Profiles

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
Member Profile | Daisy Summerfield | Animator

Member Profile | Daisy Summerfield | Animator

Can you give an overview of your career to date; including what inspired you to go into the field you’re in now?

Obsessed with Wallace and Gromit and all things Disney and Pixar, it was my dream from an early age to bring characters to life. Coming from a predominantly art background, I initially wanted to be a character designer. However, animation enabled me to get more into the “acting” side of things, which was another passion of mine at the time. So living off the saying of that animation is for introvert actors, I studied Animation Production at AUB and went on to start my career in VFX at Framestore Bournemouth as a Matchmove Artist. As a recent graduate, it was a great way to introduce myself to the industry. Working on such big Marvel and Disney projects was a ‘pinch-myself’ moment. After a few years at Framestore, I joined Outpost VFX to fulfil my passion of becoming an Animator, of which I have been for the past two years. 

What achievement are you most proud of?

I would probably say being the Lead Animator for a creature-heavy sequence recently for a high-end TV show. This was an enormous challenge, putting together all my skills to produce high-end creature animation whilst leading a team. I have learnt such an extraordinary amount from the past year and it really gave me some confidence in my own ability as an Animator and as a leader. I’m so proud of the team and the result. I can’t wait to see the sequence when it is released!

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Coffee and the thought of breakfast obviously. When I get to work, I’m always excited to push myself that day. Each day with creature animation there is always a new challenge, so it is a mental workout, but you have to journey out of your comfort zone to progress. I enjoy problem solving, so every day, I always feel like I’m getting ready to battle with my shot and hopefully win! 

What is the biggest barrier for women in your discipline?

Not having strong female role models in senior roles. Animation is considered a less technical discipline and is probably one of the more balanced departments in the industry, but it would be fantastic for more emerging female talent to have senior female artists to aspire to and seek advice from.

What advice would you give to people earlier on in their career?

Critiquing your work against other professional work is really important. Do not get discouraged by not being at that standard yet. Instead be realistic about where you are and what you need to do to get to that next level. At the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself, strive to be better on the next project. Having a great attitude is just as important as your actual artistic ability. Working in animation for VFX we strive for ultra-realism, so reference is always key! I spend a lot of time searching the internet for whatever reference I need, taking that time out before you get started can save you so much time later on!

What would be your dream project to work on?

I really enjoy working in VFX, but I would absolutely love to work on a Pixar or Disney project or short film, anything related to either of them! They set the standard in stylised animation and I would love to be a part of a project that is driven by art and storytelling at such a base level. Animation and character is at the very soul of every project, so the concept of working on the next Up or Inside Out is a complete dream of mine!

Watchmen

Watchmen

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Homepage, Profiles, 1 comment
Member Profile | Heather Colbert | Illustrator and Animator

Member Profile | Heather Colbert | Illustrator and Animator

What inspired you to start Stop-motion Animation?

I came to animation through my illustration degree; we had a puppet making project in our 1st year that ignited my interest in stop motion and puppet making.  The character I made was a Frankenstein’s monster-style slave, doomed to an eternity of stirring a vat of fudge! It was a great project. I had always been fascinated by the unique charm that comes from the real light and textures in stop motion, growing up on all the programmes made by Small Films. But through university and since graduating, it has been a gradual realisation that I could be someone who makes films this way too.

Tell us about your work and what projects have been critical to your career.

I experimented with felting and building a more realistic world in my degree film ‘Courage to make a Fool’, but since graduating I have directed three music videos where I have used my love of texture and character animation to create more of a personal style.

My last project, ‘Dolly Said No To Elvis’, was a chance to be more ambitious with the story I was telling, and to explore my style in the textured universe I wanted to create. ‘Dolly’ was the first time I consciously promoted a film too, which made it feel more like a career, especially when I was able to get some exposure from the Vimeo staff pick.

Dolly Said No To Elvis (official music video) from Heather Colbert on Vimeo.

I had a place on a stop motion workshop in Budapest last autumn, which boosted my confidence in my ambition to be a filmmaker. I met a student, Abel Carbajal (from ESCAC), through this workshop, which led to a collaboration between us on his graduation stop motion film. I have worked solo on all of my professional projects so far, so the chance to work as partners, developing the character together and then building the puppets, was really valuable for me.

Tell us a little bit more about your last project, ‘Dolly Said No To Elvis’ – how did the opportunity come along and the journey in making the music video?

Joseph Wallace had been approached by Mark Nevin about making a video for the track, but Joseph was focusing on his other projects at the time so very kindly offered the chance to pitch for the video on to me. I’ve been so fortunate to have had these opportunities passed on to me by more experienced filmmakers; I hope one day I’ll get the chance do the same – animation feels like a very supportive community in this respect.

When I listened to Mark’s song, I felt how the power balance shifted between the two characters at points through the narrative, and saw an opportunity to heighten the drama of the true story by exaggerating the changes in size of the two adversaries.

This was only my second professional commission, and this commission had a very tight budget, so I wasn’t able to rent a studio, which meant I turned my grandma’s dining room into a studio over Christmas! It was also a very tight deadline, but I had learnt so much through the workshop that I was bursting to try out in front of the camera. Working on my own, that intensely and over Christmas got quite tricky, and it was a challenge to keep looking after my mental health  through the project. But I am very proud of both myself and Dolly for making it happen!

Did you have any mentors or support in your career that help you get forward?

I have so many people to thank for my fortune so far; Virpi Kettu, an animator based in Skipton, gave me my first opportunity to pitch for a music video, when it was not right for her production company. The incredible Mary Murphy at UWE, who so generously gave me her time when I needed equipment advice for my first job.  Joseph Wallace, who I admired greatly already, has been an amazing support in teaching me the self-promotion skills filmmakers need, that you can’t really learn in university.

But I am also so grateful for the support of my peers like animator Roos Mattar, who helped me with practical and emotional advice for ‘Dolly’! And Becky Weston, a model maker who I met and connected with through an Animated Women networking event. (I think we got on immediately because we were just as nervous as each other in that situation!)

Have there ever been times when you’ve felt that being a woman may have impacted your career?

As I am still very new to the industry, I have not experienced what it is like to work as a woman in a large studio yet. I would hope that the issues many office environments have in this area would not be so prevalent in a creative field like animation. But I think the internal feelings that come from growing up as a female do have an impact on how challenging some aspects of a freelance career can be. Self-esteem and confidence in your abilities is, I think, quite a rare thing in many creative females, and I found the process of self-promotion with my film very daunting, so I needed a push in this direction. However, I think my sensitivity has been an asset too. Feeling strong emotions and connecting to stories very deeply is integral to this kind of career.

What changes would you like to see in the industry?

I have only been in the ‘real world’ for two years, so I have not had much experience of the wider picture. But I do know that in my degree the class was about 90% female, whereas the number of names that ‘make it’ are mostly male. I know this happens in many industries; something happens in the hard process of climbing, that means that female makers either don’t pursue it or do not get the same recognition as their male peers.

My strongest wish is for there to be more opportunity for people from every kind of background to have the chance to tell their story in the animation industry. It is vital that there is a broader mix of voices in the position to share their experience.

The connections to lovely people I made at a networking event held by AW have been very important to my development as a filmmaker, so I hope for more chances for us to connect and support each other across the industry.

Heather Colbert
Posted by Lucy Cooper in Profiles, 0 comments