Artist interview: Bianca Siercke
Bianca Siercke is a Story Artist located in Toronto. She has worked on productions for Dreamworks, Netflix, Bluesky and Sony Imageworks. She is most well known in the industry for creating sincere and believable character moments, always committed to excellence.
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When did you first discover you wanted to do animation?
“I always loved animation, but when I saw "The Little Mermaid" at 11 it had a huge impact on me. It's kind of amazing how films can make you feel seen, and Little Mermaid did that for me. It was really the starting point of wanting to be an animator.
That said, if you would have asked me “what do you want to be” when I was 11, I wouldn't have been able to let you in on this secret. The light inside me was still so insecure that if I had told anyone and they didn't believe in me, it probably would have blown out.
So my plan was that I would finance my way into animation after University, because my family was very academic. “
Did living in all of the different places growing up have and impact on your career choice and the way you animate?
“Yes, I think it did. Growing up in Germany I was exposed to a lot of different types of animations and films that you don't often see here. Some of the animations were more gritty and showed a lot of hard life lessons throughout their stories. I also remember growing up with beautiful life action Czech fairy tales, Italian and French comedies and older Japanese anime. This eclectic mix really shaped my taste.
Moving to the Caribbean was a whole nother experience. I had never seen films in English before because Germany dubs all their films. I feel really grateful to have experienced that switch, because now I watch all films in their original languages. I think it really lets you appreciate how the film maker wanted to have their film seen. I remember in particular seeing Aladdin and thinking that the comedy in this film would have been very hard to translate.
Career choice wise staying in the Caribbean would have been hard. They don't really have any animation studios or universities there, which is why I came to Canada to study.”
What was the turning point for you – to take the leap into art.
“I actually went to school to be a veterinarian first, but after doing an internship in between my first and second year I realized that I didn't want to be a vet. In my heart I already knew that I was only studying at University to finance my own way into animation later and I realized how much time I would be wasting by doing that.
I spoke with my parents and while they had their hesitations, they ended up being really supportive. They suggested that I first try out a basic art course for a year, just to see if art was truly for me. So I enrolled in an “Art Fundamentals” course at Sheridan College. The moment I walked through the door I felt at home and knew I had found my tribe.”
What is your typical workload like as a storyboard artist?
Depending what project you work on you will either be given a full episode, one sequence in the script, or you may split the script between 3-4 Story Artists. If I use Wizards as an example, we would split the script between 3-4 artists and we would all be given 5 weeks to complete the episode.
To break down the 5 weeks; Once you are given the script it's your job to read not only the section you were assigned, but to read the whole script. This is really important because as a Story Artist you have to understand the full journey/arch that your characters are going through. After reading the script you have a meeting with the director and talk about their vision for the episode. You can bring ideas and questions to this meeting and I would encourage a new artist to ask what the directors expectations are. For example you can ask if the script is locked or if the director would like you to make suggestions on the dialogue. They may have preferences on film making or on how you should use the camera. Any questions you have, you ask them here.
After you have all the information and designs, you're going to want to read the script again. You want to be sure that you know what you're trying to say with your sequence, whose point of view the sequence is told from and how your sequence fits into the whole story. After understanding these things I would explore the sequence visually in thumbnails and then ruffs. We would pitch these to the director around week 3 and then would have 2 weeks for revisions and clean up.
I also want to mention that Story Artists use a lot of reference. We reference other films to find shots, get inspiration for a mood we're looking for, or to find character inspiration. Inspiration and reference can come from anywhere. I want to mention this because I know as students we feel like we should pull everything out of our head, but no professional does that. We all use reference.
Some great websites for references are
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I think most of my inspiration comes from life, watching people and surrounding myself with things other than work. I love trying new things and meeting people. I would say that all those things influence and inspire my work in unknown ways.
A lot of professionals say this and I would like to add my voice to their voices – I would really encourage everyone to have a life outside of work. There are certainly moments where you have to put your head to the grindstone, but in the long run you need moments outside of work to fill up the well again.
What are some tips for people looking to get into the industry?
One of the good things about going to school for animation is that when you graduate you will immediately have lots of contacts. All the people you graduated with will know you and hopefully you can all help each other to find jobs.
Since part of the industry is knowing people, I would encourage you to go to events where you can meet people in the industry. Whether or not this is going to lifedrawing in your city, taking online classes to improve your skills, or going to industry events like LightBox or Annecy. You never know what knowing someone may do for you.
For example, if there are two equally good portfolios in front of a recruiter, they may go with the person that they know. I'm not trying to say that this is nepotism. You always have to be good enough to do the job, or else you won't get hired. But any productions goal is
1) to hire a person that can do the job
2) to hire someone who is great to work with and will be an asset to the team.
In regards to portfolios I was always given the advice to only put your best work. Sometimes that can mean that you may not have a very big portfolio, but in my experience it's better to put less work and only great work. Sometimes a bad piece may make an employer put doubts about your skills in their mind.
Also know that recruiters will be looking at your art on social media sites. For those of you who are designers, showing that you can do different styles can be really helpful. Sometimes a production may not know if you can match their style, but one image on your social media site that is similar to the show they're doing may be the reason they reach out to you.
Lastly, two more things I would say are;
We all experience imposter syndrome and are worried we're not good enough, but that doesn't mean you're not good enough for the job you were hired for. If it can help I want to pass on what my Animation Supervisor Tim Pixton told me. “You were hired! The question stops there.” It's as simple as that. Your job in animation is to give the director what they want. That involves making mistakes and finding what they have in their mind. Any critique is not a critique on your work, but is meant to find the illusive thing that will make the film shine.
And lastly I know that sometimes it can be very challenging to find out what it is that you want to do in the industry. The thing that really helped me was when I realized that our careers are 50 years long. 50 years!!! That is so much time. So you may find yourself doing design and after 10 years you want to try something else. So don't feel like you have to choose your 1 career path. There is so much time to try things. Each of your journeys will be your own, so don't put any pressure on yourself and don't let others judge you.
Do you think an art degree is necessary?
In my experience – no. Your work and your portfolio is what's most important. Your skill will speak for itself. That said, if you want to work in a country different then your own, sometimes having a degree can help with getting you a visa.
Also I experienced someone in the Recruiting department looking at portfolios and they sought out portfolios with degrees from prestigious schools over others. It really depends how the hiring is done, but hopefully an artist will be the one to look over portfolios as they have more knowledge of what is needed for the job.
I also wrote a post on Tumblr expanding on this question
How do you stay confident?
To be honest – I have to say I struggle. Like most artists I have good days and bad days and I'm usually my own worst critic.
My word to anyone experiencing this is that time will let you see patterns in your own workflow. You may realize that your first stage is the “Freak out stage”. Then you may go through the
“Research stage”, “Beginning drawing stage”, “Imposter stage” and so on. Recognizing your own patterns may help you understand your process and that these stages, while not pleasant, are part of the way you work. Realizing that these are part of the process can make you calm down a lot and embrace the whole experience. You may find yourself saying “Ah! I'm in the imposter syndrome phase right now. Well ....let's just keep drawing and in 2 days I'll be in the next stage”
Art always rewards those who stick with it through the good times and the bad times.
What's your advice – financially for an artist?
Most animation jobs are contract base. Contracts can be anywhere from 1 month to 6 month or a year. There is a huge difficulty in lining up jobs because no matter how good you are, if there are no jobs out there no one can hire you.
Because of that I would suggest having money put aside. If you can have 3 months of living expenses saved, it gives you a lot more breathing room when you're looking for a job.
I would also encourage people to check in with their company 1-2 month before the end of their contract. Oftentimes departments can get very busy and will forget to tell you what's happening next. Please don't feel like you're bothering anyone when you do this. Really you're helping the person in HR and it's very important for you to know if you have a job after your contract is up or not.
It may happen that HR can't tell you if they have something. This is not because they're trying to be mean to you, it simply means that something hasn't finalized. In that case I would say to start applying to other places even if just in case. Each person's financial situation will be unique to them, but you don't want to find yourself in a situation where you can't pay your rent. The more time you can give yourself to find something new the better.
Thank you so much for letting me take part in this interview series. It's been really lovely to talk to you and I hope something I've or shared can help someone who is trying to break into the industry. For all of you out there, know that you're going to make it and that being you is what makes you wonderful. I can't wait to work with you someday.