Cassie: Julia Vickerman is a director, storyboard artist and the creator of the Cartoon Network pilot Twelve Forever. You have seen her work all over Cartoon Network on shows like The New Powerpuff Girls and Clarence. Listen in, as we discussed developing her pilot faking it until you make it and how to mind your life experience to breathe more life into your storytelling. Basically, the official title of this episode is how to be a creative powerhouse, one on one. Julia, thank you for coming on this show and so excited to have you.
Julia Vickerman: Thank you for having me.
Cassie: Of course, can you give us a brief introduction to you and what you do, just kind of like a summary?
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I am a writer, director, storyboard artist, person, guy. I moved out to LA in 2007 and I’ve just been working on like a plethora of different things since then. I guess most notably, I created the short Twelve Forever for Cartoon Network and I’m currently working as a director on Clarence.
Cassie: Very nice. And we’ll get into the details of all of that. But let’s go all the way back. Like where are you from?
Julia Vickerman: I’m from Greenville, South Carolina initially. And I always wanted to work in animation since I was a very young kid or at least wanted to work in comics initially, and it kind of turned into animation when I was about 12 or 13 after my brother got me like obsessed with Sailor Moon. So ever since then, it’s just been its kind of all I ever wanted to do. So that was my focus and then I went to art school at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. So I moved up to Minneapolis for a while, after I graduated, I began working for Puny, which is an animation studio that was started in Minneapolis and they now have a Los Angeles location as well. And one of our first big projects or my very first big project that I worked at with Puny was doing a music video for Yo Gabba Gabba!, which was a preschool show on Nick Jr. at the time.
So we did this music video and then Yo Gabba Gabba! contacted us and they were like that was one of our favorite music videos from the season like do you guys have anyone living in LA because our in house animators is leaving and we need someone to replace them and it was like, I’ll move to LA. So I moved to LA basically to work on Yo Gabba Gabba! and start the Puny LA office essentially and we kind of did various work too but Gabba was like one of the bigger clients. So I worked on that show for the four seasons that it was on started as a; I was just doing flash animation for them and then started doing storyboards for the show, for the live-action portion of the show. And then by season four, got the opportunity to write and direct an episode with the co-creator Scott Schultz. So I did the mermaids episode if anyone’s seen that if you have a young child. And I was the animation supervisor on season four as well.
Cassie: That’s an amazing growth like in was it like four years that that took from–
Julia Vickerman: It took a little bit longer than four years because like sometimes we would have like a year and a half between seasons on Yo Gabba Gabba!. So I would work on other things during that downtime. Yes, it was an interesting experience because a lot of people on Yo Gabba Gabba! had never worked in television before or like had only done very little TV. And so they were really open to giving people more opportunities like that, like branching out and wearing different hats and the production and I was very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to do those things.
Cassie: It’s really cool that they did the animation here in the US too.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, Puny did all the flash animation. And then we would have guest animators from all over the world to participate in like the story time segments and the music video segments. So that was another thing that was really cool about being the animation supervisor of season four was getting to reach out to like artists and animators who I deeply admired. And also people who just followed on Tumblr who I had never worked professionally before. And I was just like, here, we’re going to give you a four-minute segment to animate, and we’re going to pay you like $25 because it was a relatively low budget show, but that gave us a lot of creative freedom. So it was a pretty amazing experience.
Cassie: Having been on both sides of the coin, where you’re being asked to work for free, but also, you know, getting paid for your work, being a professional and offering those animators like, you know, $25 or whatever. That’s good but what’s your opinion on working for free, I guess?
Julia Vickerman: I think that if you’re going to work for very little money, I mean, the trade-off has to be freedom, creative freedom. And I mean, that was definitely what we offered people on Yo Gabba Gabba, it’s like we gave very little notes. It was like do a music video; it was, you know, the direction. Maybe there’d be a theme like this is going to be in the Halloween episode but it was never like, this one’s going to be about a little pig that needs to find its shoes. But you know what I mean; it wasn’t something like that it was open-ended. So really these artists can do basically whatever they wanted, as long as it was preschool appropriate. But that’s, I mean, that’s a huge amount of freedom for something that’s going to be internationally distributed, so it was exciting. People were more often very excited rather than like, what, you’re only giving me you know, a couple of thousand bucks or whatever because it was such a nice family to be included in.
Julia Vickerman: But no if it’s something where you have some very specific direction you know. like, it can only be this, it can only be this and like you’re just a hired hand. Then no it is not super awesome to be offered such little money. But you know, also when you’re first starting out, it’s just like you take what you can get and like I mean, I graduated college, the first job I was doing at Puny was animating flash games for Cartoon Network dot com. And like the era of like, my gym partner is a monkey and cost of two thousand and squirrel boy, it was like that period of Cartoon Network. And I just remembered animating, like, you know, Andre 3000 character, and being like, this is the coolest job I’m ever going to have. At that time, I just felt so grateful and fortunate and I think those are the qualities I respond to the most. And like young people, who are just getting into the industry just be grateful that you are even getting paid to do this stuff. But yes, once you start climbing the ladder and whatnot, it’s easier to go a little bit more cynical and jaded about stuff but if you’re young, yes, just gratitude.
Cassie: I really admire people who can keep their enthusiasm going through it.
Julia Vickerman: Oh, yes.
Cassie: But the Thursday’s were, like, people lose it by.
Julia Vickerman: Like, it’s so important to remain optimistic and grateful, because you are making shows for children. And it’s like, these are things that they’re hopefully going to latch on to and grow up continually thinking about and remembering. And like, I don’t know, I have a really hard time when you meet people in this industry, who are extremely cynical and bitter about it. Because it’s just like, oh, that really sucks, if that’s somehow like seeping its way into your like stories that you’re telling to kids, you know? Yes, it’s always nice to have a grateful perspective on this.
Cassie: Definitely. Since you did have a job like two days after graduation. I don’t know if you had any, like dark moments of panic, like before graduation.
Julia Vickerman: Oh, I mean, I think a lot of my entire college experience was a dark moment of panic. It was during a period where like, CG animation, people were saying, like, traditional animation is dead and that’s not going to happen anymore. There are never going to be traditionally animated films any more. CG is the only thing that’s going to be happening for the rest of time, which is just a ridiculous thing to say. And I didn’t want to work in 3D in college because I was just like, I love drawing, that’s what I want to do. And they were just telling us all the time, how difficult it is to find steady work in animation. Like it’s all freelance, and that’s all, you’re just going to be constantly searching, you’ll have a job for like two months, and it’ll be over and blah, blah. So they were just like, you really should have like backup plans and stuff. So all of us were kind of like freaking out, like, oh my god, is this true?
And then like, I’ve been really fortunate that hasn’t been true for me personally but I think a lot of that is just because like, I don’t know, I like to think it’s because I work really hard. But yes, college was like, just kind of a dark period, because I’d moved to Minneapolis, and I had kind of a hard time making friends initially. And I didn’t I don’t know, like a really hard time dealing with the weather change. It’s very, very cold in Minneapolis, and I would get pretty bad seasonal depression. But I mean, that being said, all you can do is be shut inside and work really hard because you can’t go outdoors or you freeze to death. So I guess that I’m happy for that. There weren’t a lot of distractions.
Cassie: Yes. Well, do you regularly deal with depression or was it just a seasonal depression?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, no, I think I pretty much regularly deal with depression, it kind of runs in my family and something that I deal with. I go to therapy and whatnot, which is important for me. I just think it’s extremely helpful to get some perspective on your like behavioral patterns from people who study those things. So it’s very helpful for me, I think everyone should go to therapy.
Cassie: They should take the stigma away.
Julia Vickerman: Yes.
Cassie: It doesn’t exist.
Julia Vickerman: I mean, so many of my friends go to therapy that I guess I’m in this bubble of like, what stigma?
Cassie: So do you have any tips for like, continuing to stay productive when you do like, kind of like dig yourself a hole to just kind of like, stay in and be depressed?
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I mean, I’ve definitely gone through rough periods, where it’s like, yes, you don’t really want to do anything. And for me, kind of a good way to get out of those periods is starting a new hobby, or like learning something new. Like, the last period of depression I went through a few months ago, I taught myself, I didn’t want to draw, I wasn’t in the mood to storyboard because I was just like, that’s what I do for work every day. I need a break from that, I need to exercise some other muscles in my brain. So I was like, I want to learn how to needle felt. So I learned that and then I just was making little needle folk creatures. And I was like, this is a creative activity that’s not like taking me towards a long term goal of like, being a director or show runner or the things that I want to do, but it’s gratifying in a completely different way. And it’s like scratching that creative itch, you know, and you make little adorable things to give to your friends. So when you get to feel like that little bit of generosity and all that. So yes, I guess for me, it’s trying something new takes me out of it or like going to like, do archery or go rock climbing or something that has a certain amount of novelty to it that takes you out of your everyday comfort zone. And reminds you that there’s a whole other world that you haven’t been exposing yourself to, I don’t know, can make you happy in different ways that just working in animation doesn’t you know?
Cassie: For sure, I hope I didn’t come off careless because I mean, I have depression too. So I like personally asking.
Julia Vickerman: Not at all, I–
Cassie: For keeping in because think it’ll help a lot of people.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, no, I’m all for talking about depression in a completely open de-stigmatized way. I mean, it’s something that so many people struggle with, it’s like, I’m not going to treat it like there’s anything wrong with it because I don’t think there is so yes, it’s just a reality.
Cassie: I feel like it touches a lot of people in the industry to just because of the fear of like, the job, the job nature and everything.
Julia Vickerman: Absolutely. I mean, it’s an anxiety-inducing place to be, that’s for sure. And it’s a lot of very, you know, creative, very sensitive people, so yes, a lot of people do struggle with depression. And I think it’s really helpful for people to know that they are anything but alone.
Cassie: Going back to the job, the job nature. It seems like you’ve been really successful in, you know, continuing to work constantly. What was the biggest lesson you learned, in your hustle to find work?
Julia Vickerman: I think something that I’ve struggled with is being able to say no to things that I didn’t really want to do. Especially like, when you’re already very busy, and then you receive like a smaller project or something on the side, or someone’s like, oh, this only takes you like a week. And you’re like, yes, I could probably do that and then I end up getting into these spots where I really overload myself with work. And I experienced like, a really bad burnout, like on the tail end of working on Powerpuff Girls, where I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I was just like waking up, and I just didn’t even want to like talk to anyone.
All you want to do is lie in bed, typical, like, you’re just like, I’m done, I can’t. I need to take like three months away and not do anything having to do the animation, just for a little bit, just have a moment to breathe. Because at a certain point I was working, like 15, 16 hour days and when you do that, for months, you’re going to burn out at some point, or your personal relationships are going to suffer. If you’re just constantly saying no to everyone, in order to do these jobs, some of which are not even that important or valuable to you, you just have a hard time saying no. And so it’s just really important to like, be mindful of what you’re putting your time into, because sometimes it is more important to go to your friend’s birthday party than it is to do some freelance job that isn’t going to make you happy even when it’s done. Even if it does pay you money. Maybe that time would have been better spent being a good friend so I don’t know.
Cassie: Well, how do you time manage or is this a current struggle where you’re trying to say no to things?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, no, I think I’ve gotten much better at it nowadays.
Cassie: That’s good.
Julia Vickerman: Just because I now know how that felt and I can’t ever let that happen again. So, now I kind of know that I can do two things at once but I can’t do three things at once, you know what I mean? Time management, I mean, yes, that is a daily struggle. I love making lists, I love making really exact schedules of what I’m going to do every day, I’m really big on that. Yes, that’s a really good question. How do I manage my time? I don’t really manage it very well.
Cassie: You just have to keep evolving at whatever system you have to make it work.
Julia Vickerman: Exactly. Like right now I’m having a hard time because you’re just like, you’re like, yes, I know exactly what I need to get done by 2 pm, I’m going to do it. And then you open Facebook once just to check something and then all of a sudden, you’re like, you fall down this hole, is like, oh, my God, what’s happening and like, your friends are yelling at each other, even though they’re both on the same team. And, it’s difficult for me and the people in my life right now to have that kind of focus when there’s like this much crap going on in the political landscape that it’s difficult to ignore. But you have to, you have to just ignore it sometimes in order to maintain your productivity level, or at least I do.
Cassie: So let’s talk about Twelve Forever, because we all need a party island. So how did this idea develop? What were your influences? Where did this come from?
Julia Vickerman: The idea kind of came from because I was thinking about the experiences I had as a child. And I went through a period when I was about 11, and 12, where I noticed that a lot of kids around me were growing up faster than I was. And I was still kind of very much in this zone where I still wanted to play with toys, and still wanted to be excited about these childish things that were no longer seen as like cool, quote, unquote. So I would have to do them like in secret, you know, like play with Barbies in my closet under a towel, instead of like because you were just embarrassed, you’re like, I should have grown out of this by now but I haven’t and I feel weird about it. And so I just wasn’t ready to grow up as a lot of my peers seemed to be so I just kind of went through this phase where I would just sit in my room and cry and play like Michael Jackson’s, have you seen my childhood, like full volume.
And my mom just comes in and instead of making fun of me as she should have, she kind of like struck a deal with me where she was like, well, how about when you’re like in your bedroom, you can act like a kid for as long as you need to. And when you go out in the real world, you have to act your age kind of thing. So the idea kind of came from that in terms of like, a kid needing an escapist environment to run away to when they aren’t ready to face the reality of growing up. And Reggie, the protagonist of the show, she also just happens to kind of need the attention that maybe being a famed superhero would get you so that’s what she takes the form of when she goes to party island. And it just kind of developed from there. And in terms of like party island itself, I wanted to do like a Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets like Moebius kind of vibe, where it’s like–
Cassie: I think that was very successful. Vomiting flowers and everything.
Julia Vickerman: –meets like Venice Beach in 1992. So yes, I have had a lot of fun developing Twelve Forever for the past thousand years instead of working on it.
Cassie: Was it, just like you were working on it in your free time outside of work? How many years from when you first drew the first thing that led to it versus like when you pitched it to Cartoon Network?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, that’s a good question. Yes, actually the first I had drawn a little picture of this character, just for fun. And then I remember my friend Jason Capra’s, who’s now an executive at Universal, NBC, he had just casually mentioned, he was like, you should make a show based off that character, that’s a great character. And I kind of like, remembered that he said that, but I didn’t really do anything with it yet. And then it was actually a different network that had asked me to kind of develop some ideas for possible shows and then I did pitch them this. I took like, a month off of doing anything else. I pitched it to that network that had suggested I come up with the idea and then they didn’t end up being interested so I took it to Cartoon Network and they were interested. So and Katie Cranz, the executive. And I was so excited that Cartoon Network wanted to do something with a female protagonist or that’s what I was told at that moment.
And they did end up ultimately passing on it, because they have their own brand and their own direction of where they want to go with their programming and it didn’t completely fit with that, which is, you know, fine, invalid. Because, I mean, at the end of the day, I was given the opportunity to make a pilot that was essentially very little had changed from what I pitched to them, which is a very unique thing to have happened in this industry. That you actually get to make a pilot, that was essentially what you pitched, because at least I’d never had that experience before having like, worked on developing other things with helping other people develop their things, because this was the first thing I’ve ever pitched.
And also, they do this cool thing where they release their pilots online so then, people you get to share your little short with like an international audience, which is amazing. It was an incredibly gratifying experience to get that feedback from like, kids around the world, in terms of them responding positively to it so I mean, you can’t help but feel just lucky to be a part of it. Regardless of like the outcome of whether you get a series or not, it’s like the; even though the shorts program is just such a great opportunity. So I’ve been developing Twelve Forever for other places, and we’ll see how it goes.
Cassie: So, the deal with you know, your main character is a girl. I was just kind of wondering, did you have long hair at that age?
Julia Vickerman: I did. I have long hair when I was 12. That was like, I’ve only had long hair, like two years of my life when I was 12. And then again, when I was like, 23, those are like the two years that I have long hair. But, no, the appearance of Reggie is more based on my roommate, Kelsy Abbott, who also does the voice of Reggie.
Cassie: And she has such a great voice.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I think so too. Yes. And she has long, naturally red hair and she’s just like this beautiful lady. And she grew up in a small town in Iowa. And so like parts of Reggie’s character are based on Kelsey and other parts are based on me, so she’s kind of like this combination. Julia Kelsy.
Cassie: That’s really cool. I also love that you cast Matt Berry as the villain, butt witch? Yes, I love him in THE IT CROWD so much.
Julia Vickerman: I’m obsessed with him. I was so happy that he was able to do that.
Cassie: Yes. And I think because like sidekick, like called him “Ma’am”. Because like, he doesn’t change his voice, like he’s not being a female, but he was referred to as a female. Is that accurate?
Julia Vickerman: I mean, it’s kind of like a genderless just being like the Butt Witch is just supposed to represent Reggie’s confusion about adolescence and adulthood. And like the changing female body, like puberty and all that was not so subtle image of like a voluptuous woman covered in red. And like having the deep male British voice just kind of added another level of referencing, like your voice’s changing. And yes, I just really wanted the butt witch to be confusing.
I had the appearance of looking like a boy for much of my childhood and my teenage years. And that was something that you know, like, I would get stopped from going into women’s restrooms, etc, etc. And I would never like people would call me a boy or like a dyke and stuffer, but then they would mean it in an insulting way, but it just never. I was always like, that’s so strange that that would be like insulting to call.
Or you know, how it would be equally insulting to call a feminine-looking boy like a woman, you look like a woman, I just don’t know understand why that’s even an insult. I think gender is really fun to play with and I know it’s a sensitive subject in this day and age, but I usually tend to like agree with Ru Paul’s views on gender, where it’s something that shouldn’t be taken so seriously, I think you should be able to play around with it. And if you’re feeling more masculine one day, celebrate that if you’re feeling more feminine the next day, celebrate that. My own personal style like I’m extremely feminine some days and like wearing, you know, suits the next day. I remember I wore like, a fake mustache to school one day in high school, just because I wanted to know how it felt and like, shaved my head. And I just, it’s something that I think people commit to too much.
Cassie: I like the idea of celebrating however you feel that day.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, yes,
Cassie: That’s really nice, I think and not taking it seriously.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I mean, obviously, like the rights for your gender should be taken very seriously in term of legal rights but in terms of just like, drag and dressing up in other genders clothing and I like the idea of playing around with that and expectations of that.
Cassie: So what did you learn through this entire process of creating a pilot for Cartoon Network.
Julia Vickerman: I’ve learned so much, I guess the number one thing is just like, stay true to yourself, even if you feel like you’re not doing something the right way. Because there are a million different ways to get to 100, you know, and it’s like, everyone’s path is going to be completely different developing a show. And the fact that you have a unique way of doing it, it’s just going to make your show stand out. And to not feel pressured to use tried and true, like voice actors, or tried and true formulas when creating your show, because the thing that’s going to make it exciting, is the new way that you’re doing it. And don’t be scared to involve your friends and your specific kind of special bond you have with them and bringing your real-life experiences into it. You’re very, very specific real-life experiences because that’s what’s going to make the show stand out and feel different and feel more like you expressing your own point of view.
Cassie: What do you hope people walk away with after watching Twelve Forever?
Julia Vickerman: Well, I mean, the pilot was so long ago, like, if I were to do a series now, I would, it mean the one the thing that I’m trying to write is more the message is more about like it being okay, to move on from childhood. And it’s okay to progress and grow up, that doesn’t mean that your childhood was anything less beautiful and amazing. And to also, yes, to just basically the main message that I wanted to get across is just to be okay with change and at the end of the day, there’s no way to avoid aging. And you can either fight against it, or you can embrace it in your own way. And you don’t have to age like everyone else does, you can do it your own way and that’s okay, and that’s exciting. So I guess that’s kind of the mindset that I’ve been in with Twelve Forever from the get-go. It’s also just me working through my own ship with like, aging and what that’s meant to me my whole life and why is that something to be scared of, etc, etc.
I mean with everything I make, I would hope that the takeaway is just people being like, oh, yes, I see myself in that or I can identify with that and I feel less alone in some way. I mean, to me, that’s like, always the goal with whatever I make, is it making someone else feels like oh, yes, I can relate to that and I feel less alone. Because I don’t know, I guess then that and that relates back to a lot of like, I think I was kind of a relatively lonely kid. And I sought out a lot of, you know, fictional characters as my like role models and best friends for lack of a better term. And I would like to create things for a kid, you know, who maybe can’t find themselves in their immediate environment, but they can find themselves on a TV show, or a movie so lonely sad kids
Cassie: I’m tearing up.
Julia Vickerman: Oh, no.
Cassie: I think that was beautifully said.
Julia Vickerman: Oh, well, thank you.
Cassie: That’s amazing. I believe in everything you’re saying?
Julia Vickerman: Good, I’m glad.
Cassie: This seems like a shame for what I’m about to follow that up with. But I just want to acknowledge some of my favorite lines.
Julia Vickerman: Oh, wow, yes.
Cassie: “Why is there a man in my drink?” “The King of the beach is Buster beverage”. Those are two of my favorite lines.
Julia Vickerman: Thank you. Yes, I really liked the idea of these two Midwestern kids kind of being infatuated with Southern California surf culture, like something they really have no concept of outside of, like the Capri Sun commercials they seeing on TV, you know.
Cassie: Like California kung fu.
Julia Vickerman: Exactly.
Cassie: So goofy and it was so stylized, like what the 80s right, like, I love 80 styles, so cool.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, me too. I’m a big, big fan. I also I mean, I’m a huge fan of 80s music and synthesizers and all that. So that’s something that I; the music was one of the most fun aspects of making that to me. It was working with some composers we used on Yo Gabba Gabba, Jaron Gibbs and Adam Deibert. I just love working with them and I think they had so much humor through their music as well.
Cassie: Like, what do you feel the studio’s look for in the show pitch?
Julia Vickerman: In like an initial pitch, I mean, I get enthusiasm, it relating back to the personal experience of a creator. I mean, I think that’s important all around is that this is something that’s coming from you. This isn’t just like, you guys need a show about a hamster, I’ll give you a show about a hamster. You know, like, I mean, you can give them a show about a hamster but maybe like, if you relate it back to like something or someone in your life and your past, it makes it so much more interesting.
Cassie: Well, how about what they look for in the person who’s doing the pitch?
Julia Vickerman: I think they look for; It’s a good question. I mean, they look for so many things.
Cassie: Because it seems like it’s like 50/50, you know, like, you have to have a great idea but you also have to be someone that you want to work with.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, well, that’s a huge one is being pleasant to be around is like super important. If you’re like a big old dick, like, no one’s coming if you are around, unless you’re really talented. You got to either be like, really, really ungodly talented, or you have to be really, really nice. Honestly, if you have just a great idea, and it’s flushed out, and you have like this world, or this just amazing, interesting point of view, and you’re like a nice person. And you either are an artist, or you know an artist who has done artwork for you, I mean, that’s all I need. Just go in there with like, a lot of enthusiasm and positivity and just, you know, be yourself sounds so lame, but like mine your own personal experiences and just make something that you’re passionate about because the more passionate you are, the more people are going to get excited about it.
Cassie: And you better be excited about it because it could be years that you are working on it.
Julia Vickerman: Exactly.
Cassie: So I mean, it’s very clear after speaking with you tonight that you really value your voice and what you have to bring to the table. Did you always feel that way or how did you develop that confidence?
Julia Vickerman: No, I was not confident at all growing up, I was a really, really shy kid to the point that like my parents, sent me to therapy and stuff because I just had a really hard time making friends. And I used to kind of have this mentality all through high school is like extremely, I was a very morose teenager and I went to a very religious school, and I was not a religious person. And it made me feel really alienated and angry and I was just a real angry piece of shit.
I was just like a real jerk, and I look back at those days now and I’m just like, I am really grateful to my parents for putting up with me because I was just miserable. And I thought it was like really, really cool to be miserable. And then, even through college, I kind of had a hard time, but I was kind of getting out of it. And then when I moved to LA, I just I made a really I made a very conscious choice to change my outlook and change my attitude and be more outgoing.
And try to be more of the person that I wanted to be or that I would hope that I was by the time I was 23 or whatever I was back then so long ago. Because it really; and it really was a situation of like, fake it till you make it, I think. I was really kind of did just, like pretend to be confident for years and then finally it just, you know, the groove starts to wear on your brain of these daily habits that you’ve been faking. And then before you know it, it’s kind of real. So and I mean, even at this point, it’s like, yes, I mean, at times, I feel extremely confident and at other times I just feel like, you know, a super worthless piece of shit. And it’s just like finding the balance between those two things every day and trying to lean more on the fake confidence side of it. Try to be you know, positive.
Cassie: Do you have any personal philosophies for thriving as an artist, either in your personal work or career?
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I guess it’s like thriving, I would say thriving as an artist it’s just like, just keep experiencing new things. I feel like sometimes, especially in animation, since a lot of these jobs are putting you in these situations of like isolation or you’re chained to a desk for however many hours a day, you really need to make it a point to continue experiencing life outside of your small environment. You really need to make time to travel, especially while you’re young because it’s way more fun.
Continue to meet new people and get exposed to new ideas, watch TV that you wouldn’t normally watch. I just feel like constantly expanding your mind you feel like is the best thing you can do as a creative person and an artist. Like I was saying earlier like trying new hobbies, trying that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Like when I moved out to LA and I was 23, I kind of had like a quarter-life crisis at one point where I was just like a 23 and there’s so much I haven’t done yet.
So I signed up for like an archery class. I signed up for a six-week magic class at the Magic Castle. I took improv lessons at UCB which I was so scared to do improv and just getting you outside of your comfort zone is like the quickest way to grow and learn. So yes, that would be my advice. Yes, I just think that’s incredibly important.
Cassie: Did improv help you come out of your shell as well?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, absolutely.
Cassie: Because it definitely saved my life because I was like, super, super shy and my throat would tighten before I ever had to say anything.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I mean, it’s not even an option, you just like, got to get out there. And it also in terms of listening skills, I think that was also a huge thing with improv. It really hones on you like, listening comprehension and just trying to come up with a response as quickly as you can. And it’s a great exercise mentally.
Cassie: Yes. And not always going for the obvious joke.
Julia Vickerman: Exactly.
Cassie: Yes, definitely. Do you have any self-care habits like taking care of your hands or wrists?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, God, I wish. I tried to do stretching every day, I do pull-ups every day. My [inaudible 36:00] pull up bar my room. That’s pretty much the only form of exercise I do every day. So it’s like, I look like I’m in good shape because I have like arms, but I will die of a heart attack like tomorrow because I never do any aerobic exercise.
So these are my final words, and I tried to take care of my eyes in terms of computer screens and like taking breaks and staring at faraway distances out the window for a few minutes and looking back. Not a few minutes for 20 seconds, but I tried to do little things like that.
Cassie: I feel like a lot of creative’s, they tend to work out their brain more than their body.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I would agree with that. And it’s extremely important to work out every time I get in regular workout routines I feel so much better about every aspect of my life. I mean, it’s a natural, like endorphin producer. And you just feel like, you know, you have that satisfaction like I got up early, and I worked out so I’m better than you which is just something that I need to do more often as an exercise but don’t–
Cassie: It feeds that confident monster.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, it makes you feel like you’re on top of your shit, which is a nice feeling.
Cassie: So we’re at the point of the interview where we talk about your views on female representation in cartoons.
Julia Vickerman: Oh, yes.
Cassie: Do you think it could be improved?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, God. Absolutely. I think that female representation in all media could be improved, not just in animation.
Cassie: For sure.
Julia Vickerman: I mean, it’s still this issue of just even; it’s even like a numbers game still at this point in terms of why there’s like, in crowd scenes as one woman for every four men. And then like, using a male is like an extra background character is just the default. And if you make it, oh, it’s like the woman is a slight but that’s even like a noteworthy, I don’t know. I don’t know if you, did you that article that Rafael, who are some project horsemen wrote about like, there’s going to be just a quick throw a gag that happened with a character and Lisa Anna will change that character to a woman.
And he was like, well, it’s not funny if it’s a woman, he’s like, that adds a layer to the joke, or it’s like, why is it a woman? And she was like, what are you talking about? Like, of course, it can be a woman and it kind of made him stop and I’m, of course, paraphrasing it extremely poorly. But it’s a great article
Cassie: We’ll put the link in the show?
Julia Vickerman: Yes, please do because I was just like, yes, that’s it. It’s just like, she had the attitude of like, well, why not? Why not make it a woman? And like, so many people wouldn’t be able to answer that question. And he’s an enlightened enough person to really be like, yes, I was wrong, I didn’t think about it that way and now I’m forever changed. because you know, he’s a smart guy.
Cassie: Well, I feel like, it’s subconscious. You know, in a society so when you catch yourself going, you’re like, wait, why did I think that?
Julia Vickerman: It is. It’s ingrained sexism, that most people even very, very intelligent people have. And I mean, I’m not going to lie, even sometimes I do it, I mean, I’m not as much anymore because it’s once again, practice makes perfect. If you change your habits, it becomes you know, it’s like riding a bike. But, you know, initially, it is you’re like, oh, yes, so it’ll just be a dude and, of course, you know, if in a script it says, like, I don’t know, like a circus ringleader. If you’re reading a script, and there’s like a circus ring leader, and you’re like, oh, well, that would be a man.
And it’s like, I mean, you have to ask yourself, why does that have to be a man? I mean, it’s the same with representing different races as well, I think it’s the exact same thing. It’s just like, it’s so often in if you’re a white person then white is the default and anything else is like an added layer. And it’s things you have to unlearn but it’s easy to unlearn.
Cassie: So when you’re storyboarding, do you think of like representation when you’re working?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, yes, absolutely. And it starts to become second nature after a while. I tried to put more women in the background. So I’m just no, I’m going the opposite direction to make up for what white men have been doing for decades.
Cassie: What about like people of color as well? Do you think about those things?
Julia Vickerman: Yes, completely.
Cassie: Because I feel like sometimes when a storyboard artist is working, you know, like their incidentals will get changed by the end, like, do you color them in and try to like communicate that so it goes all the way through?
Julia Vickerman: Oh, yes. I mean, the shows that I’ve worked on, we have specific guides to incidentals, and you’re pointing out who you want in each shot. So it’s just like unless you’ve got a real piece of shit, white supremacist show runner, they’re not going to change your incidentals back into white people. Because I mean, hopefully by this point, most people in this industry are also concerned with this, and they want to be better too. And, yes, it’s nice, it’s really nice to be in this environment right now, where people are more mindful of that finally.
Cassie: What are your views about women in animation behind the scenes, like making the cartoons? I think it’s fantastic, you
Julia Vickerman: I think it’s fantastic.
Cassie: Are we equal?
Julia Vickerman: No,
Cassie: But it’s so much better, right?
Julia Vickerman: It’s better, but I wouldn’t, you know, go so far as to like, pat ourselves on the back and say, like, way to go, because I mean, like, how many female show runners in animation, can you even name? It’s like, you can count them on both hands. And like that’s–
Cassie: Three come to mind and that’s it.
Julia Vickerman: That’s shameful. I mean, that basically is it’s not like because Cartoon Network has had one female show runner in the history of the network. That doesn’t make them progressive., that’s shameful.
Cassie: I was thinking of Sue Rose. I don’t think she currently has a show though.
Julia Vickerman: There we go. We’ve named four.
Cassie: It’s just like one of those things where it’s like, just because you got one under your belt does not mean that you’re done and you fix the problem. It’s the beginning and like, now, let’s take it from there.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, it’s a good time to be in animation, I’m really happy that there are so many young women who are just on the horizon of almost getting their own shows right now. And it’s going to happen within the next like two or three years so I’m very excited to see what happens from here on out. But right now, it’s still a huge issue in my mind, because also, another thing that happens is that I see this happening where networks start to develop a female-driven show, and that makes them feel good. And that makes them feel like they did the progress, but then they don’t green light it. And so then it’s and I’m not talking about myself, right now I’m talking about like others–
Cassie: Just things you’ve witnessed?
Julia Vickerman: Things I’ve witnessed and that’s what needs to happen is it needs to get a series green light. It’s just like the fact that I don’t know I just think about shows like As Told By Ginger and like Pepper Ann and Daria and these shows that were so important to me growing up and I’m just like, I want more shows like that. Where it’s female-driven stuff with like, relatable girl characters dealing with really important issues to women. And yes, I think the Steven Universe and Star this is the beginning and now let’s do some more. Six more of that.
Cassie: Definitely. Do you have any advice for young women getting into the industry or about making their own art?
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I mean, just keep making your stuff and posting on the internet, like, make comics and be weird and be gross. And try not to be afraid of that stuff, because that’s exciting. And that’s going to be like, the next wave is like women being women and not being ashamed of that. And like, not worrying about if your show is boy accessible. That’s my dream, it’s not always having to get that note of boy accessibility. Because I don’t think that’s always a note that men get when it’s the reverse situation. So more advice for just, yes, I mean, it’s this day and age it’s just like with like, Tumblr, and everything. It’s just a completely different environment than when I was getting into this industry. And it’s so exciting that so many people can just have an immediate voice and develop such a huge following, even if it’s just them in their computer and like a pad of paper, it’s really exciting.
Cassie: Simplifying it like that sounds really great.
Julia Vickerman: Yes, I mean,
Cassie: It sounds so simple.
Julia Vickerman: Yes. Don’t wait until you have like a crew of people to do it. Also, you can make a frigging animatic on, you know, software that comes on your phone, you know, a name like, people really don’t have an excuse anymore. It’s a
Cassie: You can get stop motion on your phone, now.
Julia Vickerman: Yes. So it’s like everything is so accessible and so it’s just like, yes, you just got to stay motivated. And advice for girls breaking into the industry is just like, don’t be disheartened and everyone’s waiting for you. Everyone’s waiting for you to do something really amazing. So that’s a great time to be a lady, I think. There’s a lot of blood boiling right now and something really cool is going to happen. I can feel it.
Cassie: I love that. So what’s next for Julia Vickerman?
Julia Vickerman: I want to make a show and so working on that little by little chipping away. And if this idea doesn’t go, then I want to do another idea. I love directing, I love writing, I want to make female-centric content and like I was just saying, I just feel like we’re on the verge of something. And I’m excited to get to a point in my career where I can hire other women and like be as good of a mentor to younger women as I had very nice male mentors through my career. And I would love to be that for young women so that they feel like they have more of an in and feel more welcome in this industry. And especially you know, in these like writing and directing jobs, like higher up creative jobs, I just really want to see more women in those roles. Because there’s a lot of stories to be told from different perspectives and it’s different subtle ways of telling a story differently. And I’m just so interested to see what the industry is going to look like when it’s not predominantly run by white men. And I think that’ll be you know, sooner rather than later.
Cassie: For sure. And I think we’re like mentioned and have opportunity to do their own shows, but we just need more voices, you know what I mean.
Julia Vickerman: Oh yes, absolutely not. No, I’m not a man-hating lady. I am a fan of equality. I’m interested in a 50/50 situation and I think everyone should be. So an end for genders and races. I am excited that there are so many people coming up right now that are just about to have these shows. And I’m just like, okay, just a few more years, and then it’ll be a little bit better. We’re inching towards equality and it’s exciting.