In Conversation: Women In Animation Scholarship Recipients

Last modification: 13 Jan, 2022
9 mins

Today we want to take a moment to highlight the great work of the Women In Animation (WIA) organization. Founded in 1995, WIA continues to be the only organization dedicated to the advancement of women’s careers in the animation industry through various mentorship programs, in-depth resources, and an annual scholarship.  

The WIA Scholarship, of which Autodesk is a proud sponsor, offers several tiers of awards including over ten grand prizes of $1000-$2500 USD, free software packages, and mentoring opportunities. The scholarship is open to all applicants who are WIA members (sign up here) and “identify as part of an underrepresented gender, including but not limited to female, non-binary, and transgender.” 

With the announcement of this year’s 2021-2022 awards fast approaching in February, we wanted to take some time and speak with a few of last year’s recipients – Jiamu Tao, Samantha Blum, and Micah Rimando – to learn more about their individual experiences, goals, and advice to fellow artists. 

Click here to learn more about the WIA scholarship. 

Tell us about your background.

Jiamu: My name is Jiamu Tao. I graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a BFA degree in Animation and I’m now in my first year at the University of Southern California for a graduate degree in Animation. I have interned at Tencent Games as a 3D animator and have freelanced on 2D animation commercials and illustrations.

Samantha: I'm currently a student looking to get my BFA in Visual Development. I'm mainly focusing on character design but I'm also trying to learn all aspects of visual development including backgrounds, props, and color scripts. 

Micah: I am an advocacy-driven graphic designer, multimedia artist, and aspiring animator. While working, I am completing my Master’s in Digital Art & Design with a specialization in 3D Animation at the New York Institute of Technology, Manhattan. In every story I tell, I shed light on pressing issues concerning the marginalized sectors of society. 

What inspired you to get into Animation?

Jiamu: I’ve loved art since I was a kid, but the final straw that got me into animation was the movie Frozen. I watched Frozen in the 9th grade at a point in my life where I was starting to think about my future. The vulnerability of the characters and the impact of the music and VFX hit me so hard that after thinking about the film for a whole night, I decided to devote my life to animation. Since getting into it, I have found that animation is a medium where you can create anything. The room for imagination and creativity draws me in even more. 

Samantha: I’ve always loved animated movies and how they can create stories for the entire family. Every character design tells a story and plays a vital part in making the story and its characters both believable and relatable.  
Character designs by Samantha Blum

"Heroes & Villains" Original Character Designs by Samantha Blum

Micah: Growing up, I was always in awe at animated films, as if I was transcending into different worlds that were both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Although I’ve explored most forms of visual art, I find myself most aligned with animation. I find animation to be an intersection of many forms of art like film but in a very stylized fashion. As an “artivist” (artist-activist), I realized the power animated films can have in the causes I fight for.  

"Animation is a relatively newer form of visual art, especially in developing countries, and I want to help revolutionize the animation industry and tell the stories that need urgent action." -Micah Rimando

Tell us about the winning project. What were some of your inspirations or challenges? What was the scope, workflow, and/or collaboration like?

My winning project Dad’s Hibiscus was my thesis film at SVA. The original idea was to express how time flies and how quickly we lose our childhood and youth. As I structured the story, I realized the keyword was “loss”. To visualize that, I created a story about a kid losing his father.  

It wasn’t my first time making an independent film but to work on a rather lengthy film all on my own was still daunting. I had to look over everything. I did most of the pre-production and production myself. I had help in regard to sound design as well as cleaning up and inbetweening the animation. 

Samantha: My application was informed by my own experiences in life involving my younger sister who is non-verbal. I really wanted to take this subject and make a story/character concept out of it since it is such a huge part of my life and a topic that more people should be aware of. I'm currently remaking it for my portfolio. 

Micah: My current work tackles socio-political issues that I feel strongly about as a Filipino woman who has experienced poverty and injustice in the Philippines. I am inspired by Social Realists who champion the issues in these vulnerable communities. Animation is a relatively newer form of visual art, especially in developing countries, and I want to help revolutionize the animation industry and tell the stories that need urgent action.

Original character render "Tala" by Micah Rimando

What advice would you give for women starting out in Animation?

Jiamu: My advice for women starting out in Animation also applies to everyone starting out in this industry: stay true to what you like and don’t try to fit yourself into something you don’t. Only by telling your own stories can you be recognized as a unique artist and having your voice and representation come through. 

Samantha: Study from the greats! I feel like people say this all the time but it's true. Not everyone goes and digs to find the concept art behind the movies and animation they love. But if you study from people who know what they are doing in the industry then those tricks and tips will start to appear in your drawing as well. 

Micah: We women who belong to the more vulnerable sectors in society can rise up against the status quo, and it starts with taking power in the male-dominated workforces such as the animation industry. This is not about putting women over men, but advocating for equity among all humankind, all while remembering the root causes of gender issues that make such inequalities exist. 

By Jiamu Tao

What would you like to see changed in the industry?

Jiamu: As the pandemic continues, a lot of studios are keeping their work remote. It is critical for artists to balance their own life and work as well as dealing with the mental health issues that arise when day-to-day human interaction is not granted.  

Samantha: I absolutely would love to see more attention brought to people with disabilities. Moving forward, I'm going to keep creating stories that touch on these subjects so that people can finally see more stories that include characters with disabilities. And as always, I would love to see more women in the animation industry. That's WIA’s main goal which is why I'm so happy to be a part of this organization. 

Micah: Like any other laborers, animators are often treated unfairly. There are countless issues: historically-known gender bias, lack of racial inclusivity, low or incommensurate income in some studios (especially those outsourcing from poorer countries), union-busting, and the disregard for the mental well-being of workers—all of which is rooted in systemic injustice. 

"Dad's Hibiscus" Concept Art by Jiamu Tao

 What's next for you?

Jiamu: Right now I’m preparing for my next short film. It’s a story about a crane and will be done in the style of traditional Chinese watercolor. I’m also enhancing my portfolio for potential internships and jobs. I often feel lucky that I decided to step into this industry. People in animation are all passionate about what they do, and it creates an inspiring and loving environment more than any other industry I can think of. 

Samantha: I'm going to keep learning and growing as an artist, hopefully landing some freelance or an internship in the future as well as keep working with WIA! Thank you for this opportunity! 

Micah: I am still perfecting my skills while deepening my understanding of the socio-political issues that I relay through my works of art. Like any other profession, I believe this is a life-long learning experience, and that there will always be something new to learn. When I am ready, I want to gain some experience in the animation industry. But eventually, I want to gather all that I have learned and form a progressive animation studio. 

See more from the artists: 

Jiamu Tao – 

Samantha Blum –  

Micah Rimando –

*Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity*  


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