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Meet Kaitlyn van der Zweep

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kaitlyn van der Zweep.

Kaitlyn, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up — an animator. When I was younger, I was always doodling and making my own comics. Cartoon characters bordered the margins of my class notes, and I always supplemented answers to essay questions with a drawing or two. (Admittedly, I usually spent more time on the illustrations than on answering the question fully.)

Fast forward to my third year in college. I’m studying animation, and for the first time, I’m wondering if it’s really for me. I was taking classes in both digital and traditional animation, and while I enjoyed both, I didn’t feel fully passionate about either.

My university did not offer any courses in stop motion, and as my graduation date approached I began to panic about my future. Almost like a last-ditch effort, I enrolled in a semester abroad in England and took an introductory class in stop motion animation. I soon discovered stop motion was the type of animation for me.

Geared with the limited amount knowledge a short introduction class can give, but bursting with enthusiasm, I returned to California and instantly jumped into making a stop motion short. Making the film was definitely a learning experience, full of ups and downs and more downs.

However, I learned from my mistakes and continued to practice animating. From there, I scored an invaluable internship with Open the Portal in DTLA and continued to learn and gain experience.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I wouldn’t call it a smooth road, maybe more of a scenic route. After college, I spent the better part a year working a day job and coming home to animate at night. At the time, I was living in a crowded house with five other people and two large dogs. The tricky part about stop motion animation is that the animator needs full control over all of the elements, which is difficult to achieve in a busy house.

In order to ensure I had full control and wouldn’t have any unexpected visitors turn on lights or bump into my table,  I’d wait until everyone was asleep to animate. A typical day for me would be working my day job from 1 pm to 10 pm, relaxing at home for a bit, and then animating from 1 am to 4 or 5 in the morning. As a self-proclaimed morning person, working through the night took a little adjusting, but ultimately it was worth it.

On a whim one day before work, I emailed the stop motion studio Open the Portal a reel of some of the stuff I had been working on. I was invited over for a screening they were hosting, and eventually starting interning at the studio. It was amazing to see how a real animation studio functioned and to learn more about the animation style from professionals.

As an intern, I continued working my day job, and between both, I rarely had a day off. However, the knowledge and confidence I gained through Open the Portal eventually encouraged me to quit my day job, and join the freelancing workforce.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
Most of my animation experience has come from working at small studios. Because of this, I’ve learned about various parts of the stop motion pipeline; from production, lighting, fabrication, animation, and post-production.

My familiarity  with the entire process has enabled me to take on small projects on my own. Personally, I am really drawn to the animation aspect. Although it is not the final step in the process, it’s where “life” is given to the characters and objects.

I also find animation very rewarding. Sometimes a puppet or rigging system is not designed for the action you’re trying to convey, but with a little creative problem solving you can achieve the illusion of the movement you’re going for, and I find that very rewarding.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I believe luck got me started, but my work ethic and character have continued to push me forward. When my first opportunity came through Open the Portal, I felt incredibly lucky. I had sent them a cold email and got a response later that day.

At the time, it felt like a one-in-a-million chance. The email could have easily been overlooked, misplaced, or the studio could have been very busy that day and my email could have been lost among others. Thankfully, it lead to an opportunity.

Once I started interning, I always made sure to be as helpful as possible. If I was not given a task to do, I’d look for a way to help out. I was not afraid to take on roles I hadn’t done before. Even if I did not know how to do something, I was quick to figure out the best way to do whatever was asked of me. This highlighted my work ethic and led to more opportunities and connections. A little luck, and a lot of hard work goes a long way.

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