Industrial Brothers is proud to recognize the many women on our team. Did you know that our EVP, and Producers of our 3 shows, are all female? It’s true – powerful women keep things running here at IB, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Women’s History Month is a time for us to celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of women everywhere. This March, we would like to shout out one very special lady in particular:
Sonya Carey is the Producer of Daniel Spellbound, our new action-adventure CG animated series that is currently in production for Netflix.
Sonya is a practical-minded problem solver with the soul of an artist. She is a strong team leader, expert compositor and a pipeline specialist with over 25 years of experience in animation under her belt, but she somehow makes it all look easy. By day, she manages a major production with over 60 artists on the team; by night, she teaches and mentors students to help them find their way in the industry. Here are a few Fun Facts about Sonya:
- Sonya led the digital team of ‘The Princess and The Frog‘, a milestone in animation history for featuring the first African American Disney princess.
- Sonya is featured in the book and trading cards Everyday Superheroes: Women in STEM Careers.
- Sonya speaks at Peel Board of Education and TDSB events, and hosts project-based learning workshops to teach students up to Grade 8 about animation, pipelines, and working at a studio.
- Sonya founded The Animation Lounge, which hosts workshops and consults for aspiring artists to learn 2D animation software and filmmaking.
Check out one of the films she produced: We Imagine…. Us: The Animated Series – Ep. 1 “Anahí’s Story” takes a look at the positive side of immigration and what the world would be like if we embraced immigrants. Narrated by John Legend, this film honours Sonya’s father. He was turned away for most jobs when they first immigrated to Canada, but he found his own way to support a multitude of family members around the world with his big blue taxi.
This film is made by a talented team of black, underemployed artists and production crew that Sonya mentors.
We also sat down with Sonya to get to know her better.
What inspired you to work in animation? Tell us a bit about your journey.
It wasn’t an industry that I set out to pursue, it was more of a chance thing – I fell into it, and then fell in love with it.
In university I double-majored in Drama and Psychology. I thought I wanted to be an actress, but felt uncomfortable in the spotlight… I learned that I was happier in the background, and that I enjoyed the behind the scenes stuff more than being on stage: I was more of a tech-minded person, so lighting, sound, camera, etc. was very cool to me. Once I figured out that out about myself, I focused on learning more about technical theatre production.
Out of university, I wanted to start my own small business to make graphic animated greeting cards, but I didn’t know much about animation. I moved down to Los Angeles, and got a job in a studio through word of mouth. I started out as a receptionist, but also did some artwork on the Rem & Stimpy show.
I also took an Introduction to Animation class at UCLA, just for fun and to learn more. Over the years I developed my skills as a compositor, and went from studio to studio learning more, and meeting many talented artists.
How have you seen animation change over time?
When I started out doing artwork for Rem & Stimpy I had my first introduction to technology meeting paper – at the time, everything was hand-drawn, and then scanned off paper for artists to add camera angles, colour, composition, and effects on the computer. This meeting of art and technology was such a great fit for me, and I was hooked.
Around this time, I read an article about Nelvana , and how they were using this new and exciting digital platform for animation that cut out a lot of the paperwork. They had the first ink & paint digital system using the computer, a completely new technology at the time that was very interesting.
Reading this, it struck me how we were already doing something quite similar in L.A., working with a combination of hand-drawn and digital mediums. Since Nelvana was developing this technology and I was already doing something similar, I reached out to apply, and was promptly hired. I moved back to Toronto to start working with them.
What skills and personality traits helped you to become a Producer?
Working early on as a compositor, I made a conscious effort to continuously develop and expand on my skillset, and I was eventually pushed into management/leadership roles. Compositing was a great base, I knew how to do a bit of everything, and learned to talk the language that the artists spoke.
The process of learning the entire animation pipeline eventually helped me to be a producer who doesn’t just understand how things look on a schedule, but how long things really take. I could manage the production and also understood how to do all the artwork. I was always in the trenches with the artists, focused on the technical side – that’s where pipeline solutions come in.
When problems arose, I was great at finding creative ways to solve the issue and move forward. I like to come up with solutions to get things done, but I also knew it was important to prove myself with my work. There’s no one right way to get things done, if you can find a fast way to complete a project and still produce nice artwork, that will make you valuable, and others will want to understand how you did it.
Communication is also crucial, to learn to be open and direct when working with different departments and personalities is a skill that takes practice. My studies in psychology also helped with understanding others, and communicating effectively. The human factor is very important for a Producer. When you take human emotions out of the equation and just look at the numbers, you miss an important part of the picture.
Becoming a producer came over time, and now there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
What is your favourite thing about what you do?
I love the combination of art and technology, meeting time and cost; it’s my job to make those factors communicate to create something special.
I like to build a pipeline based on numbers, and continuously evaluate where I can make improvements or streamline processes. I’m a problem solver! I constantly think about ‘how do I save money, get things done faster, and also keep the quality of the art?’ – producing is like a puzzle of art, technology, money, and people.
What are some of the projects that you’ve worked on?
The Princess and The Frog – I saw the concept art, and fell in love. Working with the Disney producers and executives on this project was amazing, everyone loved it and believed in it so much. It was around the time of Obama’s presidency, a great time for inclusion – the motivation and energy surrounding the project was something I’ve never experienced before.
They appreciated having a black woman working on the technical side of things too – they could ask me how I felt about how she looked, how she is represented, and I provided some feedback. It’s a great movie, I’ve watched it over 20 times.
Winnie the Pooh – This was done right after. It was a great film, but didn’t get the eyes on it that it deserved. That was the last Disney film done on paper, in the classical style of animation.
Proud Family movie – The studio I was working at was asked to take on 5 minutes of the ending of the movie, and asked if I could take it on. Mountains of artwork arrived at my house, and I produced everything in ToonBoom from my basement. I painted all the backgrounds for it too.
Are there any creative disciplines you do in your spare time?
I draw, and write a lot: short stories, movies, series… I love storytelling and turning them into animations. I am also passionate about diversity, and encouraging young Black women in particular to pursue their dreams.
I founded the Animation Lounge to give myself the freedom to create what I want, and to teach. I want to tell my own stories, and help others to tell theirs too – in particular young BIPIC who have a more difficult time getting their start in the animation industry.
At the Animation Lounge I can take on small projects with such artists, and mentor/guide them to produce it all themselves. It gives them practical experience producing projects, and they get content for their demo reels to help them get hired. Making something on your own is a lot of work, but is very rewarding.
This is a way to give students an opportunity that may have taken them years to get. Instead of waiting to join a production, just do it yourself – create it and put it on YouTube. If it’s great, someone will watch it!
Build your own opportunities – keep others motivated, learning/teaching software keeps my creative side happy. Make my own artwork. Its fun.
Mentoring and teaching young artists in under-served communities is very important to me. I try to be a neutral, ‘safe space’ to help artists build their own opportunities. I guide my younger students to understand what they’ll need to get into the right university or college program, and I work with my older students to find studio jobs in the industry.
Do you have a tip or piece of advice for aspiring animation artists or producers?
If you get an opportunity to get your foot in the door at a studio, BE THE BEST at what you do. Be awesome and let your work stand out.
I’ve had to help myself a lot along the way, and am completely self-taught. You can’t wait for others to give you opportunities. A lot more doors would have opened faster if I wasn’t a black woman. It’s hard to get a seat at the table, keep it, and be taken seriously, but thorough knowledge of the entire animation pipeline and a strong work ethic will help get you there.
Often artists have an entitled attitude, “I deserve to get this job because of x, y, z”. Don’t be entitled, be good – show them why you’re the best at what you do.
At the same time, you need to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is or if you are different. Everything we do is on screen – not in a portfolio – so it is very important to build up projects that you can add to your reel. That is what will get you hired.
Learn the animation pipeline, as much as possible.
Socialize and network – this industry is very social and interconnected, so get to know others and build relationships.
Always be curious and open to learning new things. To this day I am constantly learning, I like to teach myself new software for fun, give myself little projects to do. Stay up to date with trends and new technology too. Things are always changing.
A huge thank you to Sonya for taking the time to do this interview, and for all the hard work she puts in here at Industrial Brothers. Your combination of tech, art, and caring is an invaluable asset to our team.
Make sure to catch the premiere of her current project, Daniel Spellbound – coming to Netflix later this year!
To learn more about The Animation Lounge, check out this link.
You can also watch her recent short film that she produced,
We Imagine… Us: The Animated Series – Ep. 1 “Anahí’s Story” ,
available on YouTube.