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Episode 127 — Kat Evans — Women in VFX
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 127! I’m speaking with Kat Evans about Women in the Industry. I think this one will be really cool and has been requested in the past. Oddly enough, for 2 or 3 years, I’ve wanted to talk to Kat on the Podcast. She has worked in the industry for over a decade, for several studios and shops like ILM, Giant Killer Robots and others. She is married to Neil Blevins who is also in the industry which I thought would be interesting to talk about as well.
What I decided to do is break this interview into several Episodes. One will be about Exiting the Industry — and the sustainability of one’s career. We change careers in our lifetime once we get everything out of one. There is a lot of cool stuff in these Episodes! Kat’s experience is what we can all benefit from.
With everything going on in Hollywood right now, we can take a look at the statistics. Back in the day, it was pretty rare to see women in the industry. At the same time, in Japan or the U.S., I’ve noticed it a more even balance. This one is more about the social dynamics in the industry. There are certain personalities that are used to being at a computer and not used to social interactions. When it comes to the work place, you really need to have empathy for other people and realize that there are times when guys act more primary or say stupid stuff. There’s always that side of it. You have to take a step back and see if you’re being yourself.
It’s about emotional intelligence and this subject goes way beyond gender. I would like to get to the subject of empathy and I wish people would look at their behavior more. I’ve seen people treat other people like shit so often! We always come back to the same subject, “Don’t be a dick!” So this is a really great Episode! Please share it.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[-51:56] I would love to have a round table for women in the industry. It’s definitely something that I want to do. This is such a big subject and one that’s relevant right now.
INTERVIEW WITH KAT EVANS
Over the course of her decade long career in visual effects, Katharine “Kat” Evans has worked for large studios like ILM, Tippett Studio, Giant Killer Robots and several others. Her credits include films like Hellboy, Matrix Revolutions, Fantastic Four, Transformers, Rango, Lucy and the Iron Man franchise.
Kat received her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She began her career as a Roto Paint Artist, then moved on to Match Moving and Camera Layout. Since 2017, Kat has been focusing on a new career in User Experience Design (UX).
In this Podcast, Kat talks about her experience as a woman artist working visual effects, the challenges of the industry and switching careers.
Katharine Evans’ Website: http://cleverevans.com
Kat Evans on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1498320/
Kat Evans on ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/cleverevans
Kat Evans on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katevans/
[-50:03] Allan: I’ve had so many people ask to get more women on the Podcast. I feel like you have a lot to talk about being in the industry, plus being a mother and having a partner who is also in the industry. What has your overall experience been like being in the industry in Northern California?
Kat: In general, people have been overall very professional. I don’t have a story about vastly inappropriate behavior to bring to the table. But there are things that are a problem. In preparation for this interview, I’ve thought about my personal experience. I know a lot of women in the industry so I had a message thread between my former female colleagues on the subject of “What has your experience been?”
– One woman said she never had a woman Supervisor. And that is a problem! I wish there was a way to have more women [in that position]. Many women I see are Producers, or Coordinators, or Managers. I think I had only one woman who was my Lead who worked on shots as an artist.
– I spoke to one of my friends who was a Compositing Supervisor and she said she just couldn’t do the amount of overtime that is required. She is a mother. If you’re a Sup working on shots, you have to stay late and make sure all of those things get done.
[-47:28] Allan: A lot of studios are starting to not pay overtime to Supervisors, in the last 3-4 years. Everything comes down to you, [which means that] you will be stuck on the project.
Kat: While I don’t have a big tale of inappropriate behavior, there is a lot of little things that happened. There have been meetings when I would say something and it would get disregarded. And then, literally two minutes later, a guy would say the exact same thing. Or, I was working at a place where a shot came up and there was a very attractive woman in the shot. One of my male colleagues made a comment. And I just say, “Hey, don’t be a pig!” What meant a lot to me was that my other male colleague turned around and also said, “Yeah, don’t be a pig!” He had my back and was telling this guy he was out of line. That’s what we need guys to do more of, [in this business].
[-45:39] Allan: I’ve thought that last year will leave an iconic footprint in history, especially in the industry. I do think when guys are around other guys — and I’m not validating anything there! — thinking goes out of the window. It takes someone telling them they sound like a dick. A lot of the time, guys aren’t even aware of what comes out of their mouth. It’s important that people become more conscious. Now that we’re getting women in the industry, we have people thinking about what they’re saying.
Kat: I know exactly what you’re talking about! It’s just human behavior. There is a certain amount of swagger that goes on when you get dudes together. But being just a little bit more conscious would help. When I first started out, there was this expectation to be one of the boys. If you can’t handle that as a woman, you’re no fun. But I think that’s kind of… (laughs) I’m not saying I need to be tiptoed around. I read something on a forum recently. A woman wrote: “See me as a human being first and woman second”. We’re all human beings. We need to respect each other. Again, I get it. It’s human nature to want to engage in oneupmanship. It’s a very intense and competitive environment. Certain behaviors come out as a result. Be aware of that! You can choose how you want to navigate those waters. If you want to engage in that kind of swagger behavior — you’re a dick.
[-42:10] Allan: One of the themes on this Podcast in terms of an industry advice is: “Don’t be a dick!” Going back to what you read, I remember having another woman artist on the Podcast. She would be more offended if people didn’t treat her as one of the guys. If she was being treated as a woman, that would be more offensive. Realistically, this industry is very male dominated. Everyone needs to be more aware. There are way more women coming into the industry now. That’s why it needs to reset. My fiance Christina (www.allanmckay.com/99/) works in the vehicle wrapping industry. Before she was hired, there was a discussion [if hiring a woman] would change the environment of the shop. That’s not ideal.
Kat: I have to tip my hat to her. That’s got to be a difficult situation to walk into and handle it diplomatically — but also fit in. There is a level of professional conduct that should be expected in the work place. I know so many places that have a locker room mentality. Women, we can handle the technology. We aren’t stupid. Visual effects is not a family friendly industry and it’s never going to be a family friendly industry. There is always going to be crunch time and people will have to work overtime; and if you’re a parent, that’s going to affect your family life and marriage. Parents in visual effects are put under a lot of strain. Their spouse either doesn’t work or works part-time. I think that’s why we don’t see women rising the ranks of more senior roles: It’s because if there are kids at home, it’s expected that women would take care of that stuff.
[-37:56] Allan: Do you think that certain managers are aware of women being a liability — because at a certain point, people will have kids and step out? I don’t ever think that down the line. More recently, however, I read that that’s what holds women back (because they would have to take a maternity leave).
Kat: I’ve never run into that in my experience. Here is what I will say: I don’t know if anyone has ever looked at me as a risk because I might get pregnant. Once I did get pregnant, as long as I got in there and got the work done — no one cared. Once you do have a child, life does changes. You can tell them what they can expect from you; but if you can’t meet their needs, then yes — you will be a liability. They will find someone else. If they need someone who can work 70 hours a week, they will hire that person. They will replace you. That’s really unfortunate. I don’t know how to get around that. I don’t see that ever changing. Visual effects is never going to be a family friendly pursuit. Maybe there are people who can do what you’re doing — work from home — then you can manage things. Working moms can definitely get their jobs done, but they need a certain level of flexibility. I think a parent (mother or father) doesn’t fit into that culture of working, staying late, playing video games.
[-34:27] Allan: You nailed it. The ideal audience for working in those places is a 21-year old who lives to create cool pixels.
Kat: Yeah. But you and I both still love making cool pixels!
[-34:12] Allan: But eventually you have to grow up! And how does it make it a sustainable business? I think part of it has to do with money and schedules and all the unrealistic expectations that trickle down from studios. That’s why I feel larger studios, like Pixar, have more realistic schedules. It all changes.
Kat: All of those situations come from someone poorly managing from high up the chain. I sincerely believe it doesn’t have to be that way. Shows don’t need to get to that point. I do think there is overtime that’s reasonable, but there is also overtime that’s totally out of hand.
[-32:50] Allan: People always joke the overtime paid for their kitchen.
Kat: It’s nice to get the money. When I worked on The Matrix, I was single and had no life. All I did was work and sleep. The end of the movie came and I looked at my bank account — and it was awesome! But that’s not the life I live right now. Neither will anybody else. Any industry needs to find a way to make itself family friendly and a way of giving people the flexibility to live lives, have spouses and families. Beyond that things happen. You have accidents, things happen in life that interrupt your career. You need the flexibility to address them.
[-31:31] Allan: That’s so true! Usually, our schedules don’t accommodate for that. I remember dating this girl in New York. I remember my friend asking if this girl knew what I did for a living. It took me a second to see what he meant: They need to be aware that you’re working all the time.
Kat: It can be really exciting to make beautiful pixels and solve hard problems, sure. But you have to have balance in life. That’s why I’m transitioning from the industry. I need to find balance.
[-30:27] Allan: I think everyone has a shelf life. I started thinking about that myself. Everyone does his or her time but you can’t do it for the rest of your life.
Kat: Some people do though — and that’s great!
[-30:01] Allan: I want to talk about your managing family and a partner. Your husband works for Pixar. I would want to date someone outside of the industry. What it’s like to be in a relationship where you’re both in a demanding industry.
Kat: That’s a great question! Neil works at Pixar. One of the benefits is that his work is really stable and he hasn’t had to work the crazy hours I’ve had to work. A lot of it has to do with the fact that Pixar manages itself well. They generate their own IP. He also works in an asset-based department. In terms of our relationship, we do talk about problems at work and I know exactly what he is talking about. I can talk to him about “leaning hard on the steady cam moves”. We’ll sit and analyze movies together. From the outside, we may seem like giant nerds but I think it really brings us together. We love to watch movies and talk about them, the story, the effects, at every level. We joke a little about socializing with other people in visual effects. The husband usually works in visual effects but the wife does not. The men will have technical discussions, but the woman can’t relate to that. She looks to me to draw her into the conversation and I sympathize with that. I can talk the tech talk, or I can talk about other things.
[-25:31] Allan: You’re the liaison. I remember this time last year I went to dinner. One of my friends had to remind us not to talk about 3D so that everyone was happy. What other industry where everyone has to consciously stop talking about their job because you live and breathe it? It’s fascinating and creepy that way!
Kat: When you’re spending all of your time with your colleagues, they become your friends. You do need to remember that there is a world out there. You can talk about skiing or cooking, or daylight, or hobbies. I like to think I can talk about work and things outside of work. It’s natural to want to talk about work. That’s what conventions are built on. But it’s good to have a balanced life; learn how to talk and listen. Some people approach a conversation like a competition. It takes time to learn to listen. You might learn something!
[-22:20] Allan: For every minute you’re talking — it’s a minute you’re not learning. Some people are in love with their voices or they try to recite their resume. They have to impress everyone instead of trying to meet other interesting people.
Kat: I think a lot of people early on in their career approach everything as a competition. And it’s not that way. It’s really about collaborating and finding a way to work together and making life great.
[-21:12] Allan: One last thing I want to ask is: Two people in such a crazy industry and raising a child, what has that experience been like? I’m sure there’ve been plenty of sacrifices. Do you have a secret advice?
I. If you want to raise a family while being in demanding careers, it requires communication at all times! I think that when you have a child, the child will go through different stages. Your lives are going to change depending on their needs. You have to be able to plan.
II. Find a support network — that’s really important! If you live near relatives — that’s awesome! If you don’t, find other parents to connect with. What helped us what that Pixar had a childcare center that we were able to make use of. It made a lot of things possible. Meeting other parents helped us bring some stability to our lives. You get involved in your community and that’s not a bad thing. I didn’t used to know my neighbor, now I do, and that’s great!
III. In terms of navigating your careers, there are sacrifices. But don’t be scared! Find out what your limits are and tell your employer. These are what the boundaries are.
[-18:13] Allan: I think communication is really critical. You have to look at it from a perspective of the employer. If you’re going through struggles, no one else can know that. If you don’t communicate it, you get behind on your work.
Kat: Some employers are great as long as they know what to expect. They want to accommodate you, so your job is to figure out what you can and can’t do and let them know. Sometime employers want to believe that they support you. Sometimes you realize it’s time for a change, but that’s okay. Be honest with yourself.
[-16:45] Allan: That’s great! And speaking of change, do you want to fill us in on what you’ve been up to? You’ve been looking into stepping away from VFX. What preempted that? How did you consciously make that decision?
Kat: That’s a really great question! I’ve been working in VFX and a number of things happened, some gradually, some not. Number one: I had a child. That’s a big change in my life. The other thing is: The visual effects work in the Bay Area has dwindled away. The tax incentives in Canada and the UK are so desirable in Hollywood, it’s made the number of jobs available here dwindle. And you’re faced with a choice of leaving or finding something else to do. Neil is still here, working at Pixar. So we have this anchor job. I was finding myself in a situation where I wasn’t able to work quite that much, so it made me less desirable. And there wasn’t quite as much work coming into the Bay Area. So there was more and more time in between projects for me.
We live on the doorstep of the tech industry. I’ve been interested in something called User Experience Design (UX). I was listening to podcasts about it and reading about it. I was still working in visual effects but I’d be working in a software and find that it had a bad UX.
[-14:06] Allan: Even when you go download Skype and they don’t have the “Download Now” button, it’s bad UX. Or if you have to go research the product.
Kat: Yes, those are all important things. So I thought maybe it was time for a change. So this past fall, I engaged in 10-week bootcamp for UX. It’s an opportunity to cross into a new industry and there is so much work in the Bay Area. It’s hard for me to leave visual effects. But I think I spent too long trying to make it work. Looking into the tech industry, I see that there are opportunities for me to use the 3D skills that I have and also bring that to UX and solve new problems, in a new sector. It’s really exciting. There is VR and AR out there, lots of cool stuff!
[-12:26] Allan: I was hanging out with a UX designer at Autodesk. It’s fun to talk about all the products they’re going through. Suddenly, there is a chance to look differently at how we interact and go through the process of changing everything we currently do.
Kat: Yeah, especially when we’re speaking about VR and AR. VR and AR are in a place that visual effects were in 1994. It’s a big sky, everything is a little janky. But in terms of figuring out how everything will work and how this space will be navigated — it’s a really exciting time! There is a lot of need in games and medical visualization. Google and Tesla are doing exciting things. It’s interesting to solve those problems: Where are users falling off and how to we solve their needs? Those are interesting problems to solve. It’s not as sexy as visual effects, but there is also excitement.
[-09:22] Allan: I think it’s also fulfilling too. With one of the Courses I run, I started picturing what one person / student goes through. In the beginning, we must set up the right expectations. I know this guy in Austin who owns a tech course on passive income. He ended up paying people to sit in his office and he was able to observe where people were getting stuck. I think that changes everything and you can make the product work for everyone.
Kat: Absolutely! He was doing User Research and it’s really necessary. Understanding how to use a tool or product you made, you gain a lot of insight. You need to recognize that there are a lot of things you might take for granted. I remember teaching an animation course and I realized my students wouldn’t know how to adjust timing. Steve Jobs understood that very well. He once said, “I’m all for innovation. But if people don’t want it or can’t use it — it’s pointless.” He was someone who understood it. You do need to look at what your vision might be and maybe surprise people. I think that’s where we are with new technology. You also have to think about the impact of your product on the world and how that’s going to change things for people.
I hope you enjoyed this Episode. Thank you, Kat, for doing this Episode: This one has been a long way coming. I have a couple of Episodes with Kat coming up so stay tuned!
– My goal is to do some rebranding of the Podcast. One of the things I am looking to do is theming Episodes together, so there is a lot of great stuff coming.
– Next Episode, I will be back with Willy Sussman, a leading Immigration Attorney in New Zealand. He works a lot with artists at Weta and will be talking about working permits. Getting access to such an elite Attorney is really valuable! Willy was really great to have on as a guest!
Please share this Episode around and / or leave a review on iTunes. Thank you!