CTN EXPO 2018 - Sitting on Both Sides of the Table

by admin

Hey! It’s Heather from the story department. I just got back from Burbank, CA, where 15 other members of the Blue Sky team and I went for the 10th annual CTN Expo. We had a killer looking booth and hundreds of artists come to us for portfolio reviews in animation, design, story and production management. It seems like it was only yesterday when I was on the other side of the table.

Flashback to 2014.

I was doing a hodgepodge of freelance art and animation work in Washington DC and I badly wanted to move to LA and work for an animation studio. At my third time at CTN, I went to the Blue Sky booth and got a ticket (the last one! Someone had returned it!) for an interview with someone on the story team. It went well, but I received no promises. I got back to DC and, on the day I was going to buy my one-way ticket to LA, got a phone call from Deb Stone, Blue Sky’s Director of Recruiting and Talent Development, asking for an interview. I started in January 2015 and the rest is history!

CTN is a great event. Even before the interview, CTN gave me an opportunity to network with professionals and receive feedback on my work. I grew up in Queens, NY and lived on the east coast most of my life. I didn’t go to art school, and I didn’t have any connections in the industry. One of the things I love about this field is that it doesn’t matter where you went to school or your experience, as long as your work is good. If you’re a master of your craft and treat other people well, you have a very good shot. I’ve also discovered while networking at CTN and similar events that there are lots of kind, talented industry folks eager to pay forward the help they received in their careers.

My career hasn’t been a straight line. I’ve been drawing since I was little, and I always wanted to go into animation, but I was also interested in different things. And I mean *different* things. I got into Princeton University, where I studied ecology and evolutionary biology. For nine months, I lived in Kenya studying zebras. For a year, I taught English in Japan. For six years after that, I freelanced in Washington DC while my husband worked in government.

Once I committed to working for a studio, I started going to festivals like CTN to show my portfolio and network. Based on the feedback I got, I’d make new pieces and try again. My first feedback from an industry person came from a recruiter at another top studio. She liked my draughtsmanship and asked me, “What are you interested in doing?” I said, “storyboarding.” She said, “There are no storyboards in your portfolio.”

 Whoops. I had work to do.

But the whole experience was exhilarating and from then I worked on making my storyboards as good as possible. I benefited immensely from story artists who posted their work online. I slowly started to make connections and talk to story artists about their work. I took a summer course at Animation Collaborative and had the fortune to do a mentorship through Motivarti. It all paid off when I had the interview with Blue Sky.

The story person I interviewed with that November 2014 was none other than Troy Quane, who would go on to direct, along with Nick Bruno, our next film, Spies in Disguise (2019). I’ve been working on their film for the past two years. This year at CTN while I was doing portfolio reviews, Troy was giving a presentation about the animation and design for Spies in Disguise, including an 8-minute sneak peek of the movie. After two years of working on the film, it was a treat to show the CTN community and to see their reactions. It felt like I’ve come full circle.

Events like CTN are so important. For artists, they are an opportunity to be inspired, network, and receive feedback. For the studio, it’s a place to connect with talent, point people in the right direction, promote what they do, and look for the next generation of artists.

It is amazing to be a part of this industry, but even better to now be able to ‘pay it forward’. Two years ago, I interviewed Stephanie Waldo, who became a trainee and then a full time addition to the Blue Sky story department. She is now working on our 2020 film Nimona and other development projects.