On August 20, we had a wonderful, uplifting mentorship zoom meeting with the producers of "Hair Love" and several mentees from the FTW community. Read our mentor bios, watch the full session, and read the full transcript below!
And as a bonus treat, check out our interview with the animators behind some of animation's biggest shows, where they give you extra tips on carving your dream career in animation.
Carl Reed is an Academy Award winning producer, who serves as Polarity’s Chief Creative Officer and President of Lion Forge Animation.
As President of Lion Forge Animation (LFA), Carl jointly oversees the studio’s film, television and digital units. He directs LFA’s robust production and distribution practices as well as establishes and cultivates relationships with key creators and industry partners. The company is credited for producing the Hair Love short film, distributed by Sony Pictures Animation, and winner for “Best Animated Short” in the 2020 Academy Awards.
Carl’s career includes 20 years in media creation. Over the course of his career, Carl has worked with high-profile clients to produce a variety of different types of content, from comic books to broadcast animated series, toys and videogames. He has worked with clients such as Disney, MTV, Spin Master Toys, Warner Media, Global TV (Canada), Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and more. Alongside founder David Steward II, Carl co-founded Lion Forge LLC in 2011, with a focus on leading creative operations. Some of his many roles at Lion Forge have included overseeing editorial and production; establishing and serving as president of the B2B services sister company, Lion Forge Labs; and his current role establishing and leading the efforts of Lion Forge Animation.
David Steward II
David Steward, II is an Academy Award-winning producer who owns and operates multiple companies with a mission of creating, discovering, and highlighting multicultural and diverse content in the entertainment industry.
In 2018, Steward founded Polarity, a holding company to oversee the operations of a portfolio of companies. The companies offer an array of content offerings including graphic novels and comics, animated television, streaming and cinematic features, and gaming. Key portfolio companies include Oni Lion Forge Publishing Group (the merged entity of The Lion Forge and the twenty-year comic book publisher Oni Press), the European publishing house Magnetic Press, the original content developer Illustrated Syndicate, the animation studio Lion Forge Animation, and Lion Forge Labs.
In 2019, Polarity launched the Lion Forge Animation Studio, credited for producing the Hair Love short film, distributed by Sony Pictures Animation, and winner for “Best Animated Short” in the 2020 Academy Awards. Additionally, this new entity has partnerships in the works to highlight animators of color, and an ever-growing stable of properties under the Lion Forge banner.
The entertainment portfolio started with the founding of The Lion Forge, LLC, the St. Louis-based publisher in 2011. Before merging with Oni Press, the company published comics and graphic novels with a mission to create content for everyone, regardless of gender identity, ethnicity, or cultural background – a mission which is still maintained at Oni Lion Forge Publishing Group. The company boasted multiple publishing accolades. The first original graphic novel Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven was nominated for three Glyph Awards, as well as the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity, and Lighter Than My Shadow was voted the 2017 Graphic Novel of the Year by Amazon. The benefit collection, Puerto Rico Strong, brought home the company’s first Eisner Award in 2019 in the “Best Anthology Comic” category. Across multiple imprints and formats that has included licensed properties like DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender, original works from top independent creators, and the original and all-inclusive Catalyst Prime superhero universe, Lion Forge has published something for every level of comic book fan, young and old.
Before starting Lion Forge, David founded and operated Photographx.com. Started in 2000, the company grew from a photography solutions provider into a multimedia company providing photography, filmmaking, animation and design to its clients. Steward has also worked as a film producer for a Christian media company based in Los Angeles, and later formed and managed The Chi Rho Group, a “traditional” private equity organization focused on making acquisitions in consumer packaged goods, technology, and media & entertainment.
David graduated Magna Cum Laude from American University in 1998 with a B.S.B.A. in International Marketing. In addition David served as an executive board member for the local chapter of the Habitat for Humanity. He is a current board member of the St. Louis public media outlet, The Nine Network, and the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.
Tara Aquino (Moderator): Hi everyone. And thank you for joining us for Free The Work Connects. If you're just getting familiar, Free The Work is a nonprofit global initiative and talent discovery platform for underrepresented creators. Right now as a disclaimer, We've got to say the views and opinions of the guests do not necessarily state or reflect those Free The Work . Today joining us from Lion Forge Entertainment is the Academy Award winning producers, Carl Reed, and David Steward. Carl and David I'd love it if you could introduce yourselves and you know, a little bit about your journey.
David Steward II: My name is David Steward. Been partnered with Carl for the last 10 years. Although our relationship goes back to about 2002, actually him and I talk about 18 years, which is kinda crazy, but, you know, kind of my journey started, actually with kind of photography. And I had a passion for that in high school, kind of carried over throughout college. Although I kind of changed a little bit, of course there, I got my business degree in international marketing, but then went back and got some photography certification up in the DC area, which is where I went to school at American University. And from there kind of start out with my passion. Again, it was around photography, production work. I connected with Carl in St. Louis. He was doing a time animation and website design, some other things. So we actually came together for a few years and worked together in a kind of creative agency. Then I got a job opportunity to produce some film out in LA back in 2006 and soon afterwards, Carl went out and worked in the animation industry. So my journey in the production was very short lived. Unfortunately, I connected with a company that didn't quite work out so. So I was there for about eight months. And then I went back to St. Louis, got into of all things, private equity for a little bit, and did some work with consumer products and kind of learn the ropes about that. And, you know, selling goods in the, you know, class of trades, Walmart, Walgreens, that sort of thing, and got into the advertising marketing of that. And then in 2010, we sold the company and Carl was coming back to St. Louis and we connected again, started Lion Forge, initially started as a cow foot company and saw some opportunities there in the digital space to produce digital comics. Initially started there and then soon afterwards we built a print infrastructure and we were publishing upwards about 120 titles a year. And then along the way we acquired, 2016 acquired Magnetic Press, which was doing international, bringing foreign reprint publishing to the US and translating it and putting out to markets. So we acquired that in 2016. And then last year we acquired another company called I'm sorry. Sorry. Thank you. The Oni Press. So it's a 20 year old comic book company. Kind of most known for things like Scott Pilgrim the comic book that became Atomic Blonde as well as, excuse me, if you guys watch Stumptown on ABC. The book is in that catalog as well. And so merging those two companies and, you know, versus us. And that's what we done on the comic book side of things. And, you know, along the way too, a couple of years ago, we started a little company called Lion Forge Animation, which is kind of what we're here to talk about today. Lion Forge Animation was really kind of a, step forward for us as we're in the comic book industry, there was, you know, a number of opportunities to kind of presented itself in terms of, you know, taking that content and, you know, people wanted it to produce movies and television shows off of that. But as Hollywood goes, you know, when you're at someone else's producing mercy, you know, things may or may not happen. And so we decided after kind of dealing with that back and forth, after a few years, we were like, well, you know, we have the inherent capability. Carl had experienced in animation. We kept those pipelines open and we were actually using some of those animation pipelines to produce comics at the time. And so we leveraged that to create Lion Forge Animation and, you know, start off, you know, creating our own content. And along came a little project called Hair Love that was brought to our attention. And we saw an opportunity to produce that, but also, you know, give a creator, a voice, you know, and a voice that was unhampered and by, you know, the kind of the studio system and, you know, we got behind that project, produced it and, you know, low and behold, we got a Academy Award for it. So we're very proud of that project because it very much speaks to kind of the tenants of our organization. When we started Lion Forge comics, we had a motto called comics for everyone. And that was about, you know, creating a wide variety of different genres in comics, but in that wanting to make sure that we had diversity and diverse representation and the creative teams as well. And so we couldn't create diverse comments without having a diverse, authentic voices, you know, to behind that. And so same thing in animation for us, you know, if we're gonna have different characters portrayed, we wanted to make sure that we had, you know, representative voices behind that. And Hair Love kind of really speaks to that you know. It's about a Black family, we have Black creators on board with that project and you get that authenticity again, unhampered by kind of a studio, the studio system, studio notes and those sorts of things. And so it's not only a voice that, you know, we felt very strong about and kind of showed representation to, you know, African American audiences, but it really socializes well, the African American experience too, you know, everyone really, and kind of in that too, you see kind of ties that go amongst communities as well. So, you know, in that, you know, in terms of feedback, that was not only hearing from, you know, African American families, but also I was hearing from people outside the African American community that happened to have curly hair that responded to it, or remember their dad, you know, and their relationship with their dad and doing their hair and stuff like that. And so it was very great moment where we can kind of really call it sauce, immunity, and kind of coming together, you know, amongst the project, which was really special for us. So I probably talked too much. Carl, do you want to talk about your background and stuff?
Carl Reed: Sure. So I've been around this guy for a long time, so a lot of it will be the same. So I'll skip over the parts. I started out, got into illustration and comic art pretty early on and was an artist for comic books. Myself, my brother, and a couple of other people in St. Louis decided, hey, you know, we're doing this, you know, we're making some money at it, let's start our own agency. And so we started a company called Mach One and we kept that moving forward and expand it out of comics to not just illustration into design and development and animation. And the interesting part was that, you know, being in the Midwest, it was pretty interesting because while we were entertainment focused and we were creating stories and illustration and animation, it just wasn't that much of an industry. And so we wound up, you know, doing more website design and marketing design and things like that. And illustration for like toys and things like that. So, but one thing that it did was provide us a very wide breadth of experience. So we were pretty much able to do a lot. And because of that, you know, as Dave mentioned, when I went out to LA, a little intimidated to come out, cause I'm like, you know what I'm thinking of all the animators that I know, because they're big animators and I'm thinking to myself like, okay, I have to really just buckle down and try hard and you get there and you realize, everybody's super specialized. And so I'm like, I can do that and I can do this and I can do that. And so it helped because one of the cycles of production, if you guys don't already know, is that when there is a season or when there's a film or when there's a project, there's an entire team and everybody's happy and have them flowing. But as soon as the season is over, as soon as the film is done, there's tears and everyone has to part to the next project, just it's the nature of the business. But because I was able to have wide variety of skills, I stayed on at the same company for a great long time. And so I got to have many different roles, not just from, I started off doing illustration and animation and design, and even got to kind of oversee projects, went to game design and development and a whole lot of things, which kind of prepared me for coming back to St. Louis to what Dave mentioned, and being ready for Lion Forge, and to help found Lion Forge. So as we did that, one thing to note was that, we were probably the most prominent Black comic company and still are the largest Black owned comic book company, I would say in a world. And we've figured out really quickly that it's the same in animation. You know, we started up in late 2018 with the animation and we went to the markets and the conferences and realized that it's not a whole lot of us out there. So we kinda took the exact same mission and mind state from the comic side, which is all about diversity and new voices to bring out more out of content, not just because it's a good thing, but it's also kind of a preemptive advantage because we're creating content with a perspective that is not as seen. And so we'll feel fresh and different from that's our premise. And so in comics in 2011, there was very few comics and comics artists, and comics writers of color. And since then, it's kinda blossomed and people have started to see the need for it. And also that the content is as diverse as the creative and in the same vein, we're in this kind of moment right now, where entertainment is going through those same changes. And so we're just happy to be in the game at this point where we're able to really further our goals and get the content out that we're excited about because of it. And our mission is we create content that challenges expectation and reflects the diversity of our audience. And so we try to approach every pride project with that in mind. From Hair Love to Bug Tron and Chippy Hood that we're doing with Imagine to other projects that we have in the works. It all comes from a sense of that mission and that moving forward.
TA (Moderator): Awesome. You know, I want you guys to have as much time to ask me questions as possible. So I'm gonna open the floor up to questions. We can either go around. What I see on a screen, unless someone wants to go first. But I asked that before you asked your question, you introduce who you are, your creative background and what you're hoping to learn from animation or get from this session. So does anyone want to go for go first?
Erin Li (Mentee): I'll go first. Hi everyone. My name is Erin Li. I'm a director based in LA. I grew up in New Jersey and actually today, just coincidentally, my sci-fi short drops on Amazon prime as part of the hard collectives, the theory, genre collective series that it's all directed by women. And my short is called Kepler X 47, about a woman trapped in a human zoo exhibit on an alien planet. And it's inspired by my experiences on Wall Street pursuing a flawed American dream, but I'm super excited to learn about animation. I have not worked in animation before, but I feel like a lot of filmmakers, especially right now. Like, we don't know when we're gonna be back on set. And I love telling stories about science fiction, like really big fantastical world. And I feel like a lot of us are starting to think about working with animators and, you know, in the graphic novel field. And I was just wondering if you have any advice on like first time directors working with animation. I don't know if Matthew Cherry had worked with animation before. And just wondering if you have any tips about that.
CR: Matthew had not worked in animation before, he came from a live action background. And so there were a few other directors on the project as well. And so one thing that I would recommend is to bring on a co-director or folks specialized in animation because while you know, the director's vision doesn't change and ultimately it should be what you want. And the final piece getting there is very different. So, you know, also just the understanding of the pipeline and what assets you have at your disposal and what to change for what result, you know, there's things you're not lighting a scene. So you go through, what's called a color script to set the tone and make sure that the lighting and the colors are what you want. And so understanding the tools and what each phase means to the pipeline, that'll help you become accustomed to animation. And this super for me. it's like, what if you could make the movie that you always wanted with an unlimited budget for special effects, and you mentioned space and everything, you can do whatever you want and space without injuring anyone or any pets. So definitely a lot of the limits of animation are kind of imposed by our society. You know, if you're a fan of manga and anime, you know, you can make a film or a animated TV show about anything and like a lawyer or a golfer. And if you do it right, it's a compelling, it's heartwarming, it is emotional, it teaches a message, it can be as impactful as live action and everything else.
DS: And to echo some of Carl's points. You know, I think one of the important things about the medium is that, you know, you can, you know, do whatever you want, you know, you can kind of get, and also get the exact results that you want. There are no limitations. When you're a live action film set, you're juggling so many things, and you're getting basically in our approximation of what your vision is. Cause you know, day goes wrong. Budgets, you know, actor has a bad day, all that stuff kinda really starts to affect, you know, what results you're gonna get, you know, in this meeting where I can tell you, I mean, you're getting kind of closest to exactly what you want as possible in a lot of ways, which is, you know, I find, you know, very refreshing, you know, also to goes other earlier point as well, you know finding, directing partners to be able to manage the process and help you through that process, especially going through them the first time will save you a lot. There's a lot, I mean, even on the Hollywood side of things, when big studios, you know, picks up animated projects, those budget overruns are like insane a lot of times because you know, a lot of it's attributable to the studio, execs themselves, not fully understanding the animation process and going back to the well again and again and again, for things that they should make notes on earlier in the process, you know? And so it's essentially, what if I told you to cut kind of movie, you know, send it to me and then I'll give you edits for reshoots. You have to go back to the table and reshoot sections of the movie, you know, over and over and over again, you know, those budget overruns are going to be crazy. And that's why you see a lot of those, you know, big Hollywood, you know, budgets, you know, up in the 40, $50 million, you know, range plus, you know, for some of this stuff. And so especially, you know, being a new to this, I know we all are budget conscious, you know, we're producing our projects. I know we are because at the end of the day, this is the, you know, entertainment business. So when I keep the budget as low as possible and, you know, being able to sell it as high as possible right. And keeping that Delta in mind. And so, you know, I think that that's definitely, you know, kind of critically important, but also, you know, in that making sure a person's working, you know, and understand your vision as well. And you guys, you know, work well within that, you know, cause personalities and everything else have to, you know, kind of very mesh and practice as they do with any kind of creative endeavor as well.
CR: You know, David mentioned one thing when he was talking about budgets, it's critical that you understand the story before you start animation. And so the story art storyboard phase is so important. You know, you can change things on a movie set, you know, if it's not exactly, if you do a storyboard phase and it doesn't have to exactly match. It's critical that you have in an animatic and a storyboard phase that is as close as you can get to what you want. There's gonna be some changes, but those changes are costly after that phase.
EL (Mentee): Awesome, thank you.
TA (Moderator): Does anyone want to go next?
Heather Muriel Nguyen (Mentee): I can go next. Hey, I'm Heather, I'm a Vietnamese queer filmmaker, actor, director, writer. I've done several films with a woman of color leads, experiencing different mental health conditions and different kind of different stories across the LGBTQ spectrum. I'm interested in starting or continuing investigating conversations with like studio execs and people all across the industry ladder and seeing kind of like what the excuses or barriers are to actually casting BIPOC or because I see a lot of pledges and really awesome databases, but people, I talk to still say that either they can't find talent of color or that they are interested in diversity, but actually they don't actually pursue like BIPOC stories. And the question I have is, I think Dave mentioned this a little bit before about how having your own studio, you have more power. So I was curious to, like, I know like Catalyst Prime has really awesome BIPOC characters who are like Daniel and Kayla who are very specifically like Mexican American or Black. And I was wondering if there was a possibility if like Catalyst Prime was adapted to TV, What would the conversation be in trying to preserve like their identities from their source material?
DS: I think a lot of that, and again, you trade off creative as with anything, you know, when you go into a deal with whoever your distributors or whomever your partners, you know, so unfortunately in the entertainment industry, it's like whoever is bringing the money is going to have a certain amount of say so in that, and the amount of say so that, you know, if you're just bringing creative and they're bringing all the money, the way that the power dynamic shifts a lot of times is your popularity. So your popularity and your proven track record, you know, provides more assurance for that process. And they typically will give you them more leeway, you know, from a creative process. So it's kind of that balance. And so what I was saying with Matthew. Well we produced, but we also funded that project outside of Sony.
CR: And so in the Kickstarter that they did.
DS: Right and the Kickstarter as well. And so that, you know, was outside of Sony's purvey. So, you know, while they agreed to distribute that project, you know, and they wanted to see, you know, the final results and they were looking at it, but they didn't really, you know, have a big hand in that creative process. Now, if they were funding it, it would have been a different story. There would have been an executive on board to kind of oversee through that. So when you're talking about kind of, you know, maintaining the intensity, part of it is, you know, how much control can you, Raymond. You, either due to the money, and resources that you're bringing to the table, to the project to get it done, as well as kind of your kind of track record and your let's say cloud status as well as you bringing to the project as well. And so, you know, we are looking at one of the characters to turn into the animation right now. We're kind of in development on that early stages. And then that, yes, we're absolutely, you know, want to maintain that person's, you know, identity, you know, and the process. And we want to, because I always find it odd when, you know, somebody goes for source material and then know, transforms it so much. It's like, why did you even grab the source material? You can just done something new at that point, right? And so, you know, I feel like when we created those books and we create, anything. You know, there's something special about that that needs to kind of be maintained even when you're translating it to another medium, you know? And so, you know, those things are very important. I think to now, I think the conversations have changed as well, especially on the last few months. And I think now I would say entertainment industry in general is kind of unnoticed about paying attention to these things and being sensitive to these things and making sure that, you know, the appropriate inclusion is there as well as, you know, the appropriate portrayals are there to of characters. And so I think you're gonna see more and more of, I would say you're gonna see probably less changing of things that have that kind of diverse, you know, source material into, you know, "kind of other things", you know, so that's, you know, again, just my kind of opinion on that, but.
CR: I would hope that that's true. I think sometimes you also get with the amount of people that work on any project, everyone wants to have their fingerprint on the project as well. So, you know, as depends on the role you play in the project as well, and you just have to expect a certain amount. Now we're tryna approach it from a different perspective and hopefully, you know, with support from our comic fans and with the support from fans of Hair Love, hopefully we can position ourselves to where we have enough control to not change those characters very, very far, right? What's important to us. And what is a key part of what makes our project special, in my opinion, is the authenticity. And that's only gained from having a different perspective of a character and a creator in the background. So if you have one or the other then you get one perspective, but that perspective may not be exactly right, right? Like they always a common conversation that is happening now is when men write female characters, and if they don't necessarily fully relate, they generally know, you know, we're around all different types of people, but if you're not in those shoes, you can only see that external, right? So it always adds to a situation when you have somebody who can relate to key parts and what drives and what influence, what drives those people. So like you mentioned a specifically Catalyst Prime, we're really gung ho on getting, you know, Catalyst Prime out in media. You know, I think some are more tailored toward film, or live action right there. But on the animation side, we're really pushing hard to get that stuff out because it is needed. And, you know, you have the superhero world out there and people are very interested in superheroes and, you know, it can get stagnant very fast and it can get stale very soon. So instead of scraping at the bottom of the barrel and finding, you know, let's go back to the forties, and find, you know, a hero that is the same as other characters, but that hasn't been touched. Why don't we approach it differently? Why don't we approach it with different types of people getting powers and changing their normal? You know, their normal is very specific and that change and that process, it will be very specific to them. And so that's what makes things interesting, you know. You can add magic to it, you can add superpowers to it, you can add anything to it, but what makes it different is the, or what makes us special is the character's perspective and the change that they go through that changes their perspective or allows them to grow. And when we do that from the lens of a BiPAP character, or from the lens of any type of character, we want to make sure that we're not necessarily the arbiters of what that character would do, right? And recognizing that we can kinda get outside of ourselves and say, I don't think they do that, right? Well, we have someone on the team that could color that. Now they won't be exactly the character, but they'll be able to weigh in so that we have a certain degree of authenticity. And I think the more you get folks behind the screen that match the characters, or they can contribute, even if they aren't the filmmaker to that character, the closer it is to authentic. Now, that's not to say that, you know, a Black creator or an LGBTQ creator, can't write a cis character or, you know, a Black creator can't write a white character. I think that's a different perspective too. How are these characters viewed from that angle? You know, has there been many films, starring white people from how Black people perceive white people or how people of any different gender perceive, you know, kind of assists, normative people. Like I don't see that very often. And there's a lot of potential for thrilling content because of that.
Salvin Chahal (Mentee): My name is Salvin, grew up in South Sacramento, based in Los Angeles now, started off as a performer, a published author. I got into poetry and then published the book and I was performing at all the universities that wouldn't accept me because of my GPA. Started working on like the visual arts and music industry producing an official showcase as South by bringing, you know, BIPOC artists to that showcase and then came to LA as an actor. And then quickly realized that as someone who's used to working with a lot of depth growing up in a lower socioeconomic community and being someone who was a religious minority compared to a lot of other South Asians, but there weren't enough roles for me that I can connect with. So I started tapping back into like the writing and directing, and then working on a little bit of animation, creating campaigns for the census, as well as a school lunch for all campaign with Marsai Martin from Blackish. And, you know, the two small questions that I had, were more so, you know, what type of projects are you folks looking for now and how did you maneuver or defend projects or elements within projects that might've came up as red flags with folks were financing or studios or executives?
DS: Two of the questions. I would say, let me start with the second one, actually. We've been charting our kind of own path and kind of, we have this model of where we're gonna move forward and not ask permission. So, and now that's what, you know, kind of drove us on the comic side of things.` And so, you know, we ultimately were the final say of what we produce comics wise, you know, and so far, you know, we've been coming to ultimate say what we've been, you know, developing on the animation side of things. We have some great partnerships in the works, have not yet experienced, you know, push back from a studio, although we were well aware it's out there and we've, you know, had many people that work with us and that worked in the studio system. They, you know, told us all kinds of stories, you know, from the content that they produced. But so, you know, we've been kind of well-insulated from that. And I would say very fortunate to kind of be in the position we're in to be able to, you know, come add some of these things from a little bit different angle, you know, given kind of, you know, the resources that we have within our organization at this point. But, you know, ask me in about, I don't know, probably six months or so, I'll probably have a different answer for you and probably some colorful stories as well. Now, in terms of the things that we're looking for. I mean, we like things that, you know, have some sort of a uniqueness about them, you know, in general, you know, what is different about whatever we're looking at from what's in the rest of the market? You know, what makes that particular project special? You know, I can tell you a couple of things that we've kind of come across that you kinda get sometimes, you know, and we've had a few things thrown at us since, you know, kind of the Academy Award and, you know, for some reason it seems like we ended up getting kind of these kind of generic projects that were almost like other things that are already kind of in the marketplace, you know, and I think that that's an area that you wanna very much stay away from. So, you know, we're getting a lot of projects that had, so Cards [sic] was very successful. So, you know, as a project, very unique when it came out, but then, you know, you cannot, at least in my opinion, it's very difficult to then do other subject matters and that same anthropomorphic style and type of project and we've seen, you know, two or three things that have come across our desk, kinda in that vein. It's like, it's cars [sic], except, you know, it's about, you know, basketball, It's cars [sic], except it's about baseball. You're like, okay, what, you know, this was kind of already done, already explored, but also too, when you have a project that's successful and you're coming behind it with something so similar, except you changing like one little thing, you know, the sports genre, for example, then you know, it automatically, in my opinion, you know, in the marketplace kinds of sets you a stage back because there's so many companies out there, you know, that are trailer, you know, their whole business model is to trail behind, you know, successful projects. I was just looking at something on I think it Gizmodo, I think popped it up about a week or so ago. And we were talking about all the Disney bootleg projects out there. So they had Aladdin and then they had like Aladdin's Knights and then they had, you know, snow white, and then he had, you know, another version of snow white and it was like all this stuff. And, you know, it's all in their whole, again, their whole business model is like, you know, being in the area, being cheaper and, you know, getting that consumer to, you know, wanna buy it or buy it because, you know, Disney decided to throw, you know, Snow White in the vault. This is the only Snow White that's out there. And, you know, parents go and see it and they're like, this is the only version we got. Let's grab that one, you know, and they get a sale, right? And so I think you always want to be an innovator, you know, not necessarily a follower, you know, in the marketplace. And that's kind of the kinds of things that we're looking for. And, you know, in terms of genre, we're wide open. I mean, and if you look at our catalog from, you know, only Lion Forge, or you look at the catalog from Magnetic Press, you'll see everything from kids' picture books, all the way to build content. I mean, one of our most successful books was a book that came out in 2017. It was Amazon's graphic novel of the year, but called Lighter Than My Shadow and dealt with, it was kind of a unique book, especially for the genre for comics, you know, cause typically people think about superheroes and those sorts of things, but this book dealt with, it was a woman's true story about when she was a teenager, she had anorexia and her parents went to get her help from her therapist or therapists had used her. And again, very powerful subject matter, that you wouldn't think of it being in a comic book, but it was in a graphic novel, you know? And so we kind of look at those same paradigms and animation. So we kind of look at it with no bounds, you know, we'd like to see our market more like Japan sees their animation market is just another medium for storytelling, you know, and I think, you know, one of the, you know, benefits, unfortunately of kind of the times that we live in right now with COVID is that I think animation mediums is becoming more and more accepting of a wider range of genres, which is good, you know? And I see the market kind of being shaped like that over time. And so, you know, this was kind of ready made for kind of what we were kind of looking for. Again, always, you know, kind of open and kind of pushing the boundaries of kind of what American man animation is, what it means for what we do. It's not just, you know, about kind of kids and family, you know. So Carl.
CR: You know, one thing that I think we look for, like Dave mentioned, we do all ages, all genres was anything, right? The key, I think is a emotional connection. Like you know, if we're reading something and we can really see, or it connects with us and we're angry at characters and we'll laugh, what is going on? Like things keep piling up and you get, you feel like you're being piled up on, then we know that hopefully the audience will feel the same way if we do our job collectively, right? So I think one different perspectives and kind of innovative subject matters, but also that emotional connection, even if it's a mundane subject, if there's a take from an emotional perspective that changes it, like, and it's not always sadness, right? We don't have to cry though all the time, but just elicit some kind of strong emotion. I think that's what we look for in most content. And as far as specifically, I wouldn't say that we're on the hunt for anything. we'll read things and we'll feel connected to it and feel passionate about it. And we'll feel the need will be compelled to move forward with it, right? And for your first question, like Dave mentioned, we haven't been in a situation where we've had to directly deal with it on the studio side, but with creators, you know, sometimes both on the comic and the animation side, managing kind of creator, both on the writing illustration biases, right? You know, if you are used to creating some sort of content or if you in your life, you can sometimes call it a work you make. So we have to control things sometimes and say, okay, look, this is kind of a step into an area that is a little clingy for me. I need this character not to rap. And you know, I think we need a little bit of depth and less stereotype for characters. Also, another thing that comes to us, a lot of the time that, you know, diversity for diversity's sake is like the power in this, you know, I'm not probably going to just captain planet, you see a group of friends and one is from the rain, you know, the Amazon area. And another one is from China. And another one is from Africa and another one's from Iceland. And it's like, where did these people meet? Where do they live? in New York okay, we might be able to see it, but we're not gonna see it in Indiana. Like it has to feel real to the story. Otherwise the events that those characters are taken through and their responses to it are not going to be authentic. So, you know, and then oftentimes they do it with not just race. It's like, okay, someone's in a wheelchair. And then you have a lesbian character, you have a you know, one-armed character and none of them have their own identity. Their identity is wheelchair person, one armed person, lesbian person. And unfortunately that's a cop out and it needs to be thought through a little bit more. So we've had to address that a lot. And I think it's something that from an editorial standpoint, I don't think will ever change, but we need to keep it at the top of our minds at all time. Hey, how deep is this character? And is this gonna mess up the connection to an authenticity of what they're gonna do? Because you know, it's this Motley crew in the middle of the area they never been.
SC (Mentee): Well, I appreciate the insight. Thank you.
Sam Mallari (Mentee): Hi, I'm Sam. I am a writer producer. I also work at Free The Work full disclosure. I like writing about disability and issues with ableism. I currently have a pilot that got through a screenwriting lab and I got advice, you know, maybe you should try to pitch this out. And I'm wondering like, as a non animator, what is the most crucial thing to remember when trying to get an animated story off the ground to a studio?
CR: You know, one thing I would say is why animation. Each decision that you make, whether you make it for animation, or a live action, each decision you make should be thoughtful. And, you know, a lot of times folks are like, let's make it animation, just because live action isn't really able to happen in this environment, you know, which is fine, but go a step further and say how it should be treated in this medium. You know, you pick up a book and it's written as a book. And so when you think of it as a film, you have to apply it today. And then in the same case with animation, you have to think how can animation serve this project, right? So you can oftentimes go way farther than you can from an expressing standpoint. And from a emotive standpoint in animation. For better, or for worse, you can go crazy with special effects again, but you need to have reasons for all, you know, you don't wanna do. There's a film called Graveyard Of The Fireflies. And it's about, you know, after Hiroshima and things like that. And they can't have a lot of squash and stretch like bugs money, it's a serious situation. And you have to make the choice in the process. What am I making and what's appropriate? So when bringing something to animation, I think the key thing to think is why animation? And if you don't have that answer, it doesn't mean don't do it. It means let's look for that answer and let's keep working it into until it makes sense.
SM (Mentee): Thank you.
Donna Wheeler (Mentee): I just have one, the kind of, basically you guys have answered almost everything that I had written down ahead of time, so it's amazing. Thank you. So I'm a BIPOC writer, director, I'm mixed race, Latin mixed race and I grew up in Miami. And now I live in LA. All of my projects through the years have always had women as leads just because I know how to write women. So that's been my jam and I have been thinking about animation or graphic novels and occupying that space just especially because of COVID. Are there such things you guys, as digital graphic novels and releasing things like that digitally and digital comic books and releasing that stuff digitally. And how do you choose whether you should make an idea into an animated short to tease some interests versus just putting out the novel?
DS: So yeah, digital comics exist. So we started out doing that. It's from me cost standpoint, it's gonna be the same cost is producing a, you know, regular ground for novel, except minus the print and distribution costs. The number one place to distribute digital comics is a site called Comixology, which is part of Amazon. There are a couple other places that you can put it out and you can also look at a web comic format as well, but typically those web comics are, you know, on-sites and they're typically for free. So it depends on how you wanna, you know, get the content idea out there. And one of the reasons we went to print as a company, the market grew to about 15%, 10% of total comic sales and kind of froze there. So it's still about 10, 15% of the market. If you release just digitally, a lot of times, I would say what's some caveats, a lot of times your ability to kinda get it out there and seeing it going to be a lot more limited than if you're at Print. What would the general trend is, you know, whatever's out in print is going to help drive, you know, digital sales. Cause again, this is just kind of the market factors, collectability and everything else. So keep all those things in mind in terms of, you know, when you're doing that project, you're putting it out what are the economics around, what you're trying to achieve? Are you trying to, you know, just get it out So people see it, or are you trying to, you know, make money with it, you know, make your money back, you know, keep all those things in mind that'll affect how you want to approach it and release it. And what was the second part of your question? I'm sorry.
CR: That's great. It was about as the creator, what are the decisions or the boxes I'm ticking to decide, should this be a short film, like an animated short film, or should it be a graphic novel?
DS: I guess it's kind of preference. I mean, with, with a short film, you know, you have so much time to get your story across. And so, you know, keep in mind kind of the limitations of really, it's a medium choice, you know, keep in mind the limitations of each medium and, and how does that affect what you have to say and what you're trying to achieve from your idea and concept. And so it, you know, even with comics, there's certain limitations of, you know, just the flat page, you know, with animation, you have, you know, motion and everything else, but if you're gonna do a short, you only have, you know, a certain amount of time you know, depending on, you know, what your budget is and stuff. And so, you know, in a perfect world with, you know, unlimited money, you know, you can kind of do whatever you want, right? But you know, a lot of those decisions are gonna have to kinda come in, play with, you know, your creative, your budget, you know, what is the economics of what you're trying to do and kind of figuring out, you know, what's the best pathway for it?
CR: You know, one thing I'll say is they're both a journey, right? Maybe Dave mentioned web comics, you know, a lot of creators, they want to get their message out. And so they create a web comic and put a page out every three days or a page out every week. And so it's a little more inline with their lifestyle and with their, you know, day job and you know, they can take on other projects and be on a film set or, you know, do whatever they do normally and still kind of execute it. But diving into create a graphic novel, it's a real undertaking. And oftentimes creators are very close to the content. And so it might never get done. And the same thing with the short film, the short film is very hard to create for the time limit that that Dave was mentioning. You only have so long to, to know a character, to care about them, to even care about the resolution of the short film. So it's a challenge. And, you have to really know that you're gonna undertake a lot for both of those mediums. I mean, making a film is two hours. And so I'm not saying it's any easier but you know, a lot of people see graphic novels and comics as a place to start. It's a lot of work. If you're a comic professional or an artist or a comic writer, then it's a little easier because you are used to pumping out, you know, as a writer to three stories a month, or as an artist, 30 pages a month, right? 24 pages a month. When you're not, and you may be able to do just fine, but you have to have that kind of production mindset where this is good enough, let me move on. That runs in direct contrast to the sensibilities of an artist. So even that professional artist or writer or whatever that I was just mentioning, they can kick out two or three really great comic books a month, unless it's their own material. If it's their own material that they've been working on for 16 years, they may never see the light of day, they're crippled by it. And so we just need to make sure that you understand what you're going in to, and that you're willing to either focus the time that it takes to finish it and finish it immediately and finish it when it's supposed to be finished. Otherwise, it's gonna be, you know, if you're using it as a platform for another medium, you might as well just go do that other medium, because it's a full undertaking to do a short, it's a full undertaking to do a graphic novel.
DS: And to Carl's earlier point about, you know, if you're less familiar with going into, you know, animation bringing on a director, if you're not as familiar with the comics market and the artists and process, I would highly suggest connecting with an editor to help you with that because, you know, managing the artist, managing the writer, anchors, colorist, the whole nine yards is quite the undertaking as well. And in order to kinda keep all the trains running on time and, you know, manage everybody cause typically the decentralized as well. So your writer might be in Hawaii and your artists might be in the Arkansas, and you're having to deal with all of that and everybody's schedules and everything else. I would definitely suggest, you know, getting someone that, you know, can, you know, believes in your creative vision and can help you kind of see that project through.
DW (Mentee): Thanks you guys. Awesome. Thank you.
DS: And Erin, you had another question.
EL (Mentee): Yeah. If it's okay. If we have time. It was kind of partially answered a little bit like with the web comics thing. I mentor middle school students and teach them filmmaking and we have a storyboard exercise and some of them like really show talent for drawing. And I was just wondering, like, any advice you would give out to, you know, young creators or just any animators starting out, like what apps are out there that they can maybe access for free on their phone or anything like that, yeah.
CR: You know, I think this applies to everything, but it's very important for artists and animators. First of all, you may have to arrange your life around the fact that you have to be a certain skill level before you can enter that profession. So you're gonna have to spend a lot of time grinding through. You're gonna have thousands of bad drawings until you get a good one. And so in doing that, you know, don't hang your head on it until you feel confident. You never feel confident. So let me take it back. You'll never feel confident. You can always be better, but until, you know, others start to see it and start to, you know, you get some recognition from someone actually paying you to do it. That means that it's of a level that's a professional right? So with that, if you're young and you have the world in front of you, you can really change your skill level in a summer through targeted practice, through finishing, looking back at what you've finished and changing what you don't like and focusing on what you don't like. The other thing that I would say, and again, I think it applies everywhere, but specifically to art is be uncomfortable because you'll see a lot of people draw eyes and faces is because this is what you look at 90% of the time when you look at people. You look at the eyes first. And so it's comfortable to draw, but when they start to draw the body, it's not the same. It's not in proportion. You have to work at things that you're not good at. Things you're good at, you're fine. Don't keep drawing it. When you need to draw it, it'll come easy to you. You have to get good at everything. So if you don't draw vehicles, draw vehicles, if you're not good at certain angles and animating at certain angles, work on that extensively, and it doesn't take very long for you to build up a vocabulary of things that you can draw. And that's really all it is, is to be able to recall a library of things, you know, and be able to convert it. I don't know if that was a clear answer.
EL: That was really helpful, yeah. Helps a lot. Thank you.
TA (Moderator): Cool. It looks like we're just about at time, but if anyone had any like parting words or thoughts, also, if you'd like to connect with each other mentees, feel free to reach out to me. And then I can share it with the rest of the group, but yeah, if anyone had any parting thoughts or Carl and Dave, if you had any last pieces of advice you wanted to leave these creators.
DS: I just wanna thank you guys for having us. I mean, it's been great. It's been great to learn about your guys' projects. You know, hopefully we'll see you out there in the real world. and you know, hear from me, and hear from some of these projects I'm hearing about and good luck to you guys out there. And you know, if there's anything we can do know, please don't hesitate to contact us, you know. Tara's got our contact information and stuff like that. If any other further questions come up. I mean, we're an organization. I mean, we know what it is to kind of start out and so, you know, how we can be helpful, you know, we'll try and do it, okay?
Mentees (unison): Thank you so much.
EL (Mentee): And congrats on Hair Love and Young Love too!