Given your years of experience—am I right to say almost 30 years working in animation?
Yes, and I’m only 29 years old, so that’s incredible. [Laughs.]
Exactly. [Laughs.] And how about that you’re also nominated for an Oscar for an animated short with an all-women animator team?
Oh, it’s mind-blowing. A lot of the storyboarding was mostly done by women as well, and we have a female composer. We never set out to specifically say we only wanted women animators. We just wanted to find the best person for the job.
We happened to have this magical meeting with [animation director] Youngran Nho, who was straight out of California Institute of the Arts. She had the vision of what the animation and design could be and had so many conversations with me and Michael Govier and Will McCormack about how to visually enhance the emotion of the story. When we needed a couple more animators, Youngran said, “Hey, I know a few friends that just graduated. Why don’t you meet them?” We hired them on the spot.
Can you speak a little bit as to why I would have such resounding congrats on this group of amazing women animators—what did the world of animation look like when you started, and how has it changed?
It looked so different, Laura, 30 years ago. My first movie was Pocahontas at Disney, and I started at Dreamworks soon after Jeffrey Katzenberg formed it. I was the fifth person there, so I got to see everybody walking through the door. For many years, especially in the artistic departments, it was a very male-dominated crew. I would look around the room and note to myself, “I am the only woman here.” That was during story meetings, animation approvals, background approvals, whatever.
It’s evolved now, especially in the past couple of years. I see it changing right before my eyes. And not just in the production side of things—it was very rare to have a woman board artist in animation. Now there are so many more, and so many more directors as well. But not as many as we’d like to see, and I’m a champion for uplifting them in any way possible.
I’m a great lover of the Academy’s archives, and I once looked at an image of the animators hand-drawing Pinocchio and saw four women sitting there. And we see this with writers, editors, and directors…what happened to the storytelling that it became, “Well, we’ll give you a shot. It has been all men.” Before you guys were here, women were doing this! I wonder what happened that it changed and became, particularly in animation, this male-run world?
I wonder that too. Traditionally in animation, if you did see the four women, I guarantee you they were probably painters or clean-up artists. That was the only roles they had. My hope is with the future generation. I have an 18-year-old daughter, and I see the youth leading change in society. I see animation mirroring that change, and it makes me very, very happy. For animators, even currently, the statistics are very low. It’s something like only 16% of all animators in the industry are women. For composers, it’s even tougher. Only 5% of all film composers are women. My hope is for the future generations leading this social change of diversification and embracing inclusivity.
Beautiful. Maybe we can talk a little bit about the project itself, starting with how you first got involved.
I had just finished producing a very large, big-budget studio movie and took some time off. My kids were entering high school, and I wanted to spend more time with them. I was thinking about doing something in the independent space, and I have a common friend with Will McCormack. Will and I had coffee and really clicked on the subject matter. My daughter and son had, on different occasions in the past few years, active shooter drills and some scary moments. When I saw that this was about gun safety in schools, I was like, “How can I help? How can I bring this issue to the forefront in any way I can with the tool sets I have?” It was a magical journey from there.