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Today we are thrilled to feature an interview conducted by WIT’s own Shercole King, as she sat with animation specialist Deborah Anderson, to talk about her journey in to a career in tech, the state of minority inclusion & technology accessibility and her work as a local mentor and community advocate:
Deborah Anderson, a local treasure to the technology community took some time to sit down with Women in Tech and let us in on her world and thoughts as an Animator. She is a personal shero of mine, because of her dedication to her craft as well as being apart of the community to build opportunities and resources and just give back to New Orleans. From Deborah, we get a sense of the importance of sharing your talents, honing your skills and building a better future.
Early Tech Interactions
My earliest interaction with technology was in middle school. I’m not sure if it was doing Language Arts assignments and playing Oregon Trail on those teal and white boxy Macs at school or using my dad’s computer at home, but I remember it being around 7th or 8th grade. My introduction to my current field wasn’t until 12th grade. I was about to become an electrical engineer until I found animation.
I was always good at math and art, so throughout my childhood, I would cycle through careers that highlighted one or the other, such as architect, industrial engineer, etc. My junior and senior year of high school, I did dual enrollment and took an animation class at the end of my senior year. That’s how I discovered animation. It was a good mesh of the creative and analytical. I attended Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY and initially was getting a BA in Film/Video/Animation and ended up getting a BS in Multidisciplinary Studies (Film, Computer Graphics, Art).
My first job in my industry was in South Korea as a 3D Artist and I got to work on Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Batman: The Brave and The Bold, and Scooby Doo. When I came back to America, I worked at TurboSquid in New Orleans and now I am an Animation Specialist for Louisiana Economic Development – FastStart.
Access to Animation
There are multiple options for access to animation. Some possible jobs are storyboard artist, concept artist, 3D modeler, 3D animator, visual effects artist and more. What you need is dependent on what you’re interested in so if you want to be a storyboard artist, you need a pencil and paper. If you want to be a 3D animator, you need a computer and the program of your choice. One thing that is important is flexibility and troubleshooting skills. You have to be able to “figure stuff out”. Some of these programs are so expansive that you’ll never know everything they are capable of, but if you can figure it out, you’ll be a step above the rest. Something I want to make sure my students know is that no matter what 3D program you learn, the most important thing you come away with is the skill set. Don’t be afraid to apply for a job because it doesn’t use the program you are familiar with. All you’re doing is learning new tools and navigation. You already possess the core knowledge you need to succeed.
My barriers have come mostly from location. I would prefer to stay in New Orleans and work in animation, but that is not consistent with the amount of job opportunities available. If I had made closer connections in college, I could have gone to California and had some roommates, but I like New Orleans, so I’m trying to make it work here.
State of Minority Inclusion in Technology
Specific to animation, I think minority inclusion is growing, but I think it would be beneficial to expose more people to animation in general to get even better diversity. A good amount of the time, even though people are black or some other minority, they still have the same “personality” as their white counterparts. Everyone plays the same video games, watches the same TV shows, has the same type of humor, etc. So sometimes, there’s still not that different perspective being added.
Something that I am trying to do right now is learn a program called Blender. It’s an open source program which means that it’s free. My reach of trying to teach more people (kids and adults) animation will be extended once I learn it because money is a barrier to a lot of people for a lot of things. If I can teach people a program that won’t cost them thousands of dollars above possessing a laptop or a desktop computer, that can expose more people to animation and increase the diversity of the projects out there. It doesn’t help that Blender is one of the most counter-intuitive programs I have ever used, but I will definitely be pushing forward for the greater good. Hopefully, I will be able to team up with community organizations that provide access to computers and can help expose a lot of New Orleans and Louisiana to animation.
I think it’s important to give back because we have access to knowledge that people need. Knowledge is truly power. If I hadn’t been “smart” growing up, I would have never found animation. Because I did well on the PSAT and did dual enrollment, I was able to discover the thing that would mesh my creative and analytical sides together. There are so many people in my industry that are trying to make a video game or trying to make a movie, but my mission is to try and make animators.
After doing an animation workshop for the 100 Black Men mentorship program, someone in attendance reached out to me about becoming a Merit Badge Counselor for one of the local troops. As a lot of people know, the Boy Scouts have multiple badges that can be earned. They recently added badges for animation, programming and other modern topics. I’m doing multiple sessions on animation so they can get their Animation Merit Badge.
What is the most influential piece of advice you ever got?
“Don’t you have a degree in animation?” That was a reminder to stay on the path I actually wanted to succeed in. I was in Korea and thinking about doing a second year as an English teacher and one of my friends posed that question to me. My response? “Oh yeah!!” So as opposed to staying in the dreamland that was teaching English in Korea, I started trying to figure out how to get my start in animation…finally. You can read more about that HERE.
My advice would be to make sure you’re pursuing something because you’re interested in it and not because it’s the new trend or because it’s going to make you a lot of money. Also, if you’re in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of people that look like you or have your same background, persevere through it and try to have a hand in making sure more of the people like you have access to the same knowledge that you have. A lot of people don’t pursue something because 1) they don’t know about it or 2) they don’t see anyone like them doing it so they assume it’s not possible.