They like full control over a project, and will communicate their feelings with ardent force if anything doesn’t ‘work’.  Woe betide the times I attempt to distance (*hide) in another room; with senses more acute than Lassie they sniff me out.  And I learnt early on, don’t EVER forget the biscuits to any meeting they’re attending.

The clients I live with also need regular exercise, despite getting my hands on one of the last trampolines available in lockdown, zipping them in and hoping for the best only buys me so much time.  As a result, I have become adept at taking work calls whilst throwing a Frisbee, kicking a ball, and acting as a human vending machine for snacks.  I mouth silent instructions and use hand signals to covey with an increasing amount of urgency that it would be preferable not to be used as a human climbing machine.

Most of our clients favour email correspondence, although ‘jumping on’ a recent zoom call with a prospective new client whilst wearing highly inappropriate 90s girl band bunches was not my finest hour.  My business partners assured me I managed to keep an air of professionalism despite the unspoken Baby Spice homage (anything goes in in the Corona Call Era). And before you suggest there’s always time for a last-minute-pre-zoom-restyle, just accept that the eldest of my live-in clients turned personal stylist was vocally against modifications.  And they say the client always knows best…. 

At times I’ve attempted to involve the ‘clients’ in creative decisions, sharing examples of illustrations and animations.  But within moments, I was candidly told I should ‘get a cooler job’.  ‘Like what?’ I foolishly asked, ‘errrrr Rocky, or……Sonic.’  So it seems that unless I become a boxing hero, or a hedgehog on steroids, I’m irrelevant.  I may yet recruit the smaller one into new business however, as his propensity to grab my phone and start cold calling has resulted in numerous chats with strangers, and just a couple with the police…..

There is a palpable lack of office etiquette, working hours are irregular, dress codes flounced daily with a fluid relationship with the necessity of clothes, and no one has made me a cup of tea.  The soundtrack to my working life consists of loud renditions of ‘Dance Monkey’, accompanied by ear-splitting instrumentals care of a plastic keyboard stuck on ‘party mode’.  However we’re muddling through, and I’m proud we’ve created an agency that is thriving in these exceptional circumstances. 

Sarah Kileen is a member of AWUK and Managing Director of Fred & Eric

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Homepage, Profiles, 0 comments
5 Things We’ve Accomplished Since Attending The Helen North Achieve Programme

5 Things We’ve Accomplished Since Attending The Helen North Achieve Programme

The Helen North Achieve Programme is back for its fourth year. Applications are now open, so we sat down with five alumni to find out what they’ve accomplished since attending the course.

1) “As a mother returning to work the course helped me look at my options in a really positive way. I stopped worrying about rushing to be exactly the same artist I was before I had my son and made me realise I can take any route I chose and whatever time I need to achieve the goals I have set for myself.”
Anita Corcoran, Animator

2) “I’ve progressed in my job and feel more confidence when navigating the VFX industry.
“I’ve also gained an amazing support network of women in VFX and Animation and learned to stop falling victim to ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
“The wonder women stance has also been a handy tool for a quick confidence boost anytime and anywhere!”
Emma Ihecherenoma, VFX Production Coordinator at Industrial Light & Magic

3) “The course was a great way to meet new people and reflect on my work in animation to date. I got time-out to think, a chance to set some new goals and a big boost to my personal confidence and presentation skills.
“Since the course, I’ve made a lot of changes in the way I run my animation studio, which are really beginning to bear fruit. We’ve pulled in lots of new service studio work, our finances are much improved and our educational animation continues to gather momentum, awards and recognition.
“I have also found a new role for myself as a mentor, helping out other women in my field on the Creative England Industry Equals Women in Screen Programme and been making more time for ME! I am managing my time much better and can fit so much more into my week!”
Kath Shackleton, Producer at Fettle Animation

4) “Participating in the Helen North Achieve Programme allowed me to reflect and focus on those aspects of my career that I wanted to nurture, change and build upon. It gave me the confidence to seek out new challenges, become a mentor and drive harder than ever for the projects and people that I believe in. Importantly, it made me reconsider what success actually means to me… I’ve learnt that small, forgettable everyday achievements are just as important markers of success as the memorable, career game-changers.”
Natalie Llewelyn, Head of Development ar Jellyfish Pictures

5) “Since completing the programme, I have registered as a STEM Ambassador and gave a talk to A-level students last month. I found that quite intimidating but the presentation skills sessions gave me the confidence that I would come across as more knowledgable and assured than I felt. The talk seemed to go well and I had some very positive feedback from the students.”
Lucy Wilkes, Lead Software Developer at Dneg

Find out more about the Helen North Achieve Programme and apply here.

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Achieve Programme, Homepage, Profiles, 0 comments