Rising Stars of Animation 2023

They’re gifted, articulate and smart and their animation careers are on fire. Yes, we are talking about this year’s brilliant Rising Stars of Animation. They have worked or are currently putting the finishing touches on some of our favorite animated shorts, TV shows and movies of the year. We are so glad to be able to spotlight these amazing individuals and can’t wait to see what they come up with next as they climb the ladder of success. [Visit our website next week for our lively video chat with all of this year’s brilliant rising stars!]


Kai Akira

Kai Akira

Director, My Dad the Bounty Hunter (Netflix Series)
Birthplace: Phoenix, Arizona

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: Some of my fondest memories were huddling around the TV in the living room with my siblings and cousins, perusing the massive collection of VHS tapes my parents had collected over the years — The Meteor Man, Galaxy Quest, Men in Black, My Favorite Martian, Jumanji, The Lion King; and then when we upgraded to DVDs, The Iron Giant, A Goofy Movie, The Pagemaster, Dark Crystal, The Labyrinth, The Hobbit, The Wiz, Spirited Away, the list goes on. I was also big on the entire Disney Afternoon Block. I watched a lot of shows with my older sibs, too — Daria, Hey Monie!, Dragon Ball … My oldest brother recorded as many episodes of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog as he could fit on 20 or so tapes. We ran those things into disrepair!

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I’m not even sure it was a conscious choice — as early as I can remember, my dream was to be “a cartoonist.” But the second, surefire moment I knew was around my third year of college, after my oldest sister passed away. To cope with the loss, I dove back into the comforting world of cartoons, Phineas and Ferb in particular. Eventually, I realized how much watching these shows anchored me during that painful time, and I too wanted to help create stories that would help uplift others’ spirits the way they did my own.

First job in animation: My first job was as a storyboard intern at 6 Point Harness. I was miraculously hired from a two-day storyboarding workshop, and they kindly welcomed me into their fold. About three weeks into my internship, I was asked if I’d like to be a full-time storyboard artist — and who could refuse that??

What I love about my current project: The people, always. Many of them are new, now treasured friends, but there were a few familiar faces from the Dad crew that came along with me for this ride — and what a ride it is! I’m grateful to have the relationships I do with all the folks I’ve worked with on other projects, and this one is no different in that respect.

Biggest challenge: Quelling the overwhelming urge to accomplish an infinite number of things within a finite amount of time. Being satisfied with what I have done thus far and knowing that all that I eventually do will have been more than enough. A big part of that is the excitement (and frustration) of coming up into an industry that’s finally starting to truly embrace diverse storytelling over tokenization — we have so much more to do, people! One step at a time though, ha ha … Also, protecting my energy!

Best career advice: Always try to exercise humility in what you think you know, as well as what you can know. In our highly collaborative field, there’s always more to learn about our work, ourselves, others, and Life. We have to make everything that appears on the screen, and at the heart of it all is quite often just that — heart. Try to remember that what you create is precious and cannot truly be replicated by anyone or anything else.



Shir Baron

Shir Baron

Animator, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (DreamWorks Animation)
Age, Birthplace: 30, Israel

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: My favorite animated movie was The Little Mermaid. I was mesmerized by Ariel’s curiosity and fascination with the simple things in our world. My favorite TV show was Nickelodeon’s As Told by Ginger, which I found a lot of comfort in as it dealt with issues I was experiencing as a teenager.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: In Israel, you pick majors in high school, and for me that was art and computer science. I also worked in the local movie theater after school hours. That was an amazing year for films — Tangled, Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon. As the children would step out of the movies, I’d ask them if they enjoyed it. They would smile and say, “It was amazing!” That’s when it hit me: Animation has the power to influence and inspire everyone! I realized animation is a career path that includes so many things that I love (art, tech and films) and is able to create joy, smiles and laughter!

First job in animation: While I had a few internships and worked on some fun projects with friends, DreamWorks is technically my first full-time job in animation! And I love it here.

What I love about my job: The team! Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was the most amazing project to work on. I’ve learned so much, worked with such amazing artists and got to work on something that I feel extremely proud of. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with this team, and really appreciate the amount of trust they’ve put in me.

Biggest challenge: One big challenge was joining the industry during the pandemic. There is a lot to learn from those around you, and I am so glad to be on campus now! Another big challenge is the distance from family and loved ones. Being away from that support system and culture is hard. Starting at DreamWorks and moving to a new state during the peak of the pandemic made it a tough start. The people at the studio are what make it so great and I found an amazing support system here.

Best career advice: Make friends, not connections. Your friends are your strongest allies, and there is so much you can learn from one another. At the end of the day, they are the people who are most likely to recommend you to positions, so working together and helping each other grow will advance everyone’s career and help us achieve our common goal: creating meaningful content.



David Chung

David Chung

Art Director, Gabby’s Dollhouse & Unannounced Horror Series (DreamWorks Animation)

Age, Birthplace: 40ish; Albany, New York

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: I spent most of my childhood in Hong Kong and Taiwan, so most of the shows I watched were either in Chinese or they were dubbed. Since Chinese is my second language, whenever I got a hold of American cartoons, they were like gold to me. My dad used to rent me collections of Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera shows on VHS or laser discs. As soon as we were able to “obtain” cable, I was introduced and obsessed with shows on Nickelodeon and MTV like Ren & Stimpy, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Liquid Television and Beavis and Butt-head. When we finally moved back to the States, shows like Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, The Tick and X-Men were built into my weekly routines.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I actually didn’t plan on working in animation! I majored in Illustration and was making most of my living through selling paintings at galleries and doing freelance. The animation thing sort of happened by chance through the crowd I was hanging out with, many of whom were working in the animation industry while showing in the same galleries as me.

First job in animation: My first job in animation was for Spaceballs: The Animated Series. We all have to start somewhere right!? Despite that and many other similar work experiences that I’ve had, I’ve been able to meet a lot of amazing people along the way and learn how not to be while working in animation … or anywhere really.

What I love about my current project: My current project is a CG-animated horror series that revolves around a family and their adventures. While developing the look, we really wanted it to stand out from the crowd by challenging the status quo. We really wanted to give it a 2D look by paying homage to classic EC-style horror comic books. I am so proud of the work we’ve accomplished. It’s definitely a love letter to several genres of horror that we admire. It has truly been one of my most favorite and fun shows I’ve had the privileges of working on and I can’t wait for audiences to see it.

Biggest challenge: Since the style hadn’t fully been done before at the studio, we had to do a lot of outside-the-box thinking on altering the existing pipeline to make everything work for what we were trying to achieve within the time and budget given. Thankfully, we have some of the best people in the industry at DreamWorks, who are amazing to collaborate with. They’ve helped us elevate the look of the show higher and higher every step of the way.

Best career advice: The thing that I’ve found to be the most consistent and beneficial for me is to leave my ego at home and work on building strong mutual trust with the team that I’m working with. If you can’t listen, trust, and support one another, it’ll come out in the show.



Angela Collins

Angela Collins

Senior Animator, Sonic Prime (WildBrain Studios)  
Age, Birthplace: 27; Abbotsford, BC, Canada

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: The Aristocats.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I found that 3D animation was a viable career for monetarily supporting myself while still making art.

First job in animation: The Deep Season 2 at DHX Media (now WildBrain).

What I love about my current project: I love the people! Everyone on my team has been a genuine pleasure to work with and I’m so proud of them all! They constantly push the bar and inspire everyone to work more creatively, and it truly shines in their work.

Biggest challenge: By far my biggest challenge has been managing and maintaining my mental and physical health. Burnout is such a common side effect of this career in the animation industry. And without the understanding of how your body is affected under stress, it’s quite difficult to maintain consistency.

Best career advice: Don’t be tempted to let this career define your worth or your identity. As with any job, maintaining a level of passion over a long period of time is very hard. I have benefitted endlessly from having passions outside of my work to refuel and energize me and I’m constantly on the hunt for more!



Lee Ann Dufour

Lee Ann Dufour

Art Director, Hailey’s On It! (Disney+, Disney Channel)
Age, Birthplace: 34; raised in Québec, Canada.

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: When we were kids, my sister and I watched animated movies on repeat until we could recite them by heart. My favorites were The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Oliver & Company, A Goofy Movie and Aladdin. I remember really wanting to become Princess Jasmine so I could have a pet tiger when I grew up.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: My mom came home from work one night and asked me if I was interested in studying animation. Her boss had seen one of my drawings in her office and told her about Sheridan College’s animation program. I had no idea it was a career option, but I loved drawing and it felt like a path that would make me really happy. I scrambled to put my application together in time for the admissions deadline and never looked back.

First job in animation: When I graduated in 2010, I didn’t get a job in the industry right away. I worked at a bank for two years and did some freelance work while building up my portfolio. Eventually, that paid off and I was hired to work on Ever After High as a character clean up artist by Guru Studio in Toronto. I had an incredible time on that project. I learned so much and met some of my closest friends.

What I love about my current project: I’m really grateful for the amazing team of artists I work with. The best part of my job is seeing everyone’s contributions to the show. It feels like every day I review designs where the team has gone above and beyond with their assignments in a way that makes the project so much better. It’s really inspiring to see.

Biggest challenge: The schedule is the most challenging part of this project. I always wish we had more time. Everyone on the team is so passionate and hardworking, it makes even the most challenging days worth it.

Best career advice: Being open to trying roles I wasn’t actively searching for has been really beneficial in my career. Along with various art department positions, I’ve had the chance to work in production, development and recruiting. I’m often surprised by how much of those skills are transferable to my day-to-day job as an art director.



Luis Gadea

Luis Gadea

Character Designer, Bugs Bunny Builders (Warner Bros. Animation)
Age, Birthplace: 34; born in Canada, grew up in Costa Rica.

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid. Looney Tunes and The Porky Pig Show were major shows in my life. Also loved Dexter’s Laboratory, Freakazoid!, Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Pinky and the Brain, etc. Favorite movies included The Iron Giant, The Land Before Time, Brave Little Toaster, The Great Mouse Detective, A Goofy Movie, Space Jam and The Prince of Egypt.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I watched a lot of 2D animated movies and cartoons as a kid, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I started putting together my feel for art and animation. Movies like Shrek and Monster House inspired me to think about turning my love of animation into a career. I was in Costa Rica at the time and there was barely anything related to animation as a real study.

First job in animation: I must separate this answer into two parts: My first job in animation was in 2009 while I was studying 3D animation in Costa Rica. My teacher hired me for a 2D animation job working on animated commercials. At the time, my knowledge was minimal, and I was really doing 2D animation without quite understanding it; it was a learning-as-you-go kind of thing. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada in 2012 to formally study 2D animation that I got my first 2D animator job on Rocket Monkeys, a series produced by Atomic Cartoons for Teletoon.

What I love about my current project: It’s not every day you get the chance to re-design classic Looney Tunes characters. Working on Bugs Bunny Builders has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. Having studied Chuck Jones and all the great artists that created the original designs, I love being able to put my own vision on these characters. Some days I don’t believe I get to do it. It has been a profound thing in my life.

Biggest challenge: For Bugs Bunny Builders, the biggest challenge at the beginning was to hit the task: “New take for young audiences but with the classic feeling of the Looney Tunes.” It sounds easy, but not really; old and new don’t always go together. For my career, I’d say giving myself time to experiment and to keep exploring art without falling into drawing the same things in the same way all the time. I try to get away from the computer during my personal “art-time” and use all traditional materials.

Best career advice: Learn to work as a team. Animation is a collaborative process. If your team succeeds you succeed as well. Supporting your co-workers, solving problems, raising the hand for any questions, or even raising the hand to ask for help is OK. What I enjoy the most about my career in animation is knowing that we — with our hands — create a bunch of art, and that art is sent to a lot of people that add another bit of art. This process keeps going until the art moves, gets sound, gets voices, and then parents with their kids sit down and watch it. The fact that a group of people get together, collaborate and produce something is a great experience!



Carrie Hobson

Carrie Hobson

Director/Writer/Exec Producer, Win or Lose, Pixar
Age, Birthplace: 34, Maryland

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: Sailor Moon, Batman: The Animated Series, Mulan, Spirited Away, The Secret Garden, Little Women, Motocrossed. 

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I realized there was a job that combined my love of drawing and storytelling.

First job in animation: Intern at Disney Consumer Products.

What I love about my current project: The team! CG is hard and expensive; everyone has to work together to make it not look like crap. I’m so lucky to work with a bunch of nerds who want to geek out over the details of filmmaking.

Biggest challenge: It’s a very ambitious project — it’s longer than a Pixar feature but made with a smaller team. We have to do more, with less. What’s great is, because every person really matters, every person becomes a bigger contributor.

Best career advice: Geek out with your friends over films and shows. Analyze what works/doesn’t work. Also, just live life. Read books, study philosophy, listen, go to new places, get your heart broken … Have a point of view in what you create.



MIchael Yates

Michael Yates

Director/Writer/EP, Win or Lose (Pixar)
Age, Birthplace: 31; Gary, Indiana

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: Toy Story, Akira, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Lion King, Princess Mononoke, Dragon Ball Z.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: Seeing my drawings first come to life set in motion a lifelong obsession. I realized animation is a combination of all the art forms, where you can transport people to any place you can imagine.

First job in animation: Story artist trainee at DreamWorks.

What I love about my current project: Win or Lose is such a fun, character-filled world, where I feel like we get to explore so many different perspectives. It never gets boring.

Biggest challenge: The biggest challenge has been just how big and interconnected the show is. Sometimes it feels like we need one of those detective cork boards with photos, newspaper clippings and red thread connecting the evidence. Except instead of connecting suspects, it’s storylines.

Best career advice: Always look to learn, every project and person you work with has something to offer you. Even the bad experiences can teach you what not to do.



Natasha Kline

Natasha Kline

Creator/Executive Producer, Primos (Disney Branded Television)
Age, Birthplace: 39; West Covina, Los Angeles

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: In the late ’80s/early ’90s, I watched everything on MTV and Nickelodeon — the animated music videos and the classic Nicktoons like Hey Arnold! and Rugrats. I’d even stay up late to see Æon Flux. Of course, Looney Tunes and the Disney musical features were a big staple, too.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when I was three years old, and MTV was premiering a new music video — my whole family gathered around the TV to see “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty. I remember sitting on my mom’s lap and being completely blown away by the animation. It was the first time I realized that drawings could move — I thought to myself, “Whatever that is … I’m going to do that.”

First job in animation: My first industry job was in the art and story department at South Park, from 2008-2015. There were six people making all the pre-production materials for the show — storyboards, backgrounds, character and prop designs. We’d make all of the materials for one show in a week, then move on to the following show the next week.

How I came up with the idea for Primos: The series was inspired from an adult short I created for a stand-up show at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in 2017. As I developed the main character, I started thinking, “What would her family be like?” This led to my memories of summer vacation when my mom would invite all my cousins over and hilarity would ensue. I’m a huge fan of Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, so I hoped by creating this giant ensemble cast and having a hilarious main character leading them all, we could bring back those Sunday funnies vibes.

What I love about it:  I love working with the amazing Primos crew. I’m very lucky to be surrounded and supported by them — and very lucky to be working at Disney. The intense passion, drive, and talent that everyone possesses is more than inspiring — it gives me a reason to get up every day.

Biggest challenge? My biggest challenge as a showrunner is struggling with shyness and social anxiety. A major part of the job is speaking up. It’s hard to do when my natural urge is to quietly slip into the background, ha ha!

Best career advice: There’s not one direction to breaking into the industry and a career isn’t a single straight line. For me, I found success by creating opportunities to learn through every phase of my career. As artists, we get a lot of feedback, some of which could even be traumatizing; however, to persist, it’s important to develop a tough skin and take all information you receive — positive or negative — as potential for growth.


Rachel Larsen
Rachel Larsen

Rachel Larsen

Creator/Exec Producer, The Tiny Chef Show (Imagine/Nickelodeon)
Age, Birthplace: 42; West Lafayette, Indiana

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: Labyrinth, The Smurfs, Fragile Rock, Rescue Rangers, Gummi Bears, Lion King, Flight of the Navigator, Jurassic Park.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I realized it was possible. I learned LAIKA was making Coraline in Portland, Oregon, where I lived at the time, and I became determined to work on it. I’m obsessed with miniatures, love imaginary worlds, and creating.

First job in animation: Coraline, as a hand fabricator.

My inspiration for Tiny Chef: So many things in life I love; tiny things, cooking, imagination, collaborating with people in my life I love, bringing something into the world that allows all of us to play along together, wanting to make the world a kinder and funnier place to be in.

What I love about my job: Laughing and collaborating with talented people. Getting to work with Cheffy. Exploring the new. Unpredictable days and challenges. Creating my own path. All the love we get from fans of Chef.

Biggest challenge: All of the above is also incredibly challenging. Doing something new and different also means you make a million mistakes along the way which can feel overwhelming and disheartening, but you just gotta push through it.

Best career advice : Always keep in mind why you’re there and what your ultimate goal is. All jobs are challenging for different reasons, try to focus on what you’re learning in each job that’s helping inform your skillset or helping shape what’s next for you. Try to keep the village mentality, you’re one part of a big village trying to accomplish something amazing, work well with your little village.

Wayne-Michael Lee

Wayne-Michael Lee

Director, Pinecone & Pony (Atomic Cartoons/DreamWorks/Apple TV+)
Age, Birthplace: 37; Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: Dragon Ball and Batman: The Animated Series. I think those two were foundational for me in many ways. They’re the kind of genre extremes I like to bounce between — big, fun, goofy adventures with some subtle, dark drama.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I would watch behind-the-scenes features on animated shows or movies. As rare as those instances were in the ’90s, I ate them up and was just enamored with the process of making a show.

First job in animation: I worked as an animator on the first season of Wild Kratts for PBS KIDS. The first thing I got to animate for the job was a baby rhinoceros! (I’ll never forget that little guy.)

What I love about my current project: My current directing project for Atomic Cartoons is in the very early stages, but the early stages are kind of my favorite part of the process. It’s all kind of fair game, and I think of it as a big blue sky that feels a bit limitless. Just prior to this project, I directed Pinecone & Pony, and similarly, getting to work with a wonderful team and collaborate with Kate Beaton to adapt her book was an all-time highlight for me.

Biggest challenge: Time/schedule/budget, and where it intersects with creative or technical issues. It can be a moving target at times, but you aim to make the best decision in the middle of all the noise and hope it pays off.

Best career advice: Persevere. And I don’t mean it solely in the “work hard” sense, because we all work so incredibly hard in animation. It’s the most basic thing, but it’s taking care of yourself — both mentally and physically, whatever form that may be. Just take care of yourself, so you can take care of others to persevere on a project.



Miguel Ortega

Miguel Ortega

Writer/Director, The Voice in the Hollow (Gnomon, Unreal)
Age, Birthplace: 43; Bogota, Colombia

First time I knew I wanted to work in animation: The day I saw Return of the Jedi in theaters; I was never the same after seeing Jabba and the Rancor.

Biggest animation heroes: Walt Disney, Ray Harryhausen, Phil Tippett, Henry Selick.

First job: Burger King where I was fired for drawing. In visual effects: Luma Pictures.

Why I love animation: It gives storytellers endless possibilities.

What I love about my latest project: That we made an uncompromising animated African horror film in Swahili. Inspired by the Old Testament, Sergio Corbucci and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Biggest challenge: We created it using Unreal, despite only having four weeks of experience with the program.

Future plans: To create beautiful new worlds and rich likable characters, and then torture them for the duration of the film.

Best career advice: Create unique stories that would not have been told without your existence.



Tran Ma

Tran Ma

Writer, Production Designer, The Voice in the Hollow (Gnomon, Unreal)
Age, Birthplace: 39; Orange County, Calif.

First time I knew I wanted to work in animation: After playing Final Fantasy VII as a kid.

Biggest animation heroes: Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

First job: Modeler/Texture Artist at CafeFX.

Why I love animation: I love animation because it is a truly versatile medium. The possibilities are endless, and the wide range of styles and techniques available means that animation can take on many different forms. Whether it’s a hand-drawn pencil animation, a stop-motion film made out of clay, or a 3D computer-generated animation, the medium is capable of capturing the imagination and bringing any story to life in an exciting and dynamic way.

What I love about my latest project: I feel proud that we completed it to the best of our abilities.

Biggest challenge: The entire process was challenging, but the art direction presented the greatest difficulties. With only a small team of two, myself and Miguel [Ortega], and limited resources to reference, we faced many limitations. While designing the characters was manageable, creating the aesthetic of the world proved to be a significant challenge. We experimented with various color schemes, starting with pastel tones, and then moving on to desaturated hues, and finally settling on highly saturated colors. The design of the foliage also underwent multiple changes.

Best career advice: You need to persist and work hard. Nothing in this world is easy.



Brett Nystul

Brett Nystul

Production Designer, Spellbound (Skydance Animation)
Birthplace: Ridgecrest, Calif. (only lived there for a month!)

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: Growing up, we didn’t watch much TV and rarely went to the movies. We did a lot of reading and art and family adventures, like museums and travel. Looking back, it was an amazing path to creativity. But when I did go to the movies, I loved the epic adventures like Indiana Jones or an underdog story like Rocky.  Some of my favorite animated movies are The Iron Giant and more recently, Klaus.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: I saw the first Toy Story. And then when I saw Monsters, Inc. and Sully’s fur, I was enamored with the technological breakthroughs in CG animation. Today, the drive to find new ways to create an animated movie is just as strong. Funny, but back then, it was to make a movie more and more realistic with textures, fur or lighting. Today it is trying to find a way to pull away from the realism we automatically can do and find a more artistic look.

First job in animation: Visual Development Artist on Dreamworks’ Shark Tale.

What I love about my current project: I love the diversity and talent of the people on this movie. Skydance Animation is fairly new, but the talent and experience is vast and from all over the world. Collaborating within this wide spectrum has been a blast. I feel very lucky being part of the connecting thread amongst us all.

Biggest challenge: Finding the right moment to say “approved.” It’s tough to stop noodling when time constraints call. I’m afraid that in the final stretch, I will have to let more and more things I want to fix slide. However, I have an amazing crew and I’m confident whatever result will be great.

Best career advice: Be resilient. Animation (and art) is subjective. You must keep believing in yourself and the work you put out. Be open to the critiques. One of the ways to lessen any kind of negative ones is to have vastly different options. This opens the doors for discussion and can better lead to a direction the director is looking for. Many times, a director does not know what they want. Having one art concept presented only gives a director the option of saying “Yes I like it” or “No.” Having options leads to “Wow, so many great ideas and I’m feeling this could be the way to go.”



Lauren Sassen

Lauren Sassen

Story Artist, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures Animation)
Age, Birthplace: 34; Vancouver, BC

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: I was very into ’90s Disney movies when I was a young kid, but by the time I entered high school anime had become an obsession for me! One Piece by Eiichiro Oda was especially influential on the development of my art as a child, and still informs my work to this day.

I knew I wanted to work in animation: From the moment I learned that it was a job I could actually have! All I’ve ever wanted to do was draw. Throughout my childhood, art was always the subject I enjoyed and excelled at the most.  So, once I hit high school and learned that animation was something I could pursue as a career, it really felt like a natural progression for me. Storyboarding, however, wasn’t something I discovered until later on in college when I took a class on the subject.

First job in animation: I was a character face painter in the puppet department at Cinderbiter, Henry Selick’s stop-motion animation studio in San Francisco. My first job in story, however, was as a storyboard revisionist on We Bare Bears at Cartoon Network.

What I love about my current project: I’m currently working on the upcoming, untitled Ghostbusters animated feature, and the crew is so fantastic and collaborative! The creative minds behind it are amazing, and I am so excited about the incredible and truly fun possibilities of this movie!

Biggest challenge: Probably just getting my foot in the door. It took me almost three years of trying to find jobs before I got my first storyboard revisionist position on We Bare Bears at Cartoon Network. I applied to many, many storyboarding positions before I was given a chance on We Bare Bears.

Best career advice: I think my best advice would be to draw what you love and are passionate about. It might sound pretty basic, but when you are working on something you care about, it shows in your work — especially when crafting a portfolio!



Aidan Sugano

Aidan Sugano

Production Designer, Nimona (Netflix Features)
Age, Birthplace: 34, California

Cartoons/movies I loved as a kid: My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Jurassic Park, Lilo & Stitch, Rugrats, Doug.

I knew I wanted to work in animation when: It was during the first month of my first job. I looked around me at the immense amount of thought and craft going into every decision and was finally able to internalize an idea that others had told me but I yet to fully grasp. More than almost any other medium, animation is one where you can literally bring art to life. It is a poetic marriage of art, movement and storytelling that lets you bring an entire world to being all in service of communicating one story. I knew I wanted to play in this medium from that point on.

First job in animation: Junior designer at Blue Sky Studios.

What I love about my current project: The story. I have had a connection to the characters and their story since the moment I read the graphic novel. I feel so lucky to have been able to work on Nimona. It feels like one of those rare projects that only come around a few times in your career and I am really thankful that I have gotten to be a part of it. Plus, sci-fi, medieval fantasy, knights, lasers, monsters, dragons, dramatic lighting, the style … What isn’t there to love?

Biggest challenge: Executing a cohesive, holistic artistic vision that embraces the limitations of the style without getting in the way of the story is tough. Luckily, as a collaborative art form there are a lot of people who are much smarter than me to lean on and make it possible.

Best career advice: Thoughtful choices and ideas are much more important than pretty execution. Since the story in animation is mostly expressed visually, making sure every design choice thoughtfully reinforces the story leads to a deeper, richer result. It is a constant challenge, but I try to have a clear, story reason for every visual choice I make.




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