Life is full of adventures... if you know where to look.
I had heard from a friend of mine, Lynn Dana Wilton, that the Toronto Animated Image Society had acquired a light table used by Lotte Reiniger to produce her films during her short stay in Canada back in the 1970's (though Lotte called them "trick-tables").
Questions abounded: was this the desk that she used at the NFB? If so, did the NFB give it to TAIS, and if so, how did that come about? What did the desk look like? Did she have it built from one of her previous designs? Or from the diagrams in her book Shadow Theaters and Shadow Films? And most importantly, during Lynn's upcoming silhouette animation workshop, would I be allowed access to the desk in order to take photos and measurements?
Well, the only way to find the answers to my questions was to go there. So I registered for the event, gathered up my gear, made arrangements for lodging in Toronto, and drove to Ontario for the weekend.
Lotte Reiniger produced two films when she was in Canada. The first was Aucassin and Nicolette, which she created for the National Film Board of Canada. The second was The Rose and the Ring, produced for Gordon Martin and Associates Limited and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
This was the trick-table created for Lotte and that which she used to create The Rose and the Ring.
When I arrived at TAIS's production facility on Dufferin Street, Lynn escorted me back to Lotte's trick-table. She and I agreed that day: Lotte’s trick-table is both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time.
It's underwhelming because it doesn’t look like anything special at first glance. But if you know the history of who it was built for, it leaves you standing there with a sense of awe. Lynn joked about how she was expecting little animation faeries flying around the trick-table. Personally, at the very least I was expecting a golden plaque with the words “Lotte Reiniger animated here” emblazoned on the side.
But there it was, and there we were. Face to table with a part of animation history.
Lotte Reiniger's Trick-Table
It wouldn't be until later that Lynn would introduce me to the table's previous owner: Jonathan Culp. Though it was over the internet, I had the pleasure of talking with him. Jonathan patiently fielded all of my questions regarding the table.
What he told me was how his grandfather, Donald Carman of Carman Educational Associates was one of the main people in bringing Lotte to the National Film Board of Canada back in the 1970's. Although, it was one of the producers of Lotte's two films, Gordon Martin, who had the table built for Lotte. Gordon was also a family friend of Jonathan's. And before they died, Gordon and his wife Patricia gave the trick-table to Jonathan. Patricia herself was an animation assistant on Lotte's film the Rose and the Ring and she created her own silhouette animation on the trick-table, titled the Princess and the Pig Boy. Though he didn't know for sure, he believes that the trick-table was built by the Martin family--however he's going to ask one of the Martin's children for more details in the not too distant future.
Well, Jonathan, being a member of TAIS, generously donated Lotte's table to the organization.
"Lotte Animated Here"
And there it sits. A piece of animation history that has been given a new life with a new generation of animators using it to create their films…
While everyone else was making their silhouette puppets--and during my turn to animate on the table--I was crawling all over Lotte's trick-table with a camera and a couple of tape measures, taking photographs and making sketches, measurements, and designs of her trick-table... my intention being for it to be the subject of a future blog post.
Well, rather than put together an elaborate puppet with hinged joints, I've had visions of PES's deep sea animation running through my head, so I decided to do a little substitution animation instead of using a fully-jointed silhouette puppet. That and I wanted to spend more time sketching and measuring the table.
After I left the studio that evening, I already had future plans running through my head.
Membership at the Toronto Animated Image Society, a Studio Membership, costs $50 Canadian per year. But with this membership level, it offers you the perk that you can rent their studio facilities to work on your own films. In this case: the "Lotte" Studio which costs $20 per day.
I’ve already planned a return trip to Toronto in the Fall. And as I’m a member of TAIS, I can rent Lotte’s trick-table for the day for the measly sum of $20 Canadian.
Life is full of adventures... if you know where to look.
There's so much information out there from so many sources that it's impossible to repost it on blogs. So instead, I use a Facebook page as a 'women animators' news aggregate. If you're on Facebook, check out my page: The Women of Animated Film (https://www.facebook.com/WomenAnimators/).
I follow a lot of animation news sites, individual women animators, and crowdfunding campaigns. And when something women animator-related comes across my news feed, I'll repost it on Facebook. So if you're looking for more up-to-date info, please feel free to visit, like, and subscribe.
Rather than force people to sift through months upon months of my mad rambling about animation over on my Smudge Animation blog, I've created a repository blog filled with the interviews I've conducted (and some other posts I've found interesting enough to talk about). That way, you don't have to go sifting through years of my mad rambling about animation and pictures of butterflies to find the interviews that you want to read and share with future animators.
Well, I can't go any further with this interview without showing Catherine and Sarah's full animation demo reel which showcases the wide range of their character animation experience.
However, I would be remiss if I didn't point readers to Catherine and Sarah's individual YouTube accounts where you can view some of their older works, including student films. The Satrun Sisters have done us a great service by uploading and displaying many of their experimental works, like Catherine's film Clouds and Sarah's film Red. These are films where we can see them working with experimental techniques and physical media, work that feeds the experimental spirit that influences their more recent computer animation work like Mearra.
I'd also like to point out that this part of the interview took a very unique turn. Both Catherine and Sarah made some very poignant statements on what it's like being a woman working in the animation industry as well as how it's slowly changing--for them and the industry. They've shared with us a couple stories about some struggles that they have experienced within the industry over the past twelve years and what they've learned from such experiences.
Our final visit with the Satrun Sisters begins thusly:
CW: Given that the industry is now so heavily integrated with computer technology, how important do the two of you think it is (if at all) for students of animation to learn classical techniques and non-computer animation styles?
SS: Well, personally, we're of the viewpoint that it's good to have that traditional foundation. I know a lot of students just jump right into the computers, on the computer side...
CS: When students just learn the software, then their work is often stiff because they're only learning the program and they don't have a foundation in art. You really need a foundation learning the basics like the drawing--especially figure drawing--and stop-motion, paint-on-glass animation all of that "alternative animation" that's really freeing.
SS: Yeah, it helps you think differently, and also, personally, when we did the alternative strategies of animation, when we did that class where we learned paint animation, sand animation, scratch on film, all of those techniques, that was more freeing and it loosened us up. It was more about the arts. It was just that mindset that suddenly frees your mind for experimentation and just thinking outside the box and thinking differently. So you can take those skills--what you learned from that, even if you just briefly touch on that little thing--people who do CG and motion graphics, they can take what they learned from that to think differently and approach a project in a different way that they may not have thought about earlier and to maybe try different visual styles too that can be inspired from it.
CS: Also then with just drawing in general that helps... y'know, even if you're in computers you want to still be able to sketch out your storyboards and designs to present them to others and to communicate ideas and just to have better art and design skills. Color and composition are also really important to learn because you need to know how to make the animation appealing to look at, even if it's just text and logos.
Three Mermaids and Mermaid (From the interviewer's private collection)
CW: It terms of women working in the field of animation, what do you think is the biggest obstacle to women who want to pursue a career in animation?
SS: Personally, things have probably changed over the years, but when we went to school, definitely in college and into our careers too we definitely found out that there were very few women. Per animation class, there was maybe one to three of us total for animation. And if there were three it felt like a lot. And even still currently in the industry from our personal experience there's very, very few women and then even--Catherine on one of your freelance jobs...
CS: Yeah, maybe around eight years ago or so. A freelance job at one company, there was no other female animators and I was just brought in for one week. So it was really weird because I had to work extra hard to prove myself. The only other women working there were more high maintenance types who took lunch orders and checked in on people. I didn't like the atmosphere of that job at all. Glad it was only for a week! A lot of time you witness that it's a guys world in a lot of companies. But I think that things are changing.
SS: And you have to work extra hard to prove yourself.
CS: And I've heard that offhanded from other friends who've worked outside of Chicago in other bigger studios that they say that the women there can't make any mistakes--They have to work extra hard to show that they can do the job, so that's still happening, unfortunately. So that's what we've heard. On our first day, on one of our jobs, a guy was explaining animation to us. He was explaining it!
SS: He was flipping through the pages going "this is an-i-ma-tion".
CW: Did he even know who the two of you were or what you were there for?
CS: Yeah, yeah, yeah! We were being introduced like we were starting, kind of thing, so... but he was still talking down to us. And then we come across a lot of attitudes of like 'oh you can't do it' or 'I'm not going to help you out' and 'you can't do it as well.
SS: I don't know if this is true, but we recently heard in animation departments it's about half women and half men. I think now it's changed a lot. But we also work from home a ton more, now that things are all digital. We're outside of the studios, so we're not experiencing anything first-hand anymore.
CS: We haven't personally had issues with that in a long time.
CW: Given how the industry is still changing, yet in the past wasn't the most welcoming place for women, if your daughters said that they wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give them?
SS: Honestly, it would be "just work hard" is the biggest thing. You've got to really work for what you want...
CS: Work hard, be passionate about it. Just dedicate yourself to it and make it happen...
SS: Be well rounded. Have other skillsets... as a backup [laughs]...
CS: Have your specialty skill, like your niche, but have other skills that offset it. So if your [specialty] skill is character animation make sure you have strong skills on the preproduction side of it too...
SS: Storyboarding, motion graphics. Any other skills you can acquire.
CS: You pick up these other job skills as you go through, so just being more well rounded especially in college before you get out. Make sure you have enough skills to survive in this industry and build up your confidence too, because having confidence is very difficult for a lot of people.
CW: What do you think is the most important thing that authority figures (parents/teachers/professors) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?
CS: What I just mentioned about the confidence. I think parents and teachers can really help their daughters and students to have that confidence to stand up for themselves and if that's what their passion is then go for it and don't listen to people who say you can't do it.
SS: And then speaking to that I would say like--it was a lot of times through schooling from authority figures, say you're interested in art, everyone's like "oh?" And they kind of scoff at it like: "oh, what can you do with that?" Or, "can you really have a career or job with that?" And even now people are "oh can you really actually do that?" No one thinks that it's possible.
Someone recently scoffed at it when we told them what we do. I don't remember the scenario but, it was weird. I think confidence is really important and telling people if you put your mind to it, you can do it. You just need more examples of women in industry as role models, pointing out people who are making it, that would be a big difference and good confidence boost to show you what you can achieve.
CS: The role model thing is very important. You need women role models. And giving them education, a solid foundation. As soon as they can, take some drawing classes. For example, we took a drawing class at the park district when we were in grade school. All it was, was just copying drawings, but that still improved our skills.
SS: At a young age, even copying drawings helped us learn to measure with our eyes to draw what we saw. That was really beneficial, having that encouragement when we were that young to be like 'oh look they are interested in art lets enroll them in some extra classes' and then we did that for a while. And that was very beneficial. So I would suggest doing that, extra classes...
CS: I would suggest to take any extra classes you could find anywhere. And then as they get older, like in high school and stuff, you can see if there are summer classes. We did a summer high school workshop at Columbia College.
SS: We were able to do the high school workshop right between, like right after we graduated and before we started our Junior College. But because we hadn't started college yet, we were able to do the high school workshop and then that helped, that was fantastic because we got to...
CS: It was our first animation class...
SS: Yeah, it was our first animation class. And then we wanted to say "yeah we love it and it's not just a hobby to us. We realized, "We can do this."
CS: It's a passion and it's a career field that you actually want to go in to. Test it out before enrolling into the entire curriculum.
CW: I always tell students to get a stack of 3x5 notecards and just draw. Make a 30 second film. Or even a ten-second film. And usually that'll weed out a lot of kids. Just doing something as simple as a ball bouncing, it's like "well it takes this much work... I don't know if I want to do this."
CS: Exactly, it's not for everyone and you gotta know, you gotta figure it out early on before you go through the whole program.
SS: Especially in animation. I feel like there's a lot of people who are more fans of it than, like, dedicated artists. So, you have to have a very strong work ethic otherwise you won't succeed.
CS: Those people who have a very strong work ethic who are passionate about it, they make it further than other people who it might more just be a fan or a hobby.
SS: Parents need to see where their child falls in that. They need to encourage them, not just in art, but in all of your school subjects. You've gotta work hard and show that drive to do as best as you can. I think that is very important, that's down to the core of how hard of a worker you are. You have to have a strong work ethic to get through life.
One of the cool things about supporting animators (on Crowdfunding sites and thru their website stores) is the wonderful swag you can get. Yes, yes, I know: "virtue is its own reward" and we should be supporting these animators regardless of perks and rewards. But that doesn't change the fact that above and beyond the reward for being altruistic, the perks can be pretty cool!
So, I'd like to share some pictures of the wonderful products I've purchased, rewards I've been presented with, and gifts I've been given during my time supporting women animators.
Signe Baumane: Water spirit drawing/cel from Rocks in my Pockets
The "water spirit" from Rocks in my Pockets
Back when Signe and her producer, Sturgis Warner, were taking Rocks in my Pockets on tour, the closest it was going to screen to my hometown was Chicago. So, I enlisted a pair of friends who were familiar with the area and we made the five-hour drive to the windy city for a day of Chicago-style pizza and animation. I was already going to receive the DVD of her feature as a Kickstarter reward, but having seen sneak peeks at other venues, I really wanted to see her film in a large scale format. Well, Signe was floored that we made the ten hour round-trip drive to see her film. As a special 'thank you' for supporting her film, Signe gifted me a drawing from Rocks in my Pockets.
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Joanna Priestley: framed "cel" from her film All My Relations
Paper cel from All My Relations
In 2016, I was working on my history of women animators class for Huntington University. One of the most fun aspects of the class for me personally was expanding my research by hunting down lots of DVDs. Many of these films I had seen in the past during my college classes or at festivals, but if you're going to teach a subject, it's really best to refresh your memories. One such purchase was the latest compilation DVD from Joanna Priestley. For supporting her work, Joanna was kind enough to include an original production "cel" from her film All My Relations.
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Samantha Inoue-Harte: 'Stitch' print
Also back in 2016, Samantha made a return trip to Michigan's own Alma Con. Well, for this visit, she brought a bunch of Lilo and Stitch artwork that she had produced for the House of Mouse. Sami had obtained a license from Disney to produce a limited number of these prints and sell them as a fundraiser for cancer research, to which she donated all the proceeds. Well, I really like Lilo and Stitch... and Sami... and it's for a good cause, so...
Now due to peculiarities of licensing, I can't post an image of the print, but suffice it to say, when you have the chance to support someone who is promoting a worthy cause, you take the opportunity to help out if you can. :)
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Satrun Sisters: Fairy Sleep print
Fairy Sleep by Sarah Satrun
This was the first print that I purchased from the Satrun Sisters--the full story of which was printed earlier this week in part two of the Satrun Sisters' interview. A short while later, they visited the Grand Rapids Comic Con and I couldn't resist picking up two of their framed mermaid prints that would go along nicely with the fantasy art theme in one of my rooms.
Having been a fan of Jessica's work for years, when she started selling t-shirts with her delightfully subversive bunny on her website Foolish Kingdom, I had to have one!
Canadian Crest by Jessica Borutski
Jessica was also one of the first women I interviewed for this blog. For years afterwards, I'd see her at the festivals and say "hi" but I never had an opportunity to say "thank you for the interview" in a more tangible way until the summer of 2014 where she had an artist's table at TAAFI. So I was able to support her by purchasing one of her Canadian crest t-shirts. It never ceases to get a laugh and positive comments whenever I wear it.
Additionally, on Jessy's website Foolish Kingdom, she released paper cut-out dolls of her characters. So far, I've only got the I like pandas figures printed and assembled. But the mole and bunny from The Good Little Bunny with the Big Bad Teeth are on my list of things to do on a rainy day.
Panda 2 and Panda 1
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Monica Brujenes: Penguin & Peep Kickstarter rewards
Penguin & Peep! Little Moments by Monica Brujenes
The last animator I'll showcase is ASIFA Central's own Monica Brujenes. A year ago, Monica hosted a crowdfunding campaign to produce a cartoon book called Little Moments featuring her original characters Penguin and Peep. Some of the rewards you could get as part of this campaign included Penguin & Peep stickers, original hand painted art:
Penguin & Peep painting by Monica Brujenes
Exclusive Print by Monica Brujenes
and original autographed drawings in our copies of Little Moments.
Penguin & Peep ink drawing by Monica Brujenes
As I alluded to at the start of this article, yes we should be supporting women animators regardless of the perks--but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the art that they create and make it a part of our lives. If you've clicked on any of the hyperlinks, you've been taken to these talented ladies' websites where you can support their work yourself. Regardless, I hope that in the future, you will all find a woman animator whose work resonates with you. And if you have the resources, take the time to support them financially. Every little bit of encouragement helps them as they produce their films.
Maybe it's because of my mixed Irish/Scottish heritage. Maybe it's from having the 'Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy' segment of Fantasia being one of my earliest memories. But for whatever reason, and however you spell it, I've always liked fairys. So when the Satrun sisters offered a print with a visual style that reminded me of those early Disney and Don Bluth films, I had to own it.
Well, after the Post Office mangled the print, the three of us played e-mail tag as I sent them pictures of the crumpled package so they could get a refund from the Post Office and they sent me a replacement copy of the print--all the while being totally confused about which Satrun sister I was speaking to at any given time. A year or so later, I was finally able to meet them in person at the Grand Rapids Comicon... and I still got them mixed up. The phone interview months later didn't go any better. During the interview, I would ask a question and they would both answer while finishing each others thoughts. Needless to say, with their boundless enthusiasm and bubbly personalities, talking to Catherine and Sarah was easily the most fun I've had conducting an interview since starting this project! So I hope you'll enjoy part two of my conversation with the Satrun sisters as much as I did.
CW: What's the industry like for animators in the Chicago area? To the best of my research, Calabash [Animation] is the only major studio out there.
CS: For character animation yeah pretty much and hand drawn type of 2d stuff, yeah, Calabash is pretty much it unless you do game animation or other more like corporate kinds of things. Like in terms of what we do, that little niche, it's basically just Calabash, that we know of.
Lately, we have been doing more corporate jobs, which is nice because we are doing a lot more storyboarding, character design, animatics, animation- The whole process! It's fun. Rather than just a few short scenes in a commercial. It's good to have a mix of different kinds of projects.
CW: As you've worked for studios and as independents, which do you prefer?
SS: They both have their advantages and disadvantages, so that's a tough one to answer. Working in a studio is nice because you have your one roll to do and don't have to worry about other things like the business side and meetings. Working as an independent for corporate jobs has been fulfilling because it's more hands on, and we have a lot more responsibility. I like the creation process from beginning to end.
CW: Why did you two decide to work together as a duo as opposed to going your own way in the industry? Do you have skillsets that balance each other out? Is it a clever marketing strategy?
CS: No, I feel like we're pretty even, and we sharpen each other's skills. When we work, because we both are always critiquing each other, we both go over, we overlap our work part of the time... How would you explain it?
SS: If one of us is stuck on something or tired of looking at a scene, the other can look with a fresh eye and point out how to improve it. That's important when you're working from home and don't have other coworkers in the same room.
It's really good, again because animation, it's all about teamwork. It's just natural. We never decided "we're going to work together" we never made that decision it just happened. Actually, as we've gone on we've found that it's common. There are other twins in the industry.
CS: Starting even in school, in art school, before going to Columbia college when were at Joliet Junior College getting our Associates in Art, we'd hear about other twins who have gone through, and at Columbia College we've heard about other twins who've gone through the program before and after us. And then out in the industry, we've met other twins who are in the industry who work together. And then even outside of animation other siblings, other twins and even triplets...
SS: In other career fields... We recently met two set of twins who are all writers and they work together.
CS: In other career fields, y'know, lot of times if that's what you're drawn to, if that's your passion, you do it. So it happens to be like: if two of you are doing it, it's a very collaborative field, so a lot of times it works out that they end up working together.
CW: Well, before you two the only twins I could think of was the Brothers Quay.
SS: Yeah, there's other animators out there, like the Bancroft Brothers. There's other siblings and twins. There's no point in denying yourself, like "Oh, well I'm not going to do this because she does that, I just want to be different." You're not going to deny yourself that opportunity in that--what your passion is. If your passion is the same then just go for it and don't worry about other people being judgmental, like "well, you should break apart, you should just do things separate" then, one of you is going to be denied an experience that both of you want.
When we do get jobs, when people first initially contact us, we do say we can either work together or separately--it depends on what they need, what amount of work that they need in their budget and timeline and all that. We can work separate. We have also worked separately on smaller jobs and stuff. But, usually with this field, workloads are higher so of course they're going to use both of us.
CW: So on a project like 'the Selkie from the Sea' that was definitely a project that you two both worked on?
CS & SS: Yes!
SS: Yes, that was.
CW: I'm hearing that was a lot of work there?
CS: Yeah, it just grew and grew and it changed. Omigosh, I still can't believe we did that, even though it was very limited and simple, it still was so much work.
CW: Do you ladies find it difficult to carve out time to do more personal work?
SS: Oh that is so hard.
CS: Yes. It is really hard to find time for personal work. We usually have to wait until between freelance jobs because freelance is so hectic when you have the job, you're just doing that all the time. So a lot of times we just have to wait until a project is over before we can really sit down and work on our own art, all of our own illustrations and everything.
CW: You sell art and merch at conventions and online, take commissions, create and sell jewelry, all in addition to creating freelance animation, how important do you think it is to have multiple revenue streams as a freelancer?
SS: It's very important, especially now because freelance work is feast or famine so you never know how many months you're going to go without a studio or corporate job. So it's good for us to have multiple streams of income. Doing Etsy, doing commissions, doing conventions--which then leads to more commissions--all that stuff helps us pay the bills and keeps us afloat during the slow times.
CS: Sometimes a job will start but then suddenly due to business issues or financial issues or whatever variety of issues, a job will just suddenly fall apart. Like the whole job will be canceled. That's happened to us a few times. It's happened multiple times, actually... so it's essential to have other streams of revenue.
SS: Well sometimes like with [how] animation is so expensive if you have a job, and then like their client--it's always working through someone else--and like their client then starts to have to pay the bills for all this work and they're like "omigosh this is a lot and we can't do it". And there's like, y'know, a lot times there's like unexpected, just like weird things that happen...
CS: I think it's happened about four times to us...
SS: Yeah, like projects will just get like "oh we're not doing this anymore" because they either like run out of money or they decide they're going to do something different, or they said "oh now we're going to do it CG" or we're going to do it... there's so many different things that can happen to a project... so, anyways, it's really good to have backup for yourself. Be like: "okay, well, I'm going to do a whole bunch of commissions at this time or I'm going to create a ton of my personal art and sell it."
CW: Yeah, I understand, the project redefinition one is the one that gets me the most. I was working on a big project for the New York MET and they wanted three animations and we had already gotten the two spec'd out--we were working on them--and then they realized that "historically we can't reference this...we can't find a reference for this woodblock print animation that we want to do so we're just going to cut it." Still got paid well for the other stuff, but that was the one that I was looking forward to animating.
SS: And you just have to keep in mind that "it's just a job." Actually there's one time I did a whole video of something that I really liked. And, I can't go into it, but, it just got cut. And I'm not allowed to ever show it. And I really liked it a lot.
CW: It's a tightrope that you have to walk, especially when you're working with someone else's money.
CS: Yeah, I know. We've got to remember to keep updating our animation reels every now and then because you're not allowed to show work for so long and then you have to get permission and all that time goes by.
Be sure to come back next week for the third and final installment with Catherine and Sarah Satrun as they impart some valuable advice for up-and-coming animators. But before you go, check out the animation work in Catherine's demo reel:
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* Due to privacy settings on Linda Marie Smith's Vimeo account, the "Mearra" video cannot be embedded. But please click on the link to view the promo video for Mearra ~ Selkie from the Sea featuring animation work from Catherine and Sarah Satrun.
Artwork and animations copyright Catherine and Sarah Satrun, used with permission.
So back at the 2017 Ottawa International Animation Festival, the National Film Board of Canada showed up with a documentary showcasing Evelyn Lambart, the "First Woman of Canadian Animation" (produced by Donald McWilliams). Often overlooked due to her close working relationship with filmmaking powerhouse Norman McLaren, Evelyn Lambart was a gifted animator in her own right and McWilliams' documentary showcases this seriously neglected facet of Canadian Animation history.
Well the other day, as fate would have it, I received an e-mail from the NFB (I'm on their mailing list) stating that they've finally released said documentary on their website. So I'm very pleased to be able to share it with you.
Additionally, on the NFB's website, they've written a blog post titled "The Life and Times of Evelyn Lambart" that serves as a good overview of her life and career and introduction to the documentary. I encourage everyone interested in animation history to read the article and then watch Eleven Moving Moments. However, if you'd like to skip the blog post and jump right to the documentary, it can be viewed on this blog post via the embedded video, or on the NFB's website at the following link: Eleven Moving Moments with Evelyn Lambart.
And if you have the time, I also recommend reading Carolyne Weldon's article on Evelyn: "Watch 6 Stunning Shorts by the First Lady of Canadian Animation". In Carolyne's article, you can watch several of Evelyn's films in their entirety including The Lion and the Mouse, The Hoarder, Fine Feathers, and The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse--which is reportedly the last film that she produced for the NFB.
Evelyn Lambart died on April 3, 1999 leaving behind a filmography that includes some classics of cinema that were produced with Norman McLaren as well as an amazing body of animated films of her own creation. Many decades later, "the First Woman of Canadian Animation" is finally starting to get the long overdue recognition that she rightfully deserves.
I first learned about the Satrun sisters many years ago through their illustration work and prints, though it wouldn't be until several years later that I met them in person at the Grand Rapids Comicon. Regulars at the convention scene, the Satrun Sisters embody an entrepreneurial spirit as they divide their time between freelance animation work, selling their original artwork online and at conventions, and producing commissioned art.
As we proceed through the interview, I've selected works of art that Catherine and Sarah have created, works that I think represent their unique style as well as ones that appeal to me personally. And if one of them catches your eye, click on the hyperlink in the picture caption, you'll be taken to their Etsy store where you can purchase prints. Additionally, they have a Society 6 storefront where you can buy merchandise printed with their artwork. And you can view their full line of artwork and animations on their website: sketchyduo.com.
Veteran animators and twin sisters, Catherine and Sarah Satrun hail from the Chicago-area where they work as freelance animators and illustrators for both independent and corporate clients... but, I think I'll let them tell you their story:
CW: What are your current job descriptions?
CS: We're freelance animators and illustrators. We do concept art, character design, storyboarding, animation, and illustration.
SS: We wear many hats, doing whatever is needed--just having that skill-set to go anywhere.
CW: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
CS: Twelve years.
SS: Time flew by!
CW: How did the two of you get into animation?
CS: After college we did some storyboarding and concept art for independent projects--things like indie films and personal-type projects. Like concept art, pitches, and storyboards. And that gave us experience, just get our foot in the door so we'd have that experience on our résumés. And then we approached Calabash [Animation] to see if we could get some freelance work. Then that December after graduation we started doing some clean-up work at Calabash and from there--we got a lot of experience at Calabash and that's where our skills started to really develop.
So, from there we got to go on to get more animation work--independent contractor-type work at other studios and other indie projects.
CS: We would've loved to go to CalArts or someplace else like that and travel. But there was no way we could afford that. Instead, we got Associates of Art [degrees] at community college and then transferred over to Columbia College.
SS: We couldn't afford to go live in the dorm and have that kind of college life experience. It was out of the question.
CS: We were lucky to have Columbia College here. That really helped a lot.
SS: That was back in the day before we had all those online schools and stuff and that online training.
CW: You mention that Columbia was a good choice for you, being local and a more affordable choice, was there a lot of cross training? Story, drawing?
SS: Well for us, we didn't have the typical experience. Because we did one degree first, and all our "Gen Eds" first, we transferred over. And then in two, two-and-a-half-years, we squeezed in all of the curriculum so we were super art and animation heavy, we had to do it all at the same time. We would have loved to take other classes like watercoloring, painting, sculpting, and illustration, but there wasn't enough time in our schedules.
CS: Every class was like a studio class for us. It was really hard and the teachers even commented, it was not recommended to do what we did but we still did it.
SS: We handled it. And we were still working and then doing school work and homework and all the projects and I don't know we just made it happen.
CS: And handled part-time jobs on top of that. Sometimes you get a lot more hours than you want and then we were animating, I remember multiple times having to animate... quickly whip out the animation like a few hours--one hour even before it was due. I remember doing that. Like we go in, y'know, we were spending all our time commuting and working part-time jobs, you just make it work. You have a lot of late nights. A few all-nighters.
CW: When did you know that you wanted to be an animators?
CS: Pretty much our whole lives, since early grade school it was really, really obvious to our parents and all of our teachers and other classmates that we were going to be artists, professionally. There was just no question that we were going to do something in the arts. Because we've always loved to draw and we've always loved the art of animation, it just always seemed natural to go that route.
CW: Was it mainly the art of animation itself, like the physical act of drawing or were you also involved in the music or the color design?
SS: We were always interested in the visual art, the drawing aspect of animation, because we were always drawing. And then, do you remember, there's was this vintage toy little projector and you put these yellow large plastic cartridges into it and it was like a little projector projecting on the screen and you would hand crank it and it would have little short clips of film from classic animated shorts... Mickey Mouse and the ghost, that little animated sort. Robin Hood, I think it had him dancing...
CS: The whole chase scene from Robin Hood...
SS: Right, so we had all these little cartridges of clips, little clips from a whole bunch of different films, so when we were really young, we had that, and we went frame by frame and you could just see the movement and you understood that "omigosh these are all just drawings" and look how it comes together and it was just so beautiful. We always appreciated the art of animation in terms of the hand craftsmanship, so I think that was a really big influence on us.
The Fisher Price Movie Viewer Theater
CW: Was there someone in your past who encouraged you or inspired you to become animators?
CS: Our Dad just walked in...
SS: You just asked that question when our Dad walked in [the room]...
CS: Our parents, yeah yeah, growing up our parents they bought us a lot of books and art supplies when we were little. And actually our Dad was the one who brought home the projector. He brought that home from an auction, so that was a big thing and then like our Mom, instead of toys she kept buying us books and art supplies, so that was really good.
Also, when we were in Junior High, our Dad took us to hear a Disney animator give a talk at a mall. So we got to hear an actual Disney animator talk about animation and also how hard he had to work--he really emphasized how hard he had to work to get into animation and also specifically Disney too. I think he applied like five or more times, so he emphasized how hard it was and how hard he had to work to get there. So that was really good to hear that.
Since Catherine and Sarah had so much information to gift us with, this interview will be separated into three full posts, so check back next week for Part two of my interview with the Satrun Sisters. But before you go, please take a look at Sarah's demo animation reel.
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Portrait photo, artwork, and animations copyright Catherine and Sarah Satrun, used with permission.
Apologies for being a little late on this introductory post for our monthly celebration of women animators, but I was out of town for the weekend. Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending an animation workshop in Toronto which offered the opportunity to work on an animation on a desk used by Lotte Reiniger when she was in Canada.
Since I skipped last year, to make up for it, I've partnered up with ASIFA Central to bring you a Celebration of Women Animators over the month of March (in addition to my monthly women animator interviews this year). Some of the things you'll see on this month's blog posts are:
1. An additional blog post illustrating some of the perks and benefits of supporting women animators in their efforts to bring their creations to life.
2. I'll be writing about my weekend trip to Toronto in order to see the original desk that Lotte Reiniger used while in Canada with lots of pictures of her desk.
If you're in Michigan, I'll also be:
3. Presenting my "History of Women Animators: the Game Show" at Shuto Con in Lansing, Michigan on Sunday, March 25th.
4. And working with ASIFA Central, we'll be hosting a day-long celebration of Women Animators in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Saturday, March 31st. Events will include my Women Animators Game Show, a short presentation on Lotte Reiniger (including screening films by Lotte), and an afternoon workshop where we'll produce our own silhouette and cut-out animated films.
If you'd like to attend either of the above events, you can do so through the following links:
Weekend and one-day badges can be purchased at door during Shuto Con. Registration details and prices are on the website under the registration link. My event is on Sunday at 1:30p.m. in the Lansing Center's Panel Room 2 (LC 203 & 204). Shuto Con will be held at the Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing, MI 48933
March 31's morning Game Show session and History of Lotte Reiniger at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center is free. However, the afternoon workshop is $5 for students, and $10 for adults, but is free to ASIFA members. The morning event will be held at the Wealthy Theater's Koning Microcinema, 1130 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI. Additional details are at the GRCMC website. The afternoon workshop will be held next door at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. You can register for the workshop at the following link.
So please check back this month as we celebrate Women's History Month with our yearly exploration of the history of women animators.
"Another ugly rumor is that we are trying to develop girls for animation to replace higher-priced men. This is the silliest thing I have ever heard of. We are not interested in low-priced help. We are interested in efficient help. Maybe an explanation of why we are training the girls is in order. First, I would like to qualify it with this--that if a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man.
The girls are being trained for in-betweens for very good reasons. The first is, to make them more versatile, so that the peak loads of inbetweening and inking can be handled. Believe me when I say that the more versatile our organization is, the more beneficial it is to the employees, for it assures steady employment for the employee, as well as steady production turnover for the Studio.
The second reason is that the possibility of a war, let along the peacetime conscription, may take many of our young men now employed, and especially many of the young applicants. I believe that if there is to be a business for these young men to come back to after the war, it must be maintained during the war. The girls can help here.
Third, the girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for
advancement as men, and I honestly believe that they may eventually
contribute something to this business that men never would or could. In the present group that are training for in-betweens there are definite prospects, and a good example is to mention the work of Ethel Kulsar and Sylvia Holland on The Nutcracker Suite, and little Rhetta Scott, of whom you will hear more when you see Bambi." (emphasis mine)