Now in its third run, the ACE (Animation Career EXCELerator) Program aims to boost women into higher level positions within the animation industry throughout Canada. ACE offers, through the leadership of Rose-Ann Tisserand and Tracey Mack, financial and workshop support to creatives and gives them a key credit on their short film. Throughout the program, the cohort meets with mentors with relevant industry experience.
“We know women make up approximately 50% of students in animation schools, but somewhere we lose women when it comes to advancing into key creative roles.” Rose-Ann Tisserand explains. “We wanted to find these women and give them the tools, mentoring and support they needed to advance, by having them create their own short film and receiving that all important credit.”
The second cohort, ACE 2, finished their short film in October 2021 and since then, have been busy promoting their short, “Pivot,” to festivals worldwide. While the team promotes “Pivot,” they also network with others in the animation industry to build future career opportunities after the program is over.
“We are so proud that all eleven BC based women who have completed the program have advanced in their career.” says Tisserand. “To add to that success, 15 additional female crew members also advanced during the making of the films to bring us to a total of 26. It is a fact…women hire women, so the impact of this program is exponential. Another bonus, these are authentic stories because it is their story. Currently, we are in the middle of iteration 3 of the ACE program which saw us expand to include 8 key creative roles and work with artists from across Canada. We can’t wait to see their ACE story unfold.”
Winner of Best Animated Canadian Short Film at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, “Pivot” is about a young girl navigating the pressure to please loved ones versus keeping authentic to herself. It has been written, produced, directed, art directed, animation directed, edited, composed, and story supervised by women, but as Robyn Campbell, writer for “Pivot” put it, is “for everyone.”
We spoke with Tini Wilder, producer, and Eva Pekárová, composer, to ask them about what this experience has been like, and where they’re going next:
What brought you to the ACE Program?
Eva Pekárová: I was in a funny place in my career. I had just graduated film school but gotten back to writing music and during my degree I had fallen in love with film scoring. I was scoring student films, but I didn’t know where to go or what to do to advance. I was working on a stop-motion film with the NFB where I met Rose-Ann, and she said I should submit my music to WIA Ace. I had a few thoughts like, am I ready? Should I do it next year? I decided to go for it and told myself I absolutely had to do it, and I got through. If I had to sum the program up, it was just incredible to work with a team of women where we were all striving towards that next step in our careers. It was so special because we were incredibly supportive of each other and had this common goal of creating a film together.
Tini Wider: I always wanted to make my own movie. In my day-to-day job as a line producer or associate producer, I worked on vendor-based projects. Even if you work on an IP, it is still someone else’s vision and never really your own. Obviously, there’s quite a risk to setting up your own company, applying for funding and doing this all on your own. With the ACE program, I had something like a soft launch. There was and still is always a mentor to ask in case I had questions and needed support. I received all the professional support and training while working on the film.
What stood out to you about the project?
Tini Wider: When I read the story the first time, it reminded me of the itchy dress my mom made me wear when I was little. I thought I was the only one that grew up with that experience but turns out that basically, all other crew members resonated with the core message of the story in the same way. Fun fact: we included photos of ourselves as kids in ridiculous dresses in the credits. It started as a joke but ended up a reminder that we all connected so deeply to Robyn’s story.
How did you approach composing a score for “Pivot?”
Eva Pekárová: For me it was important to give each character their own instrumental voice. For the mother, using more traditionally feminine instruments helped characterize her values and were used in contrast with darker sounding instruments to hint at the pressure she was putting on Ashley. You know, like she was expecting, expecting, expecting something from her, whereas Ashley was super driving and had that inner fire throughout the film, especially when fighting the monster. The process was cool, just working with Ana Gusson, director of “Pivot,” and sending her samples of ideas, getting feedback, scrapping some ideas, and really chipping away until we were satisfied with how the sound merged with the visuals. We went with a musical style for “Pivot,” with lots of orchestration, which I love having the chance to do.
What are you working on now?
Eva Pekárová: While networking at the Ottawa Animation Festival, I met someone who is working on a feature animated film and we’re currently in the process of developing a demo song to get further funding. Next summer, I’ll be studying screen scoring and orchestration in Europe, and I’ll be recording my work with a 34-piece orchestra. I’m also on a Canada Council for the Arts grant developing an album which uses Eastern European folk instruments with innovative genres and techniques, so I’m exploring jazz, contemporary, classical, and Slavic folk for my first solo album. This program really helped me get over the block that young artists face at the mid-level range, and getting that extra guidance was huge.
Tini Wider: I am now working as an Associate Producer at Industrial, Light & Magic. Together with “Pivot” writer, Robyn Campbell, and art director, Cindey Chiang, we are developing a short film that could turn into a series.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Tini Wider: This is all only possible because we had so many great sponsors. Creating something highly professional as your own IP and getting paid is exceptional in this business. We are very grateful that the third iteration expanded now across Canada. That would not have been possible without all the professional support we received.
Eva Pekárová: Yeah. And just as a quick side note, you learn to value the work you do. We had a whole workshop on saying no, and I’ve noticed in the past I’ve accepted work to write music for free even when I could’ve negotiated for an honorarium at least. It makes people perform better when they aren’t working for free.
Tini Wider: Yeah. It’s so funny. We never talked about that, but it’s true. It’s easier to say no now because I know what I’m worth.
That’s a wrap on ACE 2. Stay tuned for updates on ACE 3 next year!
Note: Creative BC alongside Telefilm Canada, Toon Boom, Atomic Cartoons, Autodesk Technology Impact, Canadian Media Producers Association, Spark Computer Graphics Society, Boughton Law, National Film Board of Canada, Flying Kraken, Urban Safari, Koko Productions and Sound Studio, Lindsay Productions LTD., The Research House Clearance Services Inc., Producer Essentials, and Pender FR, sponsored the ACE 2 Program.