Fusion Film Festival - Animation’s Leading Ladies

Last weekend, the 15th Annual Fusion Film Festival at New York University hosted a number of events celebrating women working in film, television and media. Among all the exciting panels, workshops and masterclasses, Animation’s Leading Ladies took an in-depth look at women in the animation industry, featuring pioneering trail-blazers, passionate innovators, and leaders of the future.

Panelists included:

Anne D. Bernstein (Writer and Story Editor, Daria and MTV’s Downtown)
Karen Disher (Director & Storyboard Artist, Blue Sky)
Candy Kugel (Director & Animator, MTV’s Top of the Hour, WGBH’s Between the Lions)
Nancy Newhouse-Porter (Newhouse Porter Hubbard LLP)
Maya Edelman (Animator)
Emily Collins (Creative Director, Mighty Oak)

The panel was moderated by our very own, Zoya Baker (Animator and NYU Professor).

Each of the panelists found their way into the industry in very different ways, and as they shared their stories it became ever more clear that animation is a career without a defined path. Candy Kugel was an illustration major at RISD who had a love for theater. Anne Bernstein studied illustration at School of Visual Arts and had a passion for writing sketch comedy. Emily Collins enjoyed making paper cut-outs and watching the stop motion animation of Yuri Norstein. Nancy Newhouse-Porter was the only law student at USC that didn’t want to be an entertainment lawyer, but found herself working for Disney’s legal department after graduation.

For each of the panelists, there were formative moments that introduced them to the world of animation as a career. After graduating from high school, Karen Disher specifically remembers observing Disney animators at work in the Feature Animation Pavilion at Disney World. That was the first time she really saw creatives at work and felt like she could enter the animation industry. When Disher came to NYU, she transferred from Gallatin to the Tisch Film & TV department to ensure she could take classes with renowned animation professors.

Gender barriers proved to be a challenge for each of these panelists throughout their careers. Candy shared stories of visiting major animation studios after graduating from art school in the 1970’s and being told “women can’t animate.” For most of Anne’s career in television, she was the only female writer in the Writers Room. After she started working in the story department, Karen Disher was the only female story artist at Blue Sky for eight years. When it came to hiring, especially in recent years, many of the panelists expressed a concern that young women weren’t being exposed to filmmaking and animation as a viable career, and this was reflected in the low number of women applicants for jobs like storyboard artist or animator. Emily Collins’ mission at Mighty Oak introduces young girls to film, media and animation as a career path.

All of the panelists expressed a love for the animation community as a whole. Due to the very technical and specialized skill-set, Nancy Newhouse-Porter observed, “You can’t fake it with animation. Either you have talent or you don’t.” Maya Edelman described being an animator as being a “funny creative mechanic.” She added that, due to having very specific and similar interests and personalities, the animation community is a very close-knit group of creatives.

In closing, the panelists expressed the importance of cross-training yourself. As an artist you should always be trying new things and learning about the world around you, whether you’re an aspiring animation producer taking life drawing classes or an aspiring designer taking accounting classes. Seeing your career from a different perspective makes you more collaborative when you enter the industry. All the panelists emphasized - no matter who you’re working with, collaboration is key. As Emily Collins said, "The coolest part about collaborating is that it always ends up so much different than you could have ever imagined by yourself."