August 2022, Interview facilitated by Tracey Miller-Zarneke
Can you please describe how you got to your current role? What are some of the challenges you had to face to get there?
My first job after college was working in London as an architectural visualization 3D artist. I modeled, textured and lit my own scenes in Maya, and rendered using Mental Ray. It was a small company and I took on many roles including client management, attending trade shows to generate new business and even cleaned the little studio loft where we worked, which was in an old converted piano factory in Kentish Town. But I always had a love for animation and film and eventually moved into VFX. I have been very lucky to work on many amazing projects with 50+ credits on the likes of Marvel, Star Wars and The Mandalorian.
I met my husband Mark Nelson on the set of the movie Maleficent, the same year he won a student Academy Award for his short film The Jockstrap Raiders. His brother, Eric ‘Zeke’ Nelson, is a writer, and the three of us quickly put our creative heads together and founded Slapworks Animation to develop and create our own original animated content. We took the quarantine as an opportunity to produce a 3D animated web series called Loosey Goosey & Fried Chicken, working remotely with some amazing voice talent such as Fred Tatasciore (Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Yosemite Sam, Hulk) and Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and animators all across the globe. We recently launched it on the Slapworks YouTube page, with new episodes dropping bi-weekly.
What is your favorite part of your role? Most challenging part?
My role as a producer is to take anything off the plate of the creatives that gets in the way of their process. I want all their energy focused on making the best animated comedy, and I will do anything I can to support that. I wear many hats in my role, and I’m not shy about taking on new ones! I love the marriage between technology and creativity. One can support and inspire the other, but it is important that everyone has the right attitude of continued learning and improvement so that we can keep up with and embrace advances. Last year we switched to Arnold rendering using GPU, and this year we are experimenting with Unreal! But the goal is always the same. Good story, strong characters and getting our ideas out to an audience. One of the biggest challenges is working with original IP. It can be hard to get support for new ideas, but the streaming and social media platforms has enabled us to try new things and engage audiences directly so they can tell us what they like!
Who were/are your mentors, inside or outside of animation? How have they affected you?
There are many amazing strong women mentors in the field of VFX, but really it comes down to two people in animation who have inspired me not just creatively, but to want to build an animation studio from the ground up: Hayao Miyazaki and Walt Disney. Their bravery to try new things gives me resilience in our own venture.
Do you have any advice for others who want to break into the animation industry?
Just do it. And do everything else that you are passionate about that somehow it all feeds in together. This is what makes you unique and gives you the ability to bring something different to the table that makes it better. I am a producer, an artist, a business woman, a mum of two and a huge geek for all things, comics, games, witches, fairies and dragons.
Share with us a moment of exhilaration in your career.
It is always exciting for me to be on set. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and one very muddy, rainy day at Leavesden studios (I was there working on Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows) and I saw the Hogwarts Destroyed set at the end of Baker Street. It really was exhilarating.
Which school did you attend?
Two years ago I decided to go back to school and complete my MBA at UCLA, graduating at the start of the pandemic.
What is your earliest memory of being interested in animation?
I watched all the ’80s Saturday morning cartoons of course, He-Man, Care Bears, and The City of Gold. I used to read a lot of French graphic novels too like Tin Tin and Asterix the Gaul. The town in England where I grew up had a book shop with one small shelf of Japanese manga and I fell in love with the graphic style and reading my books backwards. The Fist of the North Star was probably one of the first anime I saw, and then I found Studio Ghibli.
What is your favorite animated movie or animated character, and why?
Kiki the witch, of course! She is just 13 when she leaves home. I can relate so much to this strong little lady who has to discover what her special magic is and where she fits in the world.
Why is an organization like Women in Animation important to you?
This is an amazing platform for information, with access to material you can’t get anywhere else such as exclusive interviews and panels. The pandemic has highlighted the need for community and I believe we have to support each other to come back even stronger this year and get everyone back to work.
How long have you been a member of WIA?
Just coming up to two years.
What have you enjoyed most about being part of WIA?
I really like the weekly newsletters. It is a great reminder to check in and see what’s coming up, but also it was an amazing resource when I was looking for full time work.
Any other professional insights or experiences you would like to share with our membership?
Women in Animation is a celebration of diversity. We are so lucky to have women so well represented in the industry and we must continue to support each other to ensure this continues to grow.