On Sunday, February 20, 2022, Oscar nominee Joanna Quinn participated in a Women in Animation panel as part of the French Institute Alliance Française Animation First Festival.
Currently in the running for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, Quinn’s Affairs of the Art was a joint effort with her partner, writer/producer Les Mills. After the nominations were announced, Cartoon Brew was quick to point out that “12 out of 13 directors for animated feature and short were men. The sole woman director is Joanna Quinn.”
That’s not due to a lack of women making films. Joining Quinn, who’s based in the U.K., on the panel were Eleanor Coleman (Paris-based American), Angela De Vito (New York), Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec (France), Claire Matz (France), and Taili Wu (New York-based Taiwanese). It was moderated by Ashley Gerst (New York).
Here are 10 key takeaways from the panel:
Be Smart About Your Opportunities
Animator, storyboard artist and graphic novelist Angela De Vito stated that getting her start in commercial animation was a great way to learn the ropes while being paid. Months after graduating, she interned at a multidisciplinary production studio in New York, then worked on commercials, and that led to tv series work. “I think being in the commercial area of animation was really beneficial because I was able to do a bunch of things like storyboarding, create pitch packets, and do character design. It let me get the full scope of the animation pipeline.”
Quinn agreed wholeheartedly on this point and added that it’s also important to seek out the people you want to work for — the ones you admire and want to learn from. “And then be persistent,” she said.
There’s Strength in Numbers
Organizations like Women in Animation and Les Femmes s’Animent — and, to a larger degree, the many women-in-film organizations — exist to help women overcome the obstacles in their paths to success.
Eleanor Coleman, co-vice president of Les Femmes s’Animent, recognized the value and need of such an organization early on. “When we got started in our organization, there was not a lot of cooperation between women … It took time for everyone to start to trust one another and understand how they could work together.”
Be Open to Possibility
When you’re beginning a career in animation, you may have set ideas about what you want to do, but it’s important to be open to possibilities. This point was clearly illustrated by Quinn, who originally wanted to be an illustrator; by De Vito, who never imagined creating graphic novels; and by Matz, who started as an animator and moved into a creative-producer role.
A key element is to make peace with taking risks. It takes courage to veer from your chosen path, but it’s vital to your success to be open to opportunity when it arises.
Work On (and with) The Things You’re Passionate About
Animation is long and often tedious work, and it’s important to take on projects you’re passionate about and can envision working on for a long period to come.
Affairs of the Art is Quinn’s fourth film featuring her working-class heroine, Beryl. The ability to spend so much time with one character is a shining example of that sort of passion. The first film, Girls Night Out, premiered at Annecy in 1987 and was a direct response to the rampant machismo of the day. Beryl was essentially Quinn’s response to the times. “I wasn’t comfortable at the time being angry and negative in terms of being political about feminism. I felt much more comfortable doing humorous work, but with really strong characters.”
In addition to subject matter, Taili Wu kept coming back to the idea of how passionate she was about the tactile nature of her animation style — how working in stop-motion with fragile ceramic was something she derived a lot of pleasure from.
Find a Mentor if you Can
This is true not only in animation, but also in the business and creative world at large. De Vito illustrated this point when she spoke of her project Heartless Prince. She pitched the film to Disney based off of a Youtube endeavor. After the film was made, a director of IP that she worked under championed her idea and encouraged her to bring it to another medium. “She connected me with the Disney Publishing division. I was paired with a writer … and the graphic novel came out this November.”
Through this process, De Vito discovered that she loved writing. All of this happened because one person championed her work, and then she was able to learn under the writer she was paired with on her graphic novel.
Take Responsibility Once You’ve Arrived
Once you’ve established yourself in the industry, give back.
On Affairs of the Art, Quinn hired Mia Rose Goddard, a recent graduate. As a result, Goddard ended up with experience on an Oscar-nominated film fresh out of school.
Quinn discovered early on while running her company how essential it was to have women on the team. “It’s so important to have a balance of gender. It makes such a difference to the workplace. And it makes it comfortable for everybody to be there.”
In addition, she and her partner, Mills, often lecture at universities and colleges as a way to pass along their expertise as well as do some unofficial mentoring. Coleman also mentioned the important role that mentoring took on within Les Femmes s’Animent.
Be Willing to Learn
Discussing the first feature film she co-directed, The Swallows of Kabul, Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec said that she quickly discovered she was starting from scratch. “I knew as a director I had to bring my team to the finish line. To have to do that while at the same time realizing I didn’t know how to do that was very embarrassing.”
It was a wonderfully candid moment that led to her explaining how she learned to let go of her preconceived notions and trust the expertise of those around her. “You’re not the only captain on the ship — you can’t be alone. You have to learn to work with a team to go further.”
Go Where the Work Is
According to Coleman, the equality found in animation schools doesn’t transfer to the workforce. “As time goes on, there are less and less women in creative roles.”
Moderator Ashley Gerst pointed out that while women make up 60 percent of the students in school, they only make up 20 percent of the animation workforce. Either way you look at it, it’s a problem, and you want the odds in your favor.
Eleanor Coleman spoke of the solid base the animation community has to draw on in France, with great schools and government support in the form of national and regional funding. Many countries offer similar incentives. Do the research for your niche.
Change Must Come from Within
An audience member asked what the general public can do to support women in animation. Claire Matz pointed out that one step people can take is to support the industry in general — go to the events, attend the festivals, see the films. “If we give the industry the audience it deserves, it helps the industry grow.”
Quinn acknowledged the hard truth that any real change must come from within the industry itself. “The general public are only reacting to what they’re offered, so the real change has to come from within.”
Just Go For It
The overall takeaway from the panel was the message to just go for it. Matz took a leap into producing, De Vito took a sharp turn with her graphic novel, and Wu crossed an ocean to pursue her dream.
When we followed up with Quinn after the panel, she expanded on this point, especially when it comes to fresh graduates. “Absolutely go for it. Very soon you get responsibilities, and it’s just a matter of a few years, a little window, when you’re young and vibrant and the new kid on the block. And very soon you’re not. Use those couple of years. Go abroad and work — before you start to gather baggage.”
Our sincere thanks to the participants and organizers who contributed to this panel discussion co-presented by Women in Animation and the French Institute Alliance Française. Additional information about the panelists is available here.
Affairs of the Art, a co-production between Beryl Productions International and the National Film Board of Canada, has appeared at over 65 festivals, garnering over 27 awards and securing a rare position as both an audience and jury favorite. The film has been nominated for an Oscar in the Animated Short Film Category, with Quinn being the only female nominee, and a BAFTA in the British Short Animation category.
Presented by The New Yorker and the National Film Board of Canada, Affairs of the Art is currently streaming in The New Yorker’s Screening Room.