Photo by Lou Noble
One of the greatest things about modern day animation is seeing just how big an influence female creators are having on the industry. From Natasha Allegri’s Bee and Puppycat series on Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover to Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe on Cartoon Network—and more recently Daron Nefcy’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil on Disney—women are pioneering a new generation of animated programming for kids and adults alike.
Among these rising stars, Julia Vickerman has been busy blazing her own trail. In addition to serving as a Storyboard Artist on the upcoming PowerPuff Girls reboot, Vickerman has also directed her first pilot, Twelve Forever, for Cartoon Network which just hit YouTube and has been taking aspiring animators by storm. Today, we’re lucky enough to be joined by the Los Angeles-based artist as she dishes on her origins as an animator and what it’s like taking on one of the most influential pieces of animation of the last millennium.
Welcome to the clubhouse, Julia, thanks for being here.
JULIA VICKERMAN: Thanks for hitting me up!
Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to become an animator.
JV: I’ve been working in animation for about 9 years, [but] I’ve wanted to make comics and animation since I was a small child. I’ve always drawn and wrote stories and made comics for myself just for the fun of it. My father signed me up for an animation course when I was 13, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so that was my first experience getting to see my drawings move. It was pre-digital – we drew on paper and shot everything with a VHS camera (that’s how old I am!). It clearly had a huge impact, I remember being ecstatic about the process even though I wasn’t particularly “good” at it yet.
JV: I’ve worked on various live action projects as well as animation, including the preschool show Yo Gabba Gabba for Nick Jr. I’m attracted to both paths, there is an energy that exists on a live action set that is indescribably exciting. But of course the freedom that comes with animation is equally exciting in a different way. I think sometimes animation is more attractive to me because of the amount of control the filmmaker has over every aspect of it. My honest answer is that I love both equally. Variety is the spice of life, and all that.
People usually see animation as a male-dominated environment: How was it for you when you first started?
JV: Definitely in my first few jobs, I would often be one of the only women working in a room of men. But that is, thankfully, becoming a much rarer situation. Animation studios dominated by men will soon be a thing of the past, as there are larger waves of young talented women, with brilliance to share, entering the industry every year. Women are getting a lot more support in positions of creative power nowadays. It’s an exciting time, for sure.
Twelve Forever is quite an amazing pilot. What was your inspiration for creating this short?
JV: Thank you! I wanted to make a story that encapsulates how I felt when I was a burgeoning adolescent… it’s a confusing age when some of your peers couldn’t be more excited about becoming teenagers and getting boyfriends/girlfriends, whereas some other kids still have their heels dug into a “childish” escapist mindset and are still secretly playing with toys when they think no one’s looking. I wanted to make a story about the kids that would rather live inside books and shows and fantasies rather than embrace their burgeoning maturity—the awkward kids that still dream about being superheroes, rather than being in the homecoming court.
I noticed an influence of PowerPuff Girls and anime—with the manly voice of the scary Butt Witch, the big eyes, quirky expressions and design of the characters—were there specific pieces of animation you would say inspires your work?
JV: When developing Twelve Forever I spent a lot of time watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse, looking at Moebius illustrations and listening to Flock of Seagulls… I’m inspired by tons of stuff.
In terms of animation, I definitely watched a lot of 80s and 90s anime growing up and adored it, but also obsessed over Disney features, Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World, the animated Hobbit and things like that.
Speaking of PowerPuff Girls, I understand you are working on the new series reboot. Can you tell us more about it? Are Craig McCraken and Lauren Faust involved in the project and, if so, are they as awesome as everyone imagine?
JV: Yes, I’m a storyboard artist on the new Powerpuff Girls series. It’s great because we get so much creative freedom to explore this established world while adding our own signature to it. Our crew is so fun and positive, I adore being around them everyday.
Craig and Lauren are not involved in the new series, but I hope they enjoy it when it’s done.
What do you think have been the greatest challenge for you to go into the world of animation, both personal and professional?
JV: Greatest challenge… hmmmm… I’m really not sure. It’s very time-consuming making animation but making kids entertainment is all I want to do, so even when it’s challenging it’s the good kind of challenging.
What advice would you give to all the young and not so young aspiring artists and writers who want to go into the world of animation?
JV: Make things. Don’t overthink it. Don’t wait for anyone to teach you how to do anything the “right way”. The “wrong way” is sometimes a whole lot more interesting.
If you want to get into animation but don’t have access to the software, MAKE COMICS! All you need is paper and pencil. Making loads of terrible comics helps you figure out storytelling solutions. Sometimes you have to screw up a lot before you figure out what works for you personally.
And now for the signature Strange Kids Club question… what’s the stangest thing you can remember doing as a Kid?
JV: I took a dump behind a sign in my neighborhood and would go back every day to write down what happened to the poop as it deteriorated. That’s probably not what you’re looking for, but… oh well.