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    CGSociety :: Special feature
    by Renee Dunlop

    Keeping with Appearances
    It’s long been noted how few women there are in the field of digital effects. Both CG and women in the workplace are fairly new, but the question often asked is why haven’t the two grown in unison? While some departments are gender equal, the majority of departments are male dominated. Is this an attitude carried over from the past, the “glass ceiling”, or a conscious choice of the participants? Is it something entirely different? And are there enough opportunities? Some of the finest and most successful women with well over a hundred years of cumulative industry knowledge, along with other professionals and supporting information offered observations in an attempt to shed some light on the topic.

    Producers Ellen Coss, Loren Smith, and Catherine Winder, VFX Supervisors Karen Goulekas and Charlene Eberle, Educators Pam Hogarth and Jill Smolen, retired US Federal Administrative Judge Richard Dunlop, and Ruth Scovill, ex President and COO of Cinesite LA are included here. This is a compilation of their insights. Though this article is about women, most, if not all of this information can be equally applied to men.

    Artwork from Media Design School ( Auckland, NZ)
    Which Way Did She Go?
    Input from the top, the Producer, is a position held by an equal number of women and men. Currently, there are very few female VFX Supervisors. While interviewing the women from these two departments, I noted had they couldn’t have been more different in personality and lifestyles. Still, not one woman noticed a glass ceiling, simply because they didn’t stop to clean it. Producers Coss, Smith, and Winder worked in offices managing budgets and timelines. They relied on many of the skills used by Administrative Assistants, such as heavy multitasking, attention to detail, and strong communication and organizational skills.

    Unlike Administrative Assistants, they decide on what to do and how to get it done. Coss and Smith stated maternity leave was a non-issue, and often women took time off and returned after their leave was up without fear of losing their jobs. This was only problematic at the end of production when everyone needs to be available to get the film in the can.

    Producing can be an extremely demanding position. Says Catherine Winder, “In order to give each job its due attention, I usually wake up at 5:00 am, work for a few hours before the kids are awake, and spend time with them before going in to the office. I make sure I spend time in the evening, come home for dinner no matter what, and I’ll work later if I need to. My family gives me my energy to go forward.”

    Catherine Winder, Producer

    Charlene Eberle worked in Garfield movie.  Image © 2006 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved. "Garfield". Courtesy of Rainmaker.

    Artwork from Media Design School ( Auckland, NZ)
    Would the industry substantially change if there were more women in positions of power? I’m not referring to the just common topics such as more daycare centers, I am referring to changes that would run far deeper. Just as “Kleenex” is used interchangeably with “tissue”, visual effects have been commonly branded as explosions. If the language base was female, would VFX be synonymous with films such as What Dreams May Come (Ellen Somers, VFX Producer/Supervisor) or the painterly effects in Ratatouille (Sharon Callahan, Director of Photography)? Would there be more games like Oddworld (Sherry McKenna, Founder along with Lorne Lanning)? Each of these women held a position of influence, each project was extremely successful, and each has a style unique in the industry. Of course, there will always be explosions, and I get a kick out of them just as much as anyone. But I can’t deny I would love to see what boundaries would be pushed with a wider range of gender input.

    Artwork from Media Design School ( Auckland, NZ)
    By comparison, VFX Supervisors Charlene Eberle and Karen Goulekas, both in live-action, spend much of their time in the trenches, on set, and out of the country for months or even years at a time. Both were interested in technology, and were skilled at communication and interpreting the Director’s vision to the various production departments, in each department’s own terminology. They had learned to ignore a co-worker’s occasional need to scratch or swear, and tended to smooth over differences, but did not have time for politics. They both have partners within the industry, and neither have children so they are free to travel for their jobs when needed.

    “I’m in a unique situation because my husband is a digital compositor,” said Goulekas. “He didn’t have to take a career setback of any sort for us to be together. But if I was married to a husband who was solidly based in LA, I would have had to say, honey, I’ll see you in two years, can you come and visit every six months? Or, we just wouldn’t be married.” That same consideration applies to men.
    Eberle is working on Bionic Woman in Vancouver BC, and Goulekas just wrapped 10,000 BC and is enjoying sun and fun while chomping at the bit for her next adventure. Both love their line of work. “It’s very grueling,” said Eberle, “so you really need to love it. You have to put in time and effort to be a Supervisor. You need to know technically how everything works, lighting, cameras, the film making process, and you also have to have a personality that is going to be able to talk to everyone on the same level. Everyone’s job is important; you need to look at everyone as your equal. A lot of people have limited personal skills. Not just females, but people as a whole.”

    Charlene Eberle, VFX Supervisor
    However, there has been one gender difference in some instances: Pay. For the same job, the same skills, Eberle witnessed women often make up to 25-30% less than their male counterparts. Smith also noted a discrepancy. Was this a violation of the Equal Pay Act? I spoke with Richard Dunlop, a retired Federal Administrative Judge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    Next page

  • For Love or Money?
    The Equal Pay Act came out of the U.S Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law implemented under President Johnson’s administration.

    The Civil Rights Act basically stemmed from combating discrimination against Blacks. As an afterthought, it covered women. “Before its passage, there were several conservative senators who inserted discrimination on the basis of sex into the law, with the idea everyone would get upset and kill it. As I understand it, the people that would have voted it down didn’t show up, and the last minute insertion carried.”  Without this unintentional event, the prohibition against sex discrimination potentially wouldn’t exist to this day.

    Sex discrimination did not really take hold until much of the litigation concerning discrimination against Blacks had worked its way through the courts. A lot of the techniques for discovering illegal sex discrimination were developed by applying the same legal reasoning.

    If a US citizen finds they are underpaid for the same work as another, they have a finite period of time to file a complaint, often within 180 days. Otherwise, they get shut out of court because they were “untimely”. But it is often prohibited to discuss a person’s pay scale with another employee, and therefore they have little means of discovering unequal pay.

    Karen Goulekas, VFX Supervisor on ‘Day After Tomorrow.’ 

    ‘Day After Tomorrow.’ Image property of 20th Century Fox 

    ‘Day After Tomorrow.’ Image property of 20th Century Fox 

    ‘Day After Tomorrow.’ Image property of 20th Century Fox 

    ‘Day After Tomorrow.’ Image property of 20th Century Fox 

    Illustrated by Kate Bradley, character property of Marvel Comics.
    Related links:
    Karen E. Goulekas
    Charlene Eberle
    Ellen Coss
    Loren Smith
    Catherine Winder
    Pam Hogarth
    Media Design School
    Kate RED Bradley
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    Cause and VFX
    As anyone in this field knows, you have to love it or you will never survive it, and though pay is a considerable factor, it does not explain the gender inequities. “I am of the mind that if everybody could be president of the company, everybody would be president of the company,” said Ruth Scovill. “There is a selection process, and you might drop off at a certain rung. That doesn’t mean you are better or worse than anyone else, it’s just that you’re not destined to go to the top of the ladder. That has to happen, or you would have all chiefs and no Indians.”

    Smith offered insights on becoming a Producer. “I think it has to do with women who were in coordinating and production manager jobs who had the right connections becoming AP’s to co-producers to full producers. Other women came up through the development and executive sides, already on board with the powers that be. There are other producers who come up through the accounting track, and they use their strengths to schedule and watch the stats.”

    Universally, Coss, Smith, Winder, Eberle and Goulekas agreed the quality of women’s reels were definitely up to par. Women tend to be highly creative, and lean towards broader interests. They are less likely to suffer from color blindness. However, there is also compatibility. Reputation travels as fast as email. If a person, male or female, is difficult to work with, they can kill a blossoming career in an instant. Said Coss, “I know for myself and my peers, we always wanted to know if someone was good and were going to fit into the organization. If we found out they were trouble, we would avoid them.”

    There seemed to be little stopping anyone from a career path they wanted if they had the talent, desire, and personality, with a wide range of choices on which way to go. Many might prefer to work as a Producer rather than the often grungy work of a VFX Sup. “I think a lot of women would like to deal more with the money angle and being in the office,” offered Eberle. “I think women who are in visual FX start out maybe as a coordinator and eventually end up, just out of natural default, in a producer type role rather than sitting in the trenches getting dirty.” But that hands on work is often half the fun. “If I am out there with the boys, then I am out there with the boys,” said Goulekas. “I’m doing the same things that they are doing. If I am going to go out there and act all fragile, I don’t think I belong there. If anything, I’ve wound up being one of the boys nine times out of 10, not by any design, it’s my personality. Out on the set, getting dirty, cool!”


    Ellen Coss, Producer
    No matter which direction you want to go, extensive knowledge of the field is imperative. But as it turns out, there are still substantially fewer reels for VFX positions submitted from women than men. Coss offered a little insight. “I’m not looking for VFX Sups, I’m looking for modelers, lighters, all the line people. When I would look at reels, there might be three or four male reels to every female reel. It could be interest, I don’t know. I think you would have to go all the way to the school level and find out how many females and males are entering the business. Maybe females just aren’t that interested to begin with. Maybe if you looked at the school makeup, it would be largely male. I think the film industry is just taking the people who know how to do the work.” Eberle guessed the ratio of reels was even lower, as low as one in 20.

    School Daze
    Though there are signs of change, it’s true there are fewer girls applying for the education. I spoke to Pam Hogarth at Gnomon School of Visual Effects.” We have one class in our certificate program that actually has more women than men, but unfortunately that’s an anomaly. Most of our classes have one, maybe two women, and only about 10% of the people looking for information are female. I think it goes back to kindergarten. There’s still a perception this is a very technical field and takes a lot of math and little girls don’t know how to do that. I think that is still a fairly prevalent myth in our culture.” But there are jobs. “Over the last year and a half we’ve had 90% placement, the two classes before that had 100% placement.

    Jill Smolen, Education Director HD Expo, put it this way. “I think if women wanted to play, they would play. Watching my children and their teachers, I just don’t see any evidence of discrimination early on. I don’t see anything that would support a victim’s conversation.”
    If you are standing atop that glass ceiling, is it ok to wear a skirt?
    There are many directions one can go in this industry. If you want to be a globe-trotter, you can be a VFX Supervisor for live action, or you can work in Animation and stay close to home where you can have a family. If you prefer less technology and enjoy organization, you can be a Producer. And there are hundreds of jobs in-between. The quiz you need to give yourself is what will make you really love what you do, because loving what you do is the only job you will do well. Scovill said, “I think women bring a distinctive, wonderful element to the workplace that if it wasn’t there, the workplace wouldn’t be as whole as it could be. But the other side of that is I think we can also sometimes blame our failures on how we are being treated.”

    Jill Smolen might have put it best: “Women have to want to be hired, they have to play the game. We’ve got to step up. If we’re not, or if we’re not interested, then it shouldn’t even be an issue.”

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