As an initiative with Drawn Together Vancouver, Bardel is featuring up-and-coming women in storyboarding, design and direction to support the advancement of women in key creative roles in the animation industry. The following article is a Q and A with Bardel’s Community Manager, Ashley Evans, and Bardel employees: Candice Prince (above left), Senior Storyboard Artist, previously on Monster High (Mattel) and now working on a new show we can’t disclose yet, and Eman Thabet (above right), Junior Storyboard Artist on Monster High and also a top-secret Bardel show. We know their stories will inspire women in the animation industry!
Ashley: How and when did you know you wanted to be a storyboard artist? In other words, what is your story and how did you end up in animation?
Eman: Well, at first I wanted to be an animator after I graduated from Vanarts in Vancouver back in 2012. I applied for animator jobs, and I was able to get a job on one of the animated studios back home in Egypt. Originally, I was working on a 2D animated intro for a 3D animated show. I had no supervisor, so I was essentially doing it by myself with some direction from the co-founders of the company! I went to my desk, planned the whole thing, storyboarded it, did the animatics for the intro and pitched it to the owners. The studio liked my workflow so much that I ended up with – I think – around 8 episodes to storyboard and do animatics. And I liked it! I didn’t get bored from drawing all these panels. I actually enjoyed it so much. That is how I ended up with my first storyboard job.
Candice: I was fortunate at a very young age to have an idea of what I wanted to do. Ever since I was old enough to use a colouring book (besides a white wall) I was always drawing cartoons. Though, it wasn’t until I was about ten or eleven when I first saw a featurette for the Lion King on TV. It was the first time I had ever seen a ‘behind the scenes’ for animation. For me as a kid, it was like Dorothy pulling back the big green curtain to reveal the true wizard of Oz. Something had clicked in that ten-year-old brain of mine, as my eyes widened, and I remember thinking: “Whoah….THAT’S how they are made.” I never thought about it until then. They just simply existed to me and I never questioned how they we’re created…it was magic.
Ashley: You have been identified as up-and-coming women at Bardel! What is your formula for success?
Eman: Oh really! Thanks Bardel! I don’t I have a formula. I just work hard. I do my best. I keep studying and have fun!
Candice: Working my butt off at being the best that I can be at what I do and still have that drive to want to make kick-ass cartoons.
Ashley: Have there been any blockers? What are the challenges you’ve faced? Was there ever a time you thought you wouldn’t make it or weren’t good enough?
Eman: Ah, the blockers! No one likes those, and yes, I have had them before. I had a small one recently haha. If I have a block because I don’t understand something: first, I don’t let it get to me (because that would be bad). Then I either: quickly research something similar [that I can reference] or I just change it totally. Sometimes, if it’s not working – then, it’s not working – and surprisingly, it works better in a different way.
For example, deciding to work in the animation field and not use my college degree was a big risk for me. I actually graduated with a BA in Architecture. My parents and I made a deal that I would finish my degree and if I still wanted to pursue animation, I could. So I did! I looked for schools and educational centers back home to build my skills [but the opportunity opened up here]. It was a huge step coming to study in Canada. I left my family and friends and travelled to a foreign country where I didn’t know anyone. That was scary for me, really! I am a person who is used to living with family all the time. So, to do decide to leave that all behind to follow my dreams was not an easy decision.
Since I made the decision to go for it, I still experience those kinds of blockers – almost every few months. For example, I question if I’m going to make it; or if I am good enough to enter the industry; or if I should just give up the whole thing! But as time goes by, my skills gets leveled up, more and more. So now, when I look at my older work compared to what I create now, I can see improvement. That helps me stop worrying.
Candice: I don’t think there have been any blockers during my career. If I applied for a position on a certain show and didn’t get it, to me, the reasons seemed clear. One is that I either didn’t have the experience and skillset to work on a complicated show or previous contracts didn’t line up properly. Sometimes you just fail and there isn’t any deeper logic to it.
Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward. Moving through fear keeps you humble and allows you to grow with every opportunity.
– Candice Prince
Ashley: Did you ever doubt yourself or your abilities? If so, how do you overcome it?
Candice: Oh, yes! There’s always that inner voice that chatters saying, “you’re not good enough, what the hell you are doing, you don’t have the experience for this, yet.” But, you have to find a way to get past it because it never really goes away. One time I had taken a break from boarding -figuring that maybe it just wasn’t for me, that I wasn’t cutting it, but see, that was my own inner voice chirping. I was fortunate to have a Superior recognize that inner bull-crap. They called it out and quite bluntly asked me if I was ready to get back down to business and continue doing what I loved and strive to get better at it. Next thing I know I’m thrown on a project that I was certain was above my abilities, yet I only grew from it and and became better with each episode I worked on.
Ashley: How/where do you find inspiration?
Eman: I get inspired by stories from my personal-life experience, my family, and my friends. The adventures I experience in life inspires me the most, whether it is funny, sad, playful or dangerous.
Candice: The internet is full of wonderful things, (not just cat videos). The more work I see from talented artists, the more hyped I get to want to be better. There are a lot of very talented artists out there and the web is one giant artbook to pull inspiration from.
Ashley: What values inspire your work? i.e. imagination, creativity etc. How are your values at the forefront of what you do?
Eman: The values that inspire me…hmmm… I would say passion is the first thing for me. I get super excited very easily hahaha. Also, I ask a lot of questions because ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ It is nothing to be ashamed of. And you’ve got to trust your skills! Even the tiniest skill counts. No knowledge is wasted! You never know when it will come in handy. Also, not overthinking or over complicating [the work] is key (even though I still do sometimes haha).
Candice: Actually, at first I wanted to be an animator. When I got a bit older and began going to school for it, I had this weird fascination with wanting to bring something that wasn’t real to life. I wanted to give the character, on my piece of paper: a heart, a conscience, goals and emotions. I wanted to be able to breathe life into a fictional character and make an audience cry for him/her or fear for their safety, or feel utter joy when something good happened to them. And that, to me, holds a sort of…romanticism to animation and the forward drive behind what I do.
Ashley: Have you had any mentors that have helped you?
Eman: Yes, I did .The first person who taught me about storyboarding was my instructor at Vanarts, Mark Pudleiner. I learned so much from his lectures and classes. Also, the stories he shared about his experience in the industry was awesome. At Bardel, during my Storyboard Boot Camp, Florian Wagner, Bardel’s Creative Director and Justin Wallace, Storyboard Artist on King Julien were my mentors. I learned new things about storyboarding from Florian’s lectures; and Justin taught me new storyboard techniques and workflow to prep me for jumping onto new projects. I had so much fun! Even now I consider my current Unit Director Lih Liau as my new mentor. Now I’m learning even more new stuff!
Candice: A lot..! Even back to high school, I always had Superiors believe in my abilities, even when they knew what I wanted to accomplish was going to be a difficult journey. If I felt I wasn’t cutting it myself, I would have a boss, mentor or teacher tell me, (sometimes in hilarious blunt fashion) to ignore that pesky voice in the back of my head (as we all have) and keep going. Then they’d throw an even more challenging task at me to take on. And on more than one occasion, I’d like to think I gave those projects my very best and it surprises me with how far I’ve come since the beginning. And I have them to thank for that.
I come from a country that has specific ideas about what women and men can do. I had to fight through a lot of the ideas about what a woman is and her place in the world. I had to tell myself: “I’m a person like anyone else. This is my dream.”
– Eman Thabet
Ashley: How has Bardel helped your growth and your career trajectory? What kind of training has helped you in your career?
Eman: Well, I kinda answered part of this question in the previous one. I started first as an intern in the Storyboard Bootcamp. I got to do some training exercises for my first few weeks and then I jumped on one of the shows as revisionist for the rest of the Bootcamp. I was under the supervision of my mentor Justin Wallace. Now, I am a junior storyboard artist on a new secret show, which by the way, is super fun and awesome! The two shows I work on are totally different styles. Because of that, I get to learn new tools and techniques such as: what-to-do and what-not-to-do, composition choices, acting choices, posing and more.
Also, when I started Bardel Bootcamp we we’re waiting for my work permit to come through. It was literally two months late. I became so depressed and was really upset that I was going to lose a chance to work in Canada. Bardel HR’s department was so patient but they couldn’t wait forever. One day I got a call from my old land lady that I had mail. She gave me two envelopes. When I opened the one that had my 3-year work permit, I literally jumped up screaming in the middle of the street! Haha
Candice: When I first came to Bardel, I was still green as a storyboard artist. I was going through a major learning curve in honing my skills. I’d make mistakes here and there, as any new artist would. But Bardel was patient and willing to go through the motions with me, as I grew as an artist. Not only that, but Bardel is the first studio I’ve seen, eager to ‘keep’ their board artists. It’s given me the ability to learn from each new show that I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to work on.
Ashley: Where do you see yourselves in the future? Where would you like to be 5 years from now?
Eman: I currently don’t have any big plans. I think I want to be recognized for my skills and maybe get to work on another awesome show like the one I am working on right now.
Candice: Still working in the industry, I hope..! I’ve always wanted to one day, maybe, work on a feature film…but as writing and quality improves for animated television these days, I’m honestly happy continuing to board on awesome shows. Being able to be a key-creative role in story is pretty cool.
Ashley: The ratio of women to men entering schools is more than half, however that drops considerably when women enter the workplace. What do you think that is about?
Eman: Well, I am not Canadian, so my opinion is purely based on my home country. It is very simple: they get married
Candice: I can’t say I think too much about it. Or perhaps, I have yet to experience the gender inequality as strongly as suggested. Most of my time here at Bardel has had an equal amount of women to men ratio. But there’s a lot of hard work and personal time that is poured into our careers, as an artist in animation/VFX.
I think if I were to leave, it would only be due to wanting to start a family…I think anyone who has a family knows that finding adequate childcare options are very slim. It makes it hard for the stay-at-home parent to jump back into work right away as they might want. As this industry tends to require a lot more personal attention and sacrifice. Ha! Film/Television isn’t a cake-walk to be in.
Ashley: How do you think Bardel and other companies can help women succeed and stay vital in the industry?
Eman: Hmmm that is a tough question. Maybe we should allow moms to work at home more, at least until kids go to school. Then she can work without the stress of leaving her children at some daycare, and instead, look after the children herself. I think it’s possible with the internet and communications right now.
Candice: I don’t think it’s a matter of staying ‘vital’ to the industry. The film and TV industry is a wicked game to play for a career and requires a lot of personal sacrifice at times. It’s what it always has been, and you learn to sink or swim pretty quickly. If this is what gets you up in the morning and you’re excited about going to work every day, then you give it 110% like everyone else. If you work your ass off and it shows, then yes, you should be given the opportunity to assume a leadership role that you’ve applied for. Creating an initiative for ‘women’ specifically, to be able to climb ranks and be handed better opportunities simply because there might be a gender imbalance is a bit silly to me. It’s also a bit of a slap in the face to a lot of other people who equally work their butts off to try and reach that same ladder of opportunity. If five guys and one girl apply for the same job and some of those guys either have a better portfolio or leadership personality than the girl does, I believe they fully deserve to have that job simply because they are more qualified. I’m not saying there aren’t sexist war games going on to a degree. The animation industry is an odd cluster of old school mixed with the new. At one point in time, yes, it was very heavily male dominated. But that simply isn’t the case anymore and I know more than half the teams I’ve ever been on have been female dominant or equal to.
Ashley: It sounds like your experience so far has been balanced which is great and that is a sign that things are changing. For other women who may have had the opposite experience how do you think employers should address the issue?
Candice: I don’t want to say that gender bias doesn’t exist in this industry just because I haven’t experienced it. I’ve seen both sides of the coin. The animation industry has been male dominated in the past. It really hasn’t been until the last 10-15 years that we’ve seen women enter the animation workforce in unprecedented numbers. I think that an open dialogue is important to keep it progressing in the right direction. It seems like Bardel is trying to foster that with hosting workshops with Drawn Together Vancouver, highlighting women role models, and also creating initiatives such as this article. Also, one of the good things about the internet is that any person, regardless of gender, race, geographical location, has an infinite amount of information at their fingertips. People can learn on their own. There is power in that.
Ashley: What are you most excited about right now?
Eman: That is easy! The super-top secret show that I am working on right now, and I am looking forward for it to be announced. It is amazing!!
Candice: The current show I am working on that I wish I was able to announce.
Ashley: When you look back over the last 5-10 years, what are you proudest of?
Eman: What I am proud of the most is actually deciding to come to Canada and study animation.
Candice: My current project, but also being asked to work on the opening for Mattel’s new Monster High Series. It may not seem like much but I was very proud when they liked my style of boarding.
Ashley: What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have any passion projects? i.e. hobbies, activities, interests etc.
Eman: I like to work on my personal projects in my spare time. Other than that, I watch TV series, movies or variety shows and be lazy
Candice: When I actually have time to chill and relax, I love the outdoors and camping. I look forward to going on a houseboat for the summer long weekends with my friends or going surfing in Tofino, BC.
Ashley: Do you have a favourite quote, author, artist or philosophy you live by? Or aspire to live by?
Eman: Yes, actually I have it on my wall. It is from Walt Disney: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Candice: “Every successful person has their sob story. No one who has ever ‘made it’ did so by never failing.”
Ashley: How do you deal with work stress?
Eman: I think stress is a kind of energy. I used to go smash balls at the court but now I usually play video games.
Candice: I like to play video games or go camping or hiking or surfing.
Ashley: What piece of advice do you wish someone would have given you when you were starting out or what would you give to someone?
Eman: Don’t doubt yourself! Look back and see your improvements. That’s important. Don’t listen to people who tell you you’re not going to make it or tell you any different. I come from a country that has specific ideas about what women and men can do. I had to fight through a lot of the ideas about what a woman is and her place in the world. I had to tell myself: “I’m a person like anyone else. This is my dream.” But most of all, find work that you’re passionate about.
Candice: Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward. Moving through fear keeps you humble and allows you to grow with every opportunity. I wish I would have been told that early on because there have been opportunities that I shied away from because of fear and who knows where it would have taken me.
Ashley: Is there anything we don’t know about you that we should?
Eman: Hmm…I studied 5 years in college and I have Bachelor’s degree in Architecture. I used to play an Egyptian sport called Speedball for around 10 years. Also, my love of storytelling really started when my grandmother babysat me and my cousin. She would leave us alone to play for hours with action figures such as Zena and Batman (not Barbie lol). We had eight Batmans with eight different names. It was a time our creativity ran wild. Note to parents: leave your children alone sometimes!
Candice: I used to play hockey competitively for 7 years. I tried out for the BC winter Olympics back in 2000. Try telling a 5’1, 120lbs girl at the time that she ‘couldn’t’ be allowed to play in the NHL. Love the sport and miss it dearly! Playing on a league down in the city here is both difficult to get to AND expensive!
About Drawn Together Vancouver
The group’s mission is to empower and advance women in the art, technical and business sectors of the animation industry, leading to greater diversity and equality in storytelling. It is a grassroots movement that aspires, through conscious decisions and actions, to allow women access to share fully in the creation, financing and production of animation resulting in richer and more diverse entertainment.