Women’s Day Special VFX Interview – Zhara Honoré, Animation Artist, Pixomondo
February 25, 2020 – March 8 marks International Women’s Day (IWD). This day has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911. The day is not country, group or organization specific – and belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. It encourages everyone around the world to make International Women’s Day their day and do what they can to truly make a positive difference for women.
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. For more info visit at www.internationalwomensday.com
Zhara Honoré, I was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. From a young age, I always had a passion for art. I nurtured this passion through the Computer Animation Program at Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida. Upon receiving my BFA in 2018, I moved to LA and began to work in the VFX industry. In my one and a half year tenure in the industry, I have worked on The Mandalorian, Star Trek: Discovery, as well as various AR & VR projects, and video game trailers. When I’m not glued behind the computer screen at work, I like to spend my time making videos, hiking, checking out new brunch spots with my friends and trying desperately to get my new puppy Kygo to stop peeing on my bath mat.
Today, Zhara Honoré talks to VFX Online about her experience as a woman working in the VFX and Animation industry.
// From Zhara Honoré, Animation Artist, Pixomondo
How do you describe yourself professionally?
I’m very passionate about my work. What fascinates me about this industry is how the world of art and technology intersect. I’m really into both of those things so the type of work I do inspires me as a professional to continue to grow and learn new techniques, skills and software. I would describe myself as a quick-learner, adept to the constantly evolving industry.
What sparked your interest in animation?
Growing up, I always had an interest in art, animation and film. I would sit in front of the TV every day as a kid and try to draw the characters I saw on screen. I have vivid memories of watching the bumpers between my favorite Nickelodeon shows like, ‘Fairly Odd Parents’ and ‘Danny Phantom’, where Butch Hartman, the creator of those shows, would show you how to draw the characters and create simple animations like the infamous ball bounce on a pad of post-it notes. So animation has been something I’ve been interested in from the time I could pick up a pencil.
How did you enter in this industry?
Do my 8 year-old post-it note ball bounces count as my first footsteps into the industry? I entered the industry about a year and a half ago after graduating from Ringling College of Art & Design. I packed my bags and flew from Sarasota, FL to Los Angeles the weekend after graduation – no job lined up or anything. I moved in with a friend from school who had also just graduated. We applied to any and all CG related jobs, no matter how under-qualified we might have been. After two months of non-stop applying during the week and exploring LA on the weekends, I landed my first job at a small studio in Marina Del Rey and the rest is history.
What does the idea of empowerment mean to you?
I think anything that inspires and encourages me to feel good about myself and my abilities is empowering. I personally feel empowered by seeing other women or people of color similar to myself achieve success and be thought of highly. This makes me feel heard and realize this type of success is possible for me too.
What’s your greatest achievements in VFX/Animation Industry?
So far, definitely when I saw my name in the credits of The Mandalorian. When you see your name listed for the first time, it is surreal. My supervisor came over and showed it to me on his phone. I immediately set it to all my friends and family.
What is the current state for women in the industry?
Personally, I feel there are signs of change, but we still have a long way to go. Women are present throughout the industry, but leadership positions are mostly occupied by men. I find Pixomondo is good about hiring women, I work alongside many female animators. In school, my graduating class in the department of Computer Animation had a 70:30 ratio of girls to guys. I’m hopeful these are signals of shifting dynamics in the industry.
What is it like to be a professional, working woman in your line of work?
Considering that this industry is known to be more of a boys club, it feels good knowing that I was able to create a place for myself in the working world. At the end of the day, we all have similar passions that drew us towards animation that aren’t limited to gender.
What was your Best VFX/Animation project worked for?
My favorite project that I’ve worked on was actually my senior thesis film. It’s called ‘Tiffanys’ and it’s about a planet-conquering alien who crash lands on Earth and mistakes a high school Queen Bee for the queen of Earth. They compete for the title of Prom Queen in a teenage sabotage war. It’s my personal favorite because it was the first time I had made something like that with a full story and took it from storyboards to final render. I worked on it with two of my best friends and the idea was entirely our own, so we got to include a lot of stuff that we liked and thought was funny.
Which is your favorite film and why?
When it comes to films, I’m really drawn towards ones where something extraordinary or surreal happens, but it feels grounded in a reality that we know. So some of my favorites are ‘Being John Malkovich’, where John Cusack, who plays the main character, takes a regular desk job, but in his office he discovers a portal into the mind of the actor John Malkovich. It’s about these average people in an average world who discover something fantastical. I also loved ‘Parasite’ from last year for a similar reason; although something unusual was happening, it felt very real and very much based on our world. The characters in the film were regular people and the societal issues the movie comments on were clearly based in reality. I also love “Sorry To Bother You”, and “Her” for similar reasons. Though something unusual is happening to all these characters, it all feels very real and as though it could happen in real life. I also would say ‘Moonlight’ is one of my favorites because the characters feel relatable.
There are many slice-of-life films made every year, but I feel they rarely feature lives of minority groups. I think this film is very important and brought a lot of new perspectives to the table because of that. At the same time, I also love movies like ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Goodfellas’. The characters act in a stereotypical way, but it’s clever. Additionally, I love ‘Interstellar’ because outer space fascinates me. It’s so vast and unknown, so I like to see interpretations of what it might be like out there. The 5th dimension stuff blew my mind.
What will be your ‘dream project’ to work on?
A sequel to ‘Interstellar’ starring myself and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Except, we ACTUALLY go into space. No VFX, and I do all my own stunts.
Which influential woman do you admire the most?
I have so many! Right now I’m into Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Greta Thunberg, Lupita Nyongo, Naomi Osaka, Lizzo, Issa Rae, my favorite YouTubers Jackie Aina and Amy Lee, Zoe Kravitz, Laverne Cox, Lilly Singh, Serena Williams, Marsai Martin, Zendaya; the list goes on. This may be a cliche, but I think Rihanna has to be one of the women I admire the most. She is a black woman who is from a tiny Caribbean island, just like me, and has become one of the most successful and admired women of my generation. Not to mention she is also the reason my face is so bright and shiny everyday…thank you to Fenty Beauty haha.
How has your experience been working at Pixomondo?
My experience working at Pixomondo has been amazing. I really like all the people I’ve worked with and I feel like my skills have improved. This has allowed me to grow both artistically and professionally so much since I started. I’ve also made a lot of friends here that I really admire as well.
What do you think about the number of women nominated for Oscar/VES/BAFTA or other award shows this year? Is it reflective of the work that’s out there?
Of course not. I don’t know that it ever has been. And I’m sure most women and people of color in similar positions to mine will agree. I think this isn’t a question that should only be asked of women who are in the industry. We’re doing our part, we’re working hard and producing content, but we’re not the ones who get to say who’s nominated and who gets an award. The core of the issue lies with the men in power because unfortunately they are the ones that get to say who gets recognized for their work. So I think they should also be questioned about this issue as they’re the ones with the power to change it.
Which direction would you like to take your career in the near future?
Short term, I would like to hone in on the skills I have and build upon them by tackling new personal projects. I really enjoy Previs, but I also like lighting and I’ve been really into filming and editing lately. In my free time I take a lot of videos and blogs of my friends and cut them together on my laptop. (One of my dreams low key is to be a YouTube sensation) I’d like to develop these skills further. Long term, I could see myself working in video editing and in a directorial position. I could also see myself doing motion design. I think that type of animation is really interesting due to how experimental it can be.
What advice would you give to women who wish to get into this industry?
I’d say don’t let the fact that it’s mostly guys intimidate you. Being a woman gives you a completely different perspective than men have and you should use that to your advantage! Having emotional and intuitive reactions to things is not a bad thing, so don’t apologize for it. When you get into the industry I think it’s so important to befriend other women in the workplace. Surrounding yourself with good female energy really gives you a sense of community and belonging. Just seeing other women in similar positions to yours is extremely comforting and inspiring.
A general piece of advice I’ve also discovered is to find passions outside the world of animation. A lot of times I find peers in this field pigeon-hole themselves into making their lives revolve around animation. When you immerse yourself in other passions, you begin to view the world through another lens. This allows you to generate new ideas and be creative in unique ways that will inspire your work in animation. For example, blogging and making videos of my friends is a fun hobby of mine, while also inspiring my camera work in Previs at the same time. Finding balance and being a well-rounded individual is a necessity.
What is your International Women’s Day Greetings Message?
Beyonce said it best. “Who run the world? Girls!”
We would like to thank Zhara Honoré for the great interview, and if you like to know more about her, check out her LinkedIn.