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Seeking Our Story: An Animated Life: Director Vicky Jenson

Seeking Our Story: An Animated Life: Director Vicky Jenson

Vicky Jenson was born
in Los Angeles to a highly talented family that was led by her mother Ana, an
immigrant from Costa Rica who encouraged her children to explore the arts. Vicky’s sister became a world-renowned concert violinist. Their brother paints and
writes poetry. Another sister and brother-in-law ran a boutique commercial
animation company. As the Los Angeles Times reports, young Vicky began
painting cell animation for them while babysitting for her nephews. Variety notes, “Her childhood
dream of becoming a painter morphed into one of becoming a director.”

Jenson attended the
Academy of Art College in San Francisco and Cal State Northridge before working
her way through the traditional animation hierarchy. She contributed on a number of
Saturday morning cartoons, including “The Flintstones,” “The Smurfs,” “Pac-Man,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” “Animaniacs,”,the “Mighty Mouse”
reboot and the genre-redefining “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”  As a storyboard artist, Jenson developed a
unique visual style that led to design and art direction positions.  She worked as a layout artist, storyboard
artist and co-art director for Fox’s “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” (1992)
before joining the animation team at DreamWorks. 

Jenson told Animation
Magazine
, “I came into
DreamWorks looking to direct. I was hoping to go through story as a way toward
directing, because that’s how it worked at Disney: story people became heads of
story, and heads of story became directors.’” As a story artist on DreamWorks’ “Chicken
Run” (2000), Jenson built a following and was promoted to production designer/storyboard
artist on “The Road to El Dorado” (2000). Jenson was eventually asked to
storyboard for “Shrek” (2001), a new project that had already been through a
number of creators. She was promoted to co-head of story for the project and
finally moved into a director’s seat.

Shrek’s post-modern fairy tale hit a home run with audiences by subverting the genre specifications of traditional princess-saving lore. Jenson
told Animation World Network, “We had some
fun twisting fairy tales and turning them on their ear” and goes on to
explain the film’s ground-breaking portrayal of the first-ever CD people. Critic
Roger Ebert claimed, “No animated
being has ever moved, breathed or had its skin crawl quite as convincingly as
Shrek.” He said that the movie “unveils creatures who have been designed from
the inside out, so that their skin, muscles and fat move upon their bones
instead of seeming like a single unit. They aren’t ‘realistic,’ but they’re curiously
real.” Kenneth Turan praised Shrek’s “advances in computer technology that [allow] human creatures to look more like
flesh and blood.” Worldwide, the film
grossed $484 million.

While prepping her
next feature with DreamWorks, “Shark Tale” (2004), Jenosn spent weekends working
on her first-ever live-action short. Released in 2003, “Family Tree” opened up more
possibilities for her to direct live-action features. Jenson went on to helm the comedy “Post Grad”
(2009) for Montecito Pictures and Fox Searchlight. The film stars Alexis Bledel
in a coming-of-age story about a young woman struggling to enter the job
market. During the film’s release, Jenson appeared on an episode of “Life After
Film School,” now available on Hulu. Jenson also
directed episodes of the comedy series “Firsts” on Funny or Die, as well as an
entire year-long campaign of television spots, an almost unheard feat for a
director in the commercial industry.

Jenson’s extensive body of work has earned
countless awards, including an Academy Award, recognition from the Annies,
BAFTA, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Cannes, the People’s Choice
Awards and the Golden Globes. Vulture recently cited Jenson as one of the “100
Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring.”
She is currently
developing a live-action gender-flipping fairy tale, as well as a graphic novel,
both centered on a troubled young heroine.

This Thursday,
December 17th,
 The Alliance of Women Directors presents a Seeking Our Story screening with Vicky Jenson in
person at The Los Angeles Film School
. At 6pm Women In Media hosts networking and light
refreshments, courtesy of Magnolia Restaurant
. At 8pm Jenson herself will
introduce the feature film.

Samantha Shada is a Los Angeles-based director and artistic entrepreneur. She produces the Seeking Our Story series, screening influential films directed by women.

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