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Monday, June 24, 2013

Animated Projects: "Saving Unicorns" with Staci Jacobs

Sometimes you go looking for the cause, sometimes the cause finds you...

Design by Erica Perez
So there I was, working at the day job when a young lady by the name of Staci Jacobs e-mailed me out of the blue. It turns out that she had found this year's Women in Animation blog posts on my other website, Smudge Animation, and discovered that we held some pretty common views on filmmaking opportunities. Y'see, Staci is a writer, actress and producer who is working on getting her own webseries off the ground.

Called "Saving Unicorns", the show takes the popular 'man-child' theme and tells it from a woman's perspective with an imaginary unicorn taking the place of Jiminy Cricket (or a stuffed teddy bear that sounds suspiciously like Peter Griffin from Family Guy). While this is a somewhat common theme, what is unique is telling the story from the perspective of a woman who is struggling to find her way through adulthood in modern society. Since I've had a very vibrant imagination my entire life, I can relate to her story. Be it a remnant of society or how we are raised nowadays, I can look at my wall of animation DVDs and understand how it feels like you wake up one day and 'Bam', you're an adult with all the rights, privileges, and (oftentimes overwhelming) responsibilities all the while pursued by the thought "I'm not sure I'm really prepared for all this..."

Staci Jacobs
Staci has made the decision to follow her own unique vision by creating a story that is personal to her (as well as many in our generation). And by using the tools at her disposal, she has decided to go the independant producer route in order to bring her vision to life outside of the established studio structure.

After reviewing her websites, I was intrigued about her project and her motivations behind going the indie route for this hybrid live-action/2d animated project, but more research was needed to satisfy my curiousity--especially since I made a decision when launching this blog to keep my focus specifically narrowed onto women animators, their history, and their films. Needless to say, I didn't want to stray too far from the core mission of this blog.

Erica Perez
It was during that initial e-mail that Staci revealed the very pleasant surprise that she is hiring a woman animator to design and animate her sassy imaginary unicorn. Staci stated in her e-mail that she was surprised at how difficult it was for her to find a woman animator--not a big surprise if you've read any of the Women in Animation interviews on my blog over the past couple years. But fortunately she found Erica Perez, a graduate from Pratt Institute who has worked on such shows as Ugly Americans, the Electric Company, and StoryCorps with the Rauch Brothers.

In the following video, Erica tells us about her motiviations for working on this project and shows how she brings imaginary unicorns to life.

But, as this is a blog about women who work in animation, I had to be direct and ask Staci the question:

CW: "Why did you decide to hire a woman animator for your unicorn character?"

SJ: "When the heart of the project became clear, and the focus was about the Woman-Child, I immediately knew that having women on the production team was the way to go. A show created by a woman, telling the story of a woman and having the creative forces behind it being women-just seemed right. Especially when you look at the "big guns" in Hollywood. The movers and the shakers are men. Men telling stories, about men, produced and written by men. Don't get me wrong-I'm a fan [of] great content. I just knew that finding a female animator would add something extra special to the team. When I first posted an ad looking for an animator, every reply I received about the job was from a man. I got very lucky finding Erica. A mutual friend and fellow producer introduced us. Erica got the character and the concept from her very first sketch and I knew she would be perfect. Plus women and unicorns is like bread and butter!"

This strikes to the heart of my argument for creating a blog about women who work in the field of animation. As I state on my 'Why Animated Women?' page:

"women have a unique perspective that we, as men, don’t... we should enjoy our own unique perspectives—and by extension, as filmmakers, we should put that perspective into our films."

I often quote National Film Board director Michael Fukushima to friends, students, on my blog... to anyone who will listen, really, where he says:

"Make a ten-second film and send it to the festivals. Next, make a 30-second film... and send it to the festivals. Next, make a sixty second film... and send it to the festivals..."

What I got from my larger discussion with Michael back in 2012 is: rather than sitting around and waiting for something to happen, sometimes you have to make your own opportunities.

And this is what Staci is doing--hence her webseries and her Indiegogo campaign to get the show off the ground.

But still, I wanted to know more. So, I asked her:

CW: "What prompted you to go it alone and produce your webseries by yourself?"

SJ: "Why did I decide to produce? There are days I ask myself that..haha because it's not easy! I started out in musical theater, which provided many opportunities to perform. While I was grateful for getting work, I knew I wanted something more. I had more things to say and other sides of myself to explore other than the parts that were given. A good friend started producing her own work, I saw how it changed her outlook, her community, her "world". Most importantly it lets you, the actor-take the creative reigns, empower yourself and say I have this story to tell, this character to play, this funny song in my head... Instead of waiting around for others to open doors for you-I decided to open my own. So Jan. 2012, I took the leap. It's pretty incredible to see my notes on that very first day and now see it actually becoming a reality. This process has been the most challenging, crazy, emotional journey. It.Is.Hard. It is also extremely rewarding to say "I did that, I made that." "I created something from nothing." That's pretty special.

As of today (Monday) I have 12 days left of my Indiegogo Campaign. I've got $2600 to go. I am so grateful for the amazing people who have shown love and support. I am a one woman army with amazing hard working, talented women on my team. I don't want to let them down!

Note ALL donations are tax deductible."

So if you have a chance, check out her website and campaign videos to learn more about "Saving Unicorns". See if her story resonates with you. If you want to help encourage independent producers bring their unique visions to life you can do so by making a donation to this project via IndieGogo or by telling your friends about it. And when she completes the show, be sure to check it out and help support women in film and animation. As you can see by the above video and on her websites, a donation no matter how small (or how big) is a way to fund a project that directly benefits women who are working in the field of animation.
Design by Erica Perez

All images and video are copyright Staci Jacobs and used with her permission.

Monday, June 17, 2013

(Up-and-coming) Animator's Showcase: Madeline Sharifian

Last month, my brother, himself a new dog owner, brought a delightful student film to my attention entitled: "Omelette". The young lady who produced this film is Madeline Sharifian, a second year student enrolled in the CalArts animation program.* Well serendipity struck me a week later when on vacation in Toronto, I met a girl at the Toronto Zoo who was drawing a peacock. After asking me to look at her portfolio, she stated that she was interested in becoming an animator and wanted to go to college at CalArts. As a result of that conversation, I decided to reach out to Ms. Sharifian and see if she'd be interested in sharing her experiences, to which she graciously agreed. So, here is what I hope will become a new series here on Animated Women showcasing the work of up-and-coming woman animators.

Name: Madeline Sharafian
School: California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

Q: What made you choose animation as a major course of study?
A: I chose animation because of two movies that totally changed my life: 'Spirited Away' and 'Monsters, Inc.' I was pretty young when I saw them, but they completely changed my expectations of animated movies. I was so emotionally moved that I can still remember that car ride home after seeing 'Spirited Away' to this day. The story of Chihiro's personal transformation was so incredible that I think it may have permanently changed my personality (I used to be a very whiny child just like her at the beginning of the movie... so whiny). I didn't learn about CalArts and the character animation program until much much later, but the prospect of trying to make a film was too exciting to ignore!

Q: Your two films "the Mew-sician" and "Omelette" were both produced using 2d hand-drawn techniques, is this your preferred method of animating or do you plan to make the jump to 3d CGI for some of your future student films?
A: I am definitely much more comfortable with 2D animation, whether it's on paper or via a program! I'm not very savvy with computers in general; I didn't learn how to use Photoshop until I went to college. The first time I opened Maya, I felt totally overwhelmed! Now that I'm more familiar with the controls, I've started to really enjoy CG animation class, but I don't think I'll ever become proficient enough with it to make a CG film. Plus I'm horrible at modeling (it's a little embarrassing).

Q: What was your inspiration for Omelette?
A: Well, I love dogs and food. That's really all there is to it! I came up with the basic concept on a hike over the summer and I stuck to it pretty faithfully all year. I wish it had a cool origin story, but it's really just an homage to my foodie family.

Q: On your Vimeo page, you allow people to freely download your film the Mew-sician in HD, SD, and mobile device formats. As students at CalArts retain copyright to their works, what prompted the decision to freely distribute copies of your film as opposed to seeking a way to monetize it or keep it for a DVD compilation of your future works?
A: Can I be honest with you? I had no idea that it was available for download! But it doesn't bother me so much. Also, I would personally find the concept of making money off of my student films very strange! It's definitely not something I think about. I just want to make more films!

"Omelette Designs", by Madeline Sharifian
(click image for larger view)

Madeline currently has two blogs that showcase her work. The first is a portfolio of her character designs and storyboards which can be viewed here on blogspot (maddiesharafianportfolio.blogspot.com). The second, also on blogspot (maddiesharafian.blogspot.com), includes preliminary work for "Omelette" as well as a wider array of designs, storyboards, sketches, and artwork that showcase the depth and breadth of Madeline's artistic ability.

Below are Madeline's first and second year films that she produced at CalArts: "The Mew-sician" and "Omelette"

The Mew-sician from Madeline Sharafian on Vimeo.

Omelette from Madeline Sharafian on Vimeo.

The images and animations used in this blog entry are copyright Madeline Sharafian and used with her permission.

* Founded in 1961 by Walt Disney through a merger of the the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, CalArts produced another notable female animator: Nancy Beiman, whose work runs the gamut from Ralph Bakshi and Warner Brothers to Walt Disney Animation Studios (source: LinkedIn).