ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - WOMEN IN HORROR
Interview by Nate Ludwig
NL: How long have you wanted to be an animator and what has your journey been like in that field of artistry so far?
JS: I have been on quite a journey. I always wanted to be an animator from a young age. My mom was an artist and would encourage me to draw. Throughout my years in grade school, I would spend my time doodling stories in my notebook. When I was in my early teens, I followed a lot of talented artists online and was inspired by the variety of styles and designs. This made me to want to make my own animated shorts and upload them for the world to see. When I first began experimenting with digital illustration and animation, I did not have any fancy equipment. I had to make do creating “masterpieces” with a mouse in MS Paint and editing it in Windows Movie Maker (until I finally graduated to using a Cintiq). When I was in college, my love for animation continued to grow. I met many professors with industry experience that inspired me and encouraged me to better myself. I studied different techniques and methods to improve my skills. Each year in school, I made it my goal to create a new film. These projects allowed me to discover my style and hone my storytelling. Looking back, there were many obstacles I had to overcome but I have developed into a better artist because of them. I am still learning new techniques and tricks everyday and I am proud of how far I have come.
NL: "Next Time You'll Know Better" is a creepy, funny, disturbing and mind-blowing piece of animated art that really made us sit up and take notice here at GenreBlast. What was the inspiration for this short and tell us about how it came to be.
JS: “Next Time You'll Know Better" was my senior year film I made at DePaul University. I wanted to tell a story I had never done before. I have always had an interest in the type of horror that is simple yet unsettling, especially ones that do not have to rely on blood and guts to make the story creepy. It was also important to have an element that took a relatable human experience and provided a unique backstory for the phenomena. While I had a few story ideas in mind, I was having trouble making it flow together. A few nights later, I discovered this amazing story online and the visuals hit me like lightning. I knew this was the story I wanted to animate. The encounter between the characters was perfect and the writing was so detailed that I could already visualize the scenes. I reached out to the writer, known as “IPostAtMidnight”, and asked for permission to make their story into a film. When they gave me the green light, I began piecing the storyboards together and working on initial sketches. I chose my friend, Bobby Soto, to voice act and used his narration to get the timing down. In all, the film took about four months to animate.
NL: How has your success been with the short? Has it played at any other festivals? Have you attended any if so? What has the response been like?
JS: The film has screened in about ten festivals. I was able to visit a few near me in the Midwest, such as the Cleveland International Film Festival, Midwest Independent Film Festival, and Elgin Short Film Festival. Going to festivals was such a blast because I admire how unique and special each film is. It was a little scary at first because I did not know how the audience was going to react. Every time I have gone, the film has been met with a huge gasp at the end, which is probably the most enjoyable thing for me. I remember hearing one girl loudly whisper, “Duuuude” which made me laugh. At festivals, everyone is incredibly nice, encouraging, and supportive of the hard work of every filmmaker. It is also great when audience members come up to me after the screening and offer praise and express their enjoyment of what I created, which drives me to keep making more films.
NL: What other projects have you worked on besides NTYKB?
JS: I have been keeping busy with freelance work after NTYKB. I got a chance to work alongside a Chicago director, Meghann Artes, to help bring her short film to life. For nine months, I worked on the storyboards to visualize the scenes and sets that were then built at Cinescape. I was on set for some of the filming last month and it was amazing to see the drawings I did fully realized. Additionally, I made storyboards for a commercial and am currently working on some freelance animation for an internet series. I have also been working hard on a new short film of mine since September. I am making steady progress and focusing on illustrating beautiful backgrounds and experimenting with unique and detailed character movement.
NL: Anything coming up for you in the near future that you're excited about?
JS: There’s another animation opportunity that has presented itself that I am really excited about but it is in the early stages at the moment.
NL: What is something about being and animated filmmaker that those in live action filmmaking might not know about or take for granted?
JS: I think the biggest problem that filmmakers take for granted is that animation takes a very long time and requires full devotion. I find that sometimes, it might take 3 to 4 tries before a key pose drawing or body movement is perfected. All of my animations are drawn at 24 frames per second, so depending on the amount of detail and action, a 9 hour day will result in 2 to 4 seconds of completely polished traditional hand drawn scenes. For people who are not animators or have not collaborated with any before, they may expect 3 to 5 minutes of fully animated and colored work in the span of a few weeks, when this is extremely difficult for a single animator to do without sacrificing quality. There is also the unfortunate issue that some believe animation is a hobby, and ask animators to create the work for free. I think art is something that cannot be rushed. It requires lots of time and revision to make quality animation. It is also a full time job which takes patience, planning, and money just like any live action film.
NL: As far as animation goes, what is the gender equality like in the trenches? Is it more or less balanced than in live action filmmaking?
JS: In my experience, it is difficult to break into the industry as a female, especially because a lot of positions are already male dominated. It can be discouraging at times to know that there are very few female directors in the animation world and it makes me feel that it will be harder for me to achieve a higher position. Although there is still a gap, I believe that it has gotten better over the years. I am eager to see more opportunities for women soon though.
NL: What have your overall inspirations and influences been so for for you?
JS: I have a variety of inspirations that influence my mood and art style. If I had to narrow them down, I really love illustrations and stories revolving around animals, nature, and the paranormal. Regarding horror and sci-fi, my most memorable moments would be watching older episodes of X-Files. Not only did it give me nightmares as a child but it sparked my interest for all things creepy and supernatural. In terms of wildlife, books by Beatrix Potter were some of my favorite introductions to adorable hand drawn animal illustrations and stories.
NL: Seen any good movies lately?
JS: I have not been watching as many movies as I would like to recently, but the last film I saw in theaters was IT with my boyfriend. I loved it. He, however, did not.