In mid-2016, LT alum Breana Williams ‘11 left Chicago for Los Angeles to pursue her dream of working in the animation industry.
“When I was younger, I really loved the old Disney films like the old classic ones,” Williams said. “I would always watch Bambi, and once my VHS was done, good old uncle Walt would come on in black and white. [He’d] be like ‘here’s the multiplane camera, and this is how you make it and look at them taking pictures and moving the glass for the multiplane intro sequence of the film.’ I didn’t quite get it, but I was like, that’s cool. I want to do that.”
Now at the age of 27, Williams is not only working as a production coordinator at Disney Television Animation but has also begun a podcast and organization with Disney Television Animation storyboard artist Waymond Singleton, Williams said.
“When [Waymond and I] were both in college on the opposite sides of the United States—he was in New York and I was in Chicago—it was kind of a thought that you know, ‘I can’t really think about or count how many Black directors or creators or just Black people in general there are in animation,”’ Williams said. “Because of that, there was this sort of unconscious, nervous fear that ‘Oh am I gonna be able to get a job in animation’ because there’s just nobody that I can think of that fully looks like me, and it’s already hard for Black people to break those glass ceilings.”
Williams and Singleton realized that there are Black people in the animation industry, but not enough people really know who these people are or what they are doing, Williams said. On their podcast “Black n’ Animated,” Williams and Singleton interview Black professionals working in animation.
The goal of the podcast is to inspire, inform, educate and empower Black creatives seeking a career in animation, Singleton said.
“[We wanted] to showcase that representation for folks who are in college or people who are in high school even thinking about [animation] as a career, to help them feel like you know, ‘I’m not alone. They can do this. They’re here,” Williams said.
“Black n’ Animated” has also grown beyond just a podcast, Williams said.
“We now lead an advocacy group for Black creatives in animation,” Singleton said. “Our mission still stands strong, but now we have built a community that supports one another and holds events to help bridge the gap between the Black community and animation studios.”
Williams and Singleton also recently put out an open letter to the entire United States animation industry as a wake-up call, showing them that there is a significant problem with race, specifically affecting people of color within the animation industry, Singleton said.
“We wrote the letter to shed light on this issue and as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement and how the movement itself ties to the industry,” Singleton said.
As a student at LT, Williams was involved in LTTV and Black and Multicultural Club. Through LTTV, Williams was able to gain an entry-level knowledge of the editing programs that are often used in the animation industry, such as Avid editing and Adobe Premiere, Williams said. She also got a good feel for working in a collaborative environment.
“I feel like my passion for working in entertainment in general was really fueled by [LTTV general manager and teacher] Bill Allan who I consider as a mentor, even a friend now,” Williams said.
Allan suggested projects that Williams could do based on her interests, he said.
“She began hosting and producing a show called ‘Anime Sensei,’ which was basically a talk show where she and a few other students shared, discussed and reviewed different anime and animated movies and TV shows,” Allan said.
Williams also began producing short animation projects, some of which won awards at the Chicagoland High School Video Festival.
One of the most lasting achievements Breana had at LT was producing a long-form documentary called “Black at LT,” Allan said.
“She took on this extremely ambitious project, interviewing Black students at LT about their perspectives and experiences, as well as other students, teachers and staff members about their interactions with Black students,” Allan said. “She shot dozens of hours of footage beyond just the interviews, researched the history of Black students and the Black community of LT, and compiled all of this into an amazing and provocative documentary.”
This documentary won a Gold Award at the 2010 Chicagoland High School Video Festival, Allan said.
“Getting to the position where I am at now, it took a lot of effort and a lot of hard work,” Williams said.
After graduating from Columbia College, Williams stayed in Chicago and worked in an advertising firm as a graphic designer until she moved to California in 2016.
“I didn’t even study graphic design at Columbia. I studied animation,” Williams said. “I didn’t know anything about being a cool designer in the slightest and just sort of fell into it because they found me at a [career] fair at Columbia.”
Williams also worked in advertising in LA for the first year that she was there. In this time, she updated her portfolio, networked and reached out to people in positions she was interested in to ask how they got that position. She eventually landed her first position in the animation industry as a production assistant at Wild Canary Animation.
“There were a lot of moments where I was just in LA, and I was very sad,” Williams said. “It felt like this [wasn’t going to] work out, especially because animation is still very much, like a lot of industries, a very male dominated space, particularly a very white male dominated space. [As] a Black woman, I kind of got a little discouraged and nervous about it.”
Williams hopes to eventually become a storyboard artist whose role is to take the script of an animation and create a blueprint of it in a drawing format, similar to the layout of a comic strip, Williams said.
“Over the years, I’ve watched Breana complete college, make connections and work an internship and then become successfully employed,” Allan said. “Her creativity and work ethic make her special. The fact that she has become a respected member of the L.A. film and animation community is incredible.”
Mira Royal Detective, a show that Williams worked on, is currently airing on Disney Junior.