Meet the #Girlbosses Behind a Handmade Animation Studio
We’re all about the maker life around here. From handmade ceramics to DIY graduation gift ideas, generally, we think the craftier, the better. And nobody gets craftier than the ladies behind Mighty Oak, a handmade stop-motion animation studio based in New York. Jess, Emily and Michaela work with brands and filmmakers (like Dream, Girl!) and make their own original content, all in their signature handmade (like, literally cut and paste) style, and with a mission to “bring the human touch back into the picture.” We caught up with the Mighty Oak ladies to find out what a typical day in their Brooklyn studio looks like.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF JESS PETERSON, MIGHTY OAK CEO AND CREATIVE PRODUCER
7am: Wake up and turn on the TV while pouring a bowl of cereal. I’m serious; I can do both at the same time. I’m definitely a morning person but still need incentive to wake up — food and noise will do it. TheToday Show is my guilty weekday go-to. It’s ridiculous and loud and usually leaves me with one weird fact to bring with me to work for the day. Then I make breakfast for my husband and we talk about work, media and politics for way too long. Part of the stimulation process!
8am: Walk the hubby to the train and head out for a morning jog. I’m not patient enough to meditate, but jogging lets me zone out and think about new ideas for the week. The ladies will tell you that Mondays are my biggest “new idea” days. It’s also a good time to say hello to all of our neighbors — we live on a very friendly block.
10am: Officially start the work day with the team. Greet Louise, (Michaela’s Maltipoo) with hugs and kisses. Each week, I lead the team through a meeting about our client work, original projects, marketing strategy, operations and financial projections. It’s a lot to cover, but as a small team, it’s so necessary that we communicate. It also helps empower everyone with information about how the business is operating and allows us to make informed decisions. We may work in a world of make-believe, but business is business!
12:30pm: Prep my lunch. I’m lucky that my apartment is just two floors below where we work, so I have a pretty nice commute. We took over the abandoned studio last year and renovated it ourselves (with the help of Emily’s husband Ellis of Tri-Lox studio.) It was a lot of dirty work, but so rewarding! Now we get to work in some kind of magical dollhouse, and know that we built it with our own hands.
Back to my lunch — can I just say that having a stove in your workspace is a game changer? You eat better and feel better throughout the day. Plus, you save money. It’s a luxury that I don’t take for granted.
1-7pm: As CEO and Creative Producer of a small creative studio, my role can range on any given Monday. You might find me updating our Quickbooks, creating project templates, posting on our social media accounts, designing a deck for a new client, on the phone with a current client, traveling for a meeting, brainstorming with the team on a creative project, speaking with press, speaking with our lawyers, signing contracts, updating our website, working with our interns, paying the bills, answering emails and even acting as a hand model for an animated video. But it’s a lot less sexy than what Emily and Michaela do on the day-to-day — you should hear about what they get up to in the afternoon. (Keep reading to find out!)
7:45pm: FINALLY, it’s time to prep dinner and unwind with a glass (or three) of wine. With everything I just mentioned above, I’m probably still working. But again — wine.
11:30pm: If I haven’t already passed out on my couch, I’ll head to bed with the hubby, do one last IG and Snapchat search for the night, and then try to turn my brain off. As an entrepreneur and a creative, this isn’t easy to do, but the sweet sounds of The Golden Girls usually do the trick. Thank goodness for those girls.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF EMILY COLLINS, ANIMATION DIRECTOR
7am: Read the news and check social media from bed. Fall back asleep for 20 minutes.
7:50am: Get out of bed and make a smoothie. These days, blackberry, banana and coconut milk is my favorite combo. Then I take a shower and get dressed. The challenge is always finding something that looks professional and comfortable, but that I don’t have to worry about getting messed up with art materials. I haven’t completely solved this issue yet. Open to suggestions!
9:15-9:25am: Out the door on my bike (since it’s warm out now). I bike from Bed-Stuy to Carroll Gardens. It’s a great ride and I love cruising by cars stuck in morning traffic.
10-11am: Arrive at the studio. Touch base with teammates. We chat about our workflow for the day and what’s happening in the news. With so much going on in the world right now, we come up with a social media concept to share at the end of the day. But first, on to client projects.
11am-3pm: I am working on drawing and sketching ideas for an upcoming client project. I sift through the script we’ve developed and create out sketches on paper to feel out which visuals will work. I call Louise over when I’m stuck. Petting the dog and taking a step back helps me come back to the table with a more efficient brain.
3pm: I meet with Michaela and Jess to discuss the storyboards. They give feedback, helping to hone the visual concepts. The force of collaboration never fails to amaze me! Ideas just get so much richer when there are multiple minds at it.
5pm: We’ve refined the storyboards and prepare for send-off. We send the storyboards along with a mood-board and style samples we’ve created to give the client a dynamic sense of how the video will feel and look.
5-7pm: Quick fabrication for a social media GIF. Michaela and I choose an object from our prop basket that reflects the idea, set up the shot and animate it. We collaboratively work out some copy for the post to be shared on Instagram and Facebook.
7-8pm: I bike back home. I realize I need a new bike light.
8-11pm: Eat dinner with my husband Ellis and hang out with my big white cat, Tiki Pudding. We listen to and talk about a new Space Disco album that he bought.
11pm-12am: I touch base with the news and social media again, then fall asleep.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF MICHAELA OLSON, ANIMATION DIRECTOR
8:30am: Wake up. I eat some breakfast and catch the beginning of Live With Kelly. She keeps me in the loop. I pack a lunch and resist the urge to put a banana in my backpack. Because banana + backpack = disaster. I’ve learned this the hard way.
9:40am: My dog Louise and I scurry over to my car, wherever it’s parked. We both buckle up and head to work, which is a quick drive, faster than taking the subway in this case. Having a car in the city can be a pain, but it’s also been a life-saver for lugging around equipment and materials for work. Today I’ve run out of coffee beans at home, so I drive through Dunkin’ Donuts for an iced coffee because the spirit of the New England suburbs still lives in my heart.
10am: I meet with Jess and Emily to discuss current and upcoming projects, business development, marketing, accounting, etc. We have these meetings twice a week and it helps me wrap my brain around other aspects of the business besides just creating. I get excited when Jess says there’s “fun news” at the beginning of the meeting. A new client lead!? 100 new followers on social?! Mango popsicles in the freezer for everyone?!
11am: Em and I meet to go over the creative and conceptual aspects of a project. She’s been working on a treatment for an upcoming project. If we get stuck on an idea, we have a brainstorming session. For a brainstorm, we fill the whiteboard with ideas. We’ve painted a wall in our studio with whiteboard paint so we can really go nuts. There are no wrong ideas in a brainstorm, so things can get pretty real.
12pm: I put the final touches on the piece I’ve been fabricating. I’m planning on animating this later, so most of the elements must be movable. Let’s say I’ve been working on a 3D puppet. She’s got a flexible wire armature covered with foam, pantyhose (yes, pantyhose), liquid latex and acrylic paint. Her head is made out of epoxy clay with movable eyes and magnetized mouths, so that I can replace them to give her a little smile when I’m animating her. I’ve also created a set for her made out of a mix of fabricated pieces and found objects. I have multiple boxes filled to the brim with little found “whatnots” because you never know what could make the perfect miniature ceiling lamp (hint: a ping pong ball cut in half).
2pm: Lunch. I Snapchat Louise sitting on the desk like a cat, or Emily dancing in ultra-high-speed (at her request). I take Louise out for a walk in Carroll Gardens. I always run into our neighbor Vicki, who regales stories of old Brooklyn. She tells me the one about “Crazy Joe” Gallo, the gangster with a pet lion who used to live around the corner.
3pm: I start setting up to shoot my scene. I light everything using a combination of sources, including a little LED light that I put into my ping pong ball ceiling light. All uncontrolled light sources, like windows, must be blacked out or the scene will have an inconsistent light and look flickery. I hook up my DSLR camera to DragonFrame stop motion software. Once I get things looking just right, I begin shooting. For each frame, I move the characters a little bit and take a picture. I think about the science of how the human body moves, gravity, physics etc. I’m just playing with a doll in a dark room like a madwoman. But also, SCIENCE.
7pm: On a low-key day I’m heading home. I have a nice dinner with my husband, with Louise staring at us throughout.
9pm: I do a look-through of my work from the day. While I try to be as productive during the day as possible, I can’t deny my night owl bursts of creativity and I like to reevaluate my work once I’ve had some time to let my head clear. I start throwing some of my scenes that I shot today into After Effects to work on post-production clean up and edit. But, I try to resist getting overly involved in work too late. It’s too easy to find myself working on a project until 2am and be burnt out the next day. I close my laptop and inevitably end up doing some simultaneous Netflix and “pajama yoga” before heading to bed.
What’s YOUR typical Monday like? Tweet us about it @BritandCo!
(Photos via Mighty Oak)