Students filled Macdonald-Heaslip Hall in September to listen to four animation alumni share the wisdom they have gained since graduation.
Ashlyn Anstee (‘11), storyboard artist at Nickelodeon and children’s illustrator; Domee Shi (’11), storyboard artist at Pixar and the director of Bao; Melody Wang (’15), storyboard artist at Blue Sky Studios and Sagan Yee (’11), executive director at the Hand Eye Society returned to campus as part of the 50th anniversary of Sheridan’s animation program. They chatted about their inspiration, motivation, and the challenges of being a woman working in animation. The artists were candid about their industry experience, taking the time to answer questions and chat with students individually at the end of the session. While some conversation dealt with industry-specific topics, much of the panel’s advice and insight was relevant to anyone who has pursued a career based on something they love.
Turn criticism into fuel
All panellists chatted about the misconceptions or challenges they needed to overcome to find their path to success.
Shi said that when she first started at Sheridan, she was under the impression that there was a bias against Japanese anime. This led her to purposely move away from that style of animation, although the genre has become incredibly popular today. “In the end, I appreciated that because it’s how I learned about different styles and genres, and now I know the best of both worlds,” she said.
Anstee spoke about advice that she received as a student, when she was told the first job she got after graduation would mark a definitive direction in her career. This advice, she said, was wrong. “Everyone I know has been able to move around. You’re not stuck. Never feel like you’ll be trapped into the first job after graduation.”
“Everyone I know has been able to move around. You’re not stuck. Never feel like you’ll be trapped into the first job after graduation.” – Ashlyn Anstee
Wang reflected on when an older student was critical of her portfolio and skeptical of her future in animation. This led her to become that much more determined to succeed. “Turn criticism into fuel — don’t let it get you down,” she said.
There’s more to life than work
When asked about how to deal with low points in your career, the panel was quick to point out that even they sometimes feel inadequate, or suffer from imposter syndrome. “You’re not alone feeling this way,” said Shi, with Anstee adding that it can form a healing connection to share your feelings with other co-workers.
To combat stress, the panel recommended instilling a day-to-day routine, and to make sure things like diet and sleep aren’t neglected for the sake of work.
Equally as important, added Yee, is making sure you’re finding avenues to be creative and satisfaction outside of your 9 to 5. “I dreamt in college to be a storyboard artist for TV, but it’s what I do outside and with my friends that gives me joy in life,” agreed Anstee.
Find your tribe
When Shi first began working at Pixar, she was one of four women working in the story department. Being new to the team, she wanted to learn as much as she could and was hungry for new information. She began to seek out the other female story artists in her department, and they would gather once a month for lunch.
“I think it’s important to find that group of people, wherever you end up working, that are your clique — your homies. They’ll be the ones that will be your support system, will be honest with you, be real with you, but will also defend you.”
“I think it’s important to find that group of people, wherever you end up working, that are your clique — your homies. They’ll be the ones that will be your support system, will be honest with you, be real with you, but will also defend you.” – Domee Shi
Knowledge is power
While Sheridan provided a strong knowledge base for the panelists, they also talked extensively about the self-awareness they built following graduation.
Yee lamented the struggle of time management to meet a self-imposed deadline when there’s no one else to hold you accountable — something she deals with on a daily basis as an executive director. Part of that process, she said, was about learning her strengths and weaknesses. If you know you’re a bit slower at something, for example, don’t put yourself in a fast-paced situation.
Wang spoke about her experience when approached by a company with a contract to option her short film. “It was really frazzling at the time,” she says. “I asked as many people as I could for help, and really delved into the language.” Getting as much information as you can will make you a more-informed employee, and put you in a better position to make decisions for yourself.
It’s all relative
Near the end of the evening session, the panel admitted that while they were happy to share their experiences with the students, their advice should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Everyone finds their own path,” said Anstee, reiterating that her experience was only her experience, and shouldn’t be seen as the only path to success. Instead, Shi recommended being open to lots of people’s experiences.
“You might think that some advice doesn’t apply to you, but you don’t have to take it or leave it – just be open to it.”
Pictured at top of page (left to right): Ashlyn Anstee, Melody Wang, Sagan Yee and Domee Shi.
Written by: Meagan Kashty, Editor, Ovation (Sheridan’s Alumni Magazine).