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Female VFX Talents Celebrate International Women’s Day in the Age of #MeToo

A diverse group of nine female creative professionals working at Pixomondo share their career histories, motivations and insights from navigating a male-led industry.

Nine women from international design studio Pixomondo who shared their histories, motivations and insights for this story: (Top row, L-R) Adela Baborova, Jennifer Friedman, Jenne Guerra and Divya Gupta. (Bottom row, L-R) Tricia Kim, Stella Ying Li, Gayle Munro, Kristin Patterson and Anna Seidl.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, AWN is pleased to share with readers the stories of nine women, all visual effects professionals working at the international visual design and special effects studio Pixomondo, who have excelled in a difficult, highly competitive segment of the entertainment industry, a historically notorious “boys club” dominated by men, not just in positions of creative production but in creative leadership as well.

VFX production is a tireless, grueling business, half sprint, half marathon and half tug of war. Calling it relentless is like referring to a tornado as a gentle breeze. Exacting attention to visual details, crushing deadlines, razor thin profit margins… and that’s on a good day. Career longevity means a steady diet of patience, perseverance and dedication. Especially for women.

Talk to women working in animation and VFX and you get a sense that while the industry has made significant strides of late in addressing historic disparities in the number of jobs, as well as compensation levels and decision-making roles afforded to women as opposed to men, there is still a long way to go in eliminating gender bias at all levels of the workforce, let alone addressing additional steps needed to make workplaces safe and free from all forms of bias and harassment. The prevailing sentiment seems to be: “Things are much better than they used to be. But, so much more must be done.” Expertise in creating all manner of stunning, touching and funny imagery hasn’t immunized the industry from suffering through its share of ugly #MeToo moments. The pictures have not always been shiny and pretty.

And the numbers paint a pretty dismal picture as well. According to Women in Animation, more than 60% of all animation and art school students are women, while only 20% of the creative jobs are held by women. With a stated organizational goal of 50/50 equal gender employment levels by 2025, Women in Animation’s ongoing efforts to positively influence, encourage and lead industry change, to address head-on stark gender inequality, shows both the courage of their convictions as well as the uphill battle they face. While there are many reasons more women don’t take up careers in animation and visual effects, the historic lack of an industry embrace, as well as the fear of an unwanted one, are certainly factors.

As one of the industry’s leading creative studios, Pixomondo maintains a diversified portfolio of business activities which includes feature films, episodic, gaming, themed entertainment, previz and virtual reality, as well as the development and creation of innovative original concepts. It has won three Emmys for its dragon work on Game of Thrones and an Academy Award for its VFX work on Martin Scorsese Hugo. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the company has facilities in six cities: Canada’s Toronto and Vancouver, Germany’s Frankfurt and Stuttgart, and China’s Beijing and Shanghai.

According to Pixomondo COO Sara Mustafa, “Pixomondo has always been gender neutral when it comes to our hiring process. We don’t give special treatment to women, but we certainly give them fair treatment! And that’s what each woman strives for - a fair chance and opportunity in a predominately male industry. We also have female mentors and role models at the studios and partake in events such as ‘Women in VFX and Media.’ We believe it’s important for all our artists - in particular female artists - to flourish and expand on their talents.”

Participating in this story are a group of nine women from the studio, who have volunteered their histories, motivations and insights:

  • Adela Baborova, Associate VFX Producer (Vancouver)

  • Jennifer Friedman, previs artist and animator (Los Angeles)

  • Jenne Guerra, Head of Production / VFX Supervisor (Vancouver)

  • Divya Gupta, compositor (Los Angeles)

  • Tricia Kim, Matchmove Supervisor (Toronto)

  • Stella Ying Li, Executive Producer (Beijing)

  • Gayle Munro, VFX Producer (Vancouver)

  • Kristin Patterson, VFX Producer (Toronto)

  • Anna Seidl, VFX / VR Producer (Stuttgart)

Adela Baborova, Associate VFX Producer.

Their roles at the studio are as different as their individual backgrounds, though as VFX professionals, they all share a passion for visual entertainment, working with other talented artists and dedicating themselves to continued learning and personal development.

In describing her job as a compositor, Gupta points out, “I am the last one to touch the shots before they leave the VFX studio. I integrate various elements like live-action footage, computer generated footage, effects and artist renditions into a seamless video. The finished product gives the illusion of reality blurring real life with fantasy.”

For Friedman, being a previs artist and animator means she helps visualize a film's narrative through camera and character animation, mapping out composition, lens, character position and action. “I enjoy being part of a creative team that works together through the previsualization process,” she explains. “It's challenging and exciting to be part of the early stages of a film because it allows for a lot of creativity.

Li reveals her job requires being a good observer and communicator. “As an executive producer, you have to learn the market in-depth through close interactions with industry people. Observing market trends helps me better judge how to meet the needs of clients. I also have to keep constant communication with all our teams to troubleshoot any problems and prepare them for the market.”

Kim adds her job as a matchmove supervisor entails “a sense of translation, rotation and scale with an addition of ‘patience.’” She has developed a “good working knowledge about physical cameras and lenses, as well as a solid understanding of both 2D and 3D environments, and the importance of how other departments use our CG cameras and virtual sets.”

Jenne Guerra, Head of Production / VFX Supervisor.