Blue Zoo animator Carol Mau talks honing skills, essential tools and working for CBeebies
Glued to the telly watching early 2000s cartoons, Carol Mau fell in love with the “strong shape language and bold linework” of shows such as SpongeBob Squarepants and Ed, Edd n Eddy. Graduating in the thick of the pandemic, a period of online mentoring and constant portfolio revision helped them find their break as a junior animator with children’s animation studio Blue Zoo, working on pre-school cartoon series Millie & Lou. After winning a competition on Instagram and briefly interning for Jellyfish Pictures, they subsequently returned to Blue Zoo, spending the past year working on CBeebies’ Supertato. Here, Carol discuss networking with social anxiety and how personal projects have helped them develop their voice and style.
Junior 2D Animator, Blue Zoo
BBC Studios, Tencent Video, YouTube, Brixton Bid
2D Animator and Intern, Jellyfish Pictures (2021-2022)
Junior 2D Animator, Blue Zoo (2021)
Place of Study
BA Animation, Falmouth University (2017-2020)
What I do
How would you describe what you do as a junior 2D animator at Blue Zoo?
As part of an animation team, I help to realise the vision of an animation series by making many creative decisions, based on what the director wants to get across in the story. This could be what action the character is doing or the timing of when they do this – whether it matches with their personality and is consistent with the story – all while ensuring that the movement flows nicely, is entertaining to watch and looks appealing.
I work in a tight-knit team of five. There are two other teams of similar size, each of which work on a separate episode. Episodes are split into shots and every animator is given a chunk of shots to complete. We usually have an episode briefing before we start and use the animatic [animation storyboard] provided as reference to keep track of the story. After completing shots, we receive feedback from both the animation director and director, and make changes to work if needed. Then repeat!
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Cartoons! I watched so many as a child – shows like Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Ed, Edd n Eddy, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, SpongeBob Squarepants… the list goes on. I love the variety of art styles in early 2000s cartoons, especially those with strong shape language and bold linework. To this day, I still watch cartoons and am always eager to see what new shows come out.
Anime has also been a big influence! My all-time favourite is Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Anime has such a huge variety of genres and stories that target audiences of all demographics – I feel that Western animation falls behind on this sometimes – so it’s nice to see what else is out there.
What recent project at Blue Zoo are you most proud of?
For the past year, I’ve been working on Supertato (above), a children’s animated series for BBC Studios [CBeebies] and Tencent! It’s been exciting to see the episodes finally being released to the public and received so positively from families – the children’s fanart that comes out of it is very cute! Also, seeing your name in the credits is a great feeling. If you have a TV licence, you can watch the series on BBC iPlayer!
How I got here
What kind of skills are needed to do your role? And would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
A good understanding of the 12 animation principles is crucial! I recommend checking out Alan Becker’s introductions to these on YouTube.
It also helps to have knowledge of animation software, such as Adobe Animate, CelAction2D, Moho, Toon Boom Harmony and TVPaint. You don’t have to know how to use all of them – it depends on which studio you want to apply to, as the preference of software can vary, and on occasion studios will offer training. Currently, the program I use the most is Toon Boom Harmony.
Also, time management and communication skills! It’s important to know what speed you work at and be able to give an estimate of how long it’ll take to finish something, as this will be really helpful for your animation supervisor to keep things on track. There’s no shame in admitting if your workload is too much, or if someone has been assigned to take some of your shots – remember that you’re part of a team, working towards the same goal. It’s nothing personal!
“There’s no shame in admitting if your workload is too much – remember that you’re part of a team, all working towards the same goal. It’s nothing personal!”
How did you land the job?
Before this job, I interned at Jellyfish Pictures and was soon to be a storyboard revisionist on an upcoming children’s show. However, the project was cancelled. The company was affiliated with Blue Zoo, so I was referred to them. Luckily, they were in need of more animators and since I had worked there before as my first job, they hired me back.
What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I graduated during the peak of the pandemic, in July 2020. It was a difficult time for sure. I spent weeks applying to studios and had no luck. Job searching is like a job in itself – and quite a draining one – so my heart goes out to anyone who’s struggling with it right now. I remember feeling like I was falling behind, as I saw some of my peers being hired straight out of university and already achieving big things. “Compare and despair” was my mentality at the time, which wasn’t healthy.
I felt dissatisfied with my portfolio work and, after rejections and radio silence from studios, it was clear that it needed some improving. I decided to get in touch with professionals in the industry, asking for advice and feedback on my work, and even applied for an e-mentorship programme. I spent the rest of the year creating new work for my portfolio, learning animation software or improving my skills, and then attempted to apply to studios again.
“After rejections and radio silence from studios, I decided to get in touch with professionals in the industry, asking for advice and feedback on my work.”
It wasn’t until February 2021, when I would receive a job offer from Blue Zoo to work as a junior animator on a pre-school animated series, called Millie & Lou, which would start in June. I was so excited but super nervous, since this was my first ever job, and it was quite overwhelming in the beginning.
I felt lots of imposter syndrome, like somehow I had tricked this company into believing my work was good enough and didn’t actually know how to animate. Which wasn’t true of course, and most of my fears went away when I told my team lead about it. I was surprised to find out that even with over seven years of industry experience, he still felt imposter syndrome sometimes!
I’m very thankful for that day and so happy to have worked on Millie & Lou as my first show – it holds a special place in my heart.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
I came across a campaign, known as The Secret Story Draw, which is aimed at giving opportunities to underrepresented ethnic groups in the creative sector. They held a competition, where you chose a story written by a selection of professional children’s writers and interpreted it in the form of an animation or illustrated piece. Winners would be rewarded with a paid internship from a studio that was part of the campaign.
I created a short animation, which fortunately became one of the winning entries, and I was offered to intern at Jellyfish Pictures. I would highly recommend taking part in this initiative, as this will give you a great chance to get into the industry. Even if you don’t win, it’s still a useful experience, as this will give you a project to work on with a set deadline and it can be added to your portfolio. Also, you’ll be able to meet other awesome people to connect with!
Finding a mentor has been an invaluable experience. It’s so important to get a professional opinion on your work and just feedback in general, as this will help to give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. I signed up for a (free!) e-mentorship programme, called Prospela, and would recommend giving it a try, since the professionals on there are specifically dedicated to supporting you. I was matched with a storyboard artist and their feedback greatly helped to improve my portfolio, while their encouragement gave me hope to keep pursuing this industry.
You could try contacting professionals through e-mail or social media, but make sure the questions you ask are specific and thoughtful, as they can be busy people and sometimes you might not get a response at all. Avoid asking vague things like “how can I get hired in the industry?” or “what should I put in my portfolio?” as most of these answers can be found in a Google search. There’s lots of professionals that make YouTube videos about it too, such as Ethan Becker, Anoosha Syed or Michelle Lam. For some encouragement, check out Adam Duff’s videos!
If you take an animation course in university, the book, The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams, gets recommended a lot – and with good reason! It’s the best place to start with learning animation, since it breaks down movement into clear, easy-to-understand chunks, with lots of examples that you can try to emulate and study. This covers the twelve animation principles in great detail too.
“I was surprised to find out that even with over seven years of industry experience, [my team lead] still felt imposter syndrome sometimes!”
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
While it isn’t as bad these days, social anxiety is still something that I struggle with. I’ve botched interviews and have avoided networking in the past, as the thought of talking to industry professionals intimidated me. especially as someone just starting out in their career. Asking for help when struggling can be hard at times too. The thought of feeling like a burden and taking up someone else’s time can crop up, though it’s always best to let someone know as soon as possible. I have to remind myself that most people are friendly, and to be present in the moment, instead of lost in my thoughts.
Have there been any courses, programmes or access schemes you have found helpful?
It’s worth checking out ScreenSkills, which has lots of great information on how to get into the industry and up-to-date news on what’s going on, along with offering opportunities and free e-learning courses.
There’s an infamous Google spreadsheet that shares animation jobs from all over the world, created by Chris Mayne, a professional animator himself.
Also, if you want to get some insight on salaries in the animation industry, there’s a great spreadsheet ran by an Instagram account called Salty Animators, where many people from around the world have anonymously submitted their salaries into the document, along with details of what studio, their gender, years of work experience and other comments – it’s very interesting! The Instagram account itself has lots of funny posts that show a glimpse of what it’s like working as an animator.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
To be honest, I’ve been living with my parents to save money. If you’re not in a place where you feel financially stable and have the option to do so, there’s no shame in staying at home! You won’t have to worry about rent, and it’ll give you more time to reflect and plan what you want to do with your career. It’s easy to feel pressure to move out as soon as possible, but it’s important to have a safety net first, to give you some peace of mind in the future.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t give up! I understand that getting a job in animation feels impossible, but I promise there’s room for you in this industry. Be proactive, get feedback, research and most of all, be kind to yourself.
Also, create your own personal projects! You’ll find out how you work and it’ll make your portfolio stand out in a recruiters’ eyes, since this will give them a better sense of your unique voice. There’s even a chance it could create new opportunities and it’s just very rewarding to work on something you’re passionate about.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Research! If you want to get your first job, find junior animators from studios and look at their portfolio – notice the quality of their work, what are the contents of it and try to figure out why they were hired by a studio. This will give you an idea of the standard of work you should be aiming for to get a junior role. Look at your own portfolio and see what you could add and remove.
Don’t apply to every studio you see. Make sure that the style of work you produce matches with the style of the company. For example, if you like to animate grotesque creatures that violently eat people, it’s very unlikely that a studio which focuses on wholesome children’s content will hire you.
There’s a great Google spreadsheet created by Marie Lum, a professional storyboard artist, who compiled a collection of mostly free resources you can check out to improve your skills, learn about certain job roles and more!
Mention Carol Mau
Interview by Lyla Maeve