Girl you need to know: Animator and illustrator Ella Dobson

16 August 2019
By Fashion Quarterly

Life’s never at a stand-still for this girlboss; she’s constantly working in motion.

Age: 24
Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand

Whether it’s working on projects in advertising, film and TV or animated shorts and commercial based branded content, creative Ella Dobson is one busy lady who never has two days that look the same. We chatted to her about fueling her passions, working her way up the ladder in a male-dominated industry and found out what really makes her tick…

Here’s why Ella is a girl you need to know:

When did you know you wanted to work in illustration and animation?
I always liked to draw but didn’t quite know what that meant as a career. After I found animation, it was the perfect pairing of the two crafts. I found motion design when I was on a University exchange in Burlington, Vermont, USA. They had a bunch of different papers there that weren’t offered at my home University (AUT). I started to dabble in animation, and from there it snowballed.

How did you get to where you are today?
Trying new things, taking risks. I was lucky to have a great start in the industry working at MISTER, a production studio in Sydney, Australia. It gave me a great foundation in animation/motion design.

Who do you admire most in business and why?
Big fan of Jessica Walsh. She’s recently launched her creative agency ‘&Walsh’, joining the minority of the 0.1% of creative agencies that are women-owned… Just wild!

What’s your favourite thing about being creative?
I like bringing stories to life through visuals, but it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship. It’s never quite a straightforward process, sometimes you have really creative days and others the juices don’t flow and you just stare at a blank page.


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How important is female empowerment to you and why?
Huge. When I first started out in the industry I quickly learnt that it was mostly male. There is though an acknowledgement that it needs to change, so I think it’ll just be a matter of time until we see more women in those leading creative roles. Last year it was awesome to contribute to Spark’s celebration of International Women’s Day in a collaboration with Colenso BBDO. This year the Malala Fund asked me to work with them on something similar, but due to time constraints, I had to turn it down. I’m hoping next year I can contribute in some way! It’s awesome to be able to bring those stories to life.

Do you have any advice for Miss FQ readers who want to get into careers like yours?
Personal projects should play a part in your portfolio, whether it’s a short film or a range of short looping GIF experiments. They show that you’re eager to learn and create and that you’re passionate about your craft. Also, ‘Punanimation’ is a great online global community to be a part of. It was created to connect women within the industry of animation/motion design.

What does a typical day look like for you?
I work from home when I’m freelancing for overseas clients. I’ll start out picking off the easy things to do in the morning, then ease into the harder tasks. I seem to get the most done in the afternoons/evenings. When I work in at a studio I like to get there a little early, get a strong coffee in me and touch base with the team I’m working with. Each day can be different, you might be working on a variety of jobs.


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How do you define success?
I think it’s probably the cliché thing of finding something that you like to do, of course with any job there will be things that you don’t like, but if it mostly switches you on, I think that’s a success in some regard. Of course, having your work recognised by awards is a nice affirmation that others appreciate what you’re putting into the world.

What has been your greatest accomplishment or milestone to date?
‘When Your Child’s Bogeyman Is Real’, an animation for The New York Times, was an opportunity to bring to life a delicate story of a mother and sons’ experience with gun violence. To then see the film resonate with others on the world stage was such a compliment. I was stoked to be chosen as one of the recipients of the Saatchi & Saatchi’s ‘New Creators Showcase’ at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2019. Winning the ‘Next Animator’ category for the D&AD Awards was also a big moment. These awards are quite prestigious within the industry, and to be recognised as the winner in that category was a privilege.

What are some challenges you’ve faced or had to overcome?
Moving overseas was a big one. I left a lot behind but also gained a bunch because of it. With any big change comes highs and lows, you learn a lot about yourself. Choosing to go freelance has its challenges of course, you’ve got to put yourself out there, which can be a hard one for creatives.


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Any life-changing books, podcasts, or websites you recommend?
‘Girls Gotta Eat’ and ‘The Daily’ are great podcasts (ones for different moods)!

What motivates you?
I think with such political upheaval and disconnect in the world right now, being able to communicate topics/stories through such an expressive medium of animation, is exciting. I think people engage more with it now because it’s a different way to tell a story.

You’ve worked with such big companies including 20th Century Fox, Barron’s Group and New York Times, are there any others you’d love to work with one day?
I’d love to work on a job with Apple, they’ve collaborated with some top illustrators and animators. When I get some downtime I’d love to start working on an animated short film.

Do you have favourite quote or mantra to live by?
Keep moving forward.


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What’s your favourite go-to outfit or piece when you need to feel confident?
I have these pants from Everlane called ‘the straight leg cropped’, the best buy.

What’s the one beauty product you couldn’t live without?
Burt’s Bees. It’s the best!

When did you last act fearlessly?
Yesterday actually, decided to save the spider on my desk instead of giving it the squish.

You’ve already achieved so much, what’s next for you?
Continuing to work on developing my technical animation skills, there’s always more to learn with any software. I’m also focusing on developing my stylistic approach and storytelling methods. I love working with clients who have interesting stories that I can help tell, so I look forward to more of those!

Photos: Matt Kirk, Instagram


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