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Artist Interview:

CIERRA WILEY

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Disney TVA - Signing Animation - Cartoon Network

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What is your job title?

I am a character designer but also a storyboard/illustrator when I can. Essentially my job as a character designer is to figure out what they’re looking for a.k.a. putting a face to the idea. “

What has been your favorite project to date?

“I am currently working with them, it’s called “Signing Animation”.

 Signing Animation is an animation studio primarily focused on telling the stories of people who are Deaf or Hard Of Hearing. We are currently working on a short film and I am doing character design in creative leading. It has been a ridiculous amount of fun.”

Signing Animation mission statement: Signing Animation is a non-profit animation studio which was formed to hire Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing talent into the film industry to tell stories featuring Deaf culture. We recognize the longstanding disparity on both sides of the camera when it comes to Deaf representation, and we believe that accurate representation must happen in the crew first, then in the story itself. American Sign Language requires whole-body communication as well as high-level social and emotional awareness; Deaf/HoH individuals are uniquely well-suited to the field of animation, and our goal is to retain and promote Deaf/HoH talent so that the entire industry can benefit from our skills. Integrated crews are stronger, and our work is our proof.

 

What does your typical work week look like?

“I have a full-time job in production at Disney. My job is essentially to make sure the animation happens and goes smoothly. Organization is a huge part of it. I also am there for support of the artists and anything they may need help with.

I consider Disney to be my 9-5 job and then I typically would go home care for my son until he goes to bed then I spend the rest of my time drawing and creating!”

“Though it is a lot of work in this industry and being a mother it’s worth it because you get to see your work come to life.”


 

Did you always want to be an artist? Or in production?

“I have always wanted to be an artist. My whole childhood I was obsessed with animation and comics. When I lived in Arizona for 10 years there was a period of time I lived off of my art doing acrylics and watercolor. Though I loved it, the work can be inconsistent. So eventually I moved to LA in 2014 because this is where lots of animation work is and that was my next goal.” 

 

What inspires your work?

“I’ve never had a time in my life where I wasn’t drawing. I take inspiration from almost anything and everything. An overriding aspect of it has always been human interaction, people’s small mannerisms and their expressions, what makes them...THEM! People-watching will give me lots of inspiration. I like to get into all the little details that bring a character to life.” 

 

What is it like working at Disney?

 “I work specifically at Disney T.V. Animation and on site they do everything to make everyone feel very involved. It’s always warm and friendly. From the start, everyone was encouraged to interact with each other and there were lots of communal spaces. It can get stressful work wise but they create a good environment and there’s an excellent balance between stress and fun.” 

 

How did you get the opportunity to work there?

First you need to be okay with getting a million rejections all the time, from everyone. But keep applying. Even getting a rejection or an answer at all is good. I balance between an employee at Disney and an animator at a different company. Take all the jobs you can get and get that experience. It will help you get whatever your dream job is later.”

 

How do you stay positive through all those rejections?

“Personally it’s the understanding that I will always eventually be good enough. I already know that I can draw. I just need to learn how to draw that particular thing better. And if it takes me two years of drawing the same thing over and over again then I will do that. Because if I’m going to draw anyways I might as well draw with a purpose.” 

 

How did you get started with The Proud Family and for how long?

“It originally started September 2019. I was contacted by Disney for their PA Placement Program. I was so excited! I had applied to a lot of artists positions but never heard anything back. But at some point it made its way to the Artist Recruitment for the PA position. And then I was in The Elena of Avalor Crew doing a temp job. And then when I was reaching the end of that they decided that they liked me and my work and I made it into other shows like The Proud Family and I’ve been with them since January 2020.” 

 

What is it like being a woman in the industry?

“ I can only talk based on my experience and not having a college background in the industry. The most school I have ever done was community college. When I entered Animation I was in my late 20s and when creating and figuring my portfolio out I joined a group called Women in Animation. An amazing group who would host a lot of talks in studio reviews. Another amazing group is Black Women Animate.

(You can find their information here:  https://www.bwastudios.com/ )

Obviously you still see the industry being dominated by older white males but the industry is changing. I personally have not experienced anything negative in that regard. My negative experiences had more to do with my lack of conventional education. It all depends on who you come into contact with. All sorts of people exist in animation. It’s just a matter of meeting the right people at the right time.”

 

What’s something you’d say to those who feel it’s necessary to have a degree? (A lot of people feel college isn’t right for them.. and that’s okay!)

“It’s definitely a different barrier. College more than anything gives you connections. You meet the people who are going to be in the industry later. That and learning how to make a portfolio is in my opinion the most important aspect of college. However lots of portfolios are now very generalized. That’s not what studios are always looking for. I've had to go through them myself as well. Specifically in animation with no educational background, find the one thing you like to do and stick with it. Either that’s drawing items, or props, or backgrounds, or characters There’s so many options, for all of those things. With your portfolio, show the thing you want to do for the job you are applying for. If you’re not sure how to create what they are looking for, find an artist or a mentor that you can take examples from.” 


 

What are some of your current goals?

“Well no matter what, as long as I’m making art I will be happy. However a full-time designer at Disney would be fantastic or working on a feature would be amazing too! Of course I would love to make my own art. As much as I love production- more than anything I love to draw. I am an artist.”

 

What are some obstacles you face as an artist?

“ There are so many artists a decade younger than me that are so talented, and there's always going to be that moment that you’re like oh no I am so old and everything they make appears so flawless, am I not cut out for this anymore. It’s experiencing a little imposter syndrome. But I think what calms me down is everyone has a different term for success and we all have different paths. You can’t let that moment of panic kill you.” 

 

What’s some advice you would give to newer artists looking for direction?

Well in animation even if you don’t draw, there are positions in production or as a writer. You are going to be spending a lot of time creating and making work that is not yours or your style. You have to be OK with that. If you are only interested in telling your story and not anything else then you’re going to have a very hard time in the industry. The job is a team of people coming together to tell a single story that’s not always yours. But if you want to help people find their voice through your art then that will help you a lot as an artist.” 

 

Memorable comments:

“ You don’t have to be perfect at everything, especially in character design, have three things that you have down and don’t be afraid to branch out.”

“ It is most important to be versatile.”