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My Biggest Lesson: Rebecca Manley

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Aardman director Rebecca Manley takes a look at the biggest lesson she has learnt and how it's changed her career

My Biggest Lesson: Rebecca Manley

Director at Aardman, Rebecca Manley isn’t afraid of a bit of advice. Especially when it's from her mum! Here, Rebecca discusses the biggest lesson she has learnt during her career. 

Q> Is there one event / piece of wisdom from your career that's always stayed with you? What is it?

Rebecca> I think one piece of wisdom that has stuck with me over the years and benefitted my career was actually given to me when I was a teenager by my mum, who is a graphic designer. She told me - 'There will always be someone better than you'.

Q> Set the scene! How old were you when you learned this insight, where were you working, how long had you been there, what year was it, what was your role and how were you feeling generally about your career at this point?

Rebecca> I was probably 17 years old, which would make it 1996, and at Colchester Sixth Form College in Essex. From the age of 11, I wanted to work in animation. But before I started my degree in the subject. I knew nothing about it, the different roles in a production or being a director. I just liked the idea of learning to animate and paint cels. It seemed like such a magical job to me!

Q> Tell us about the chain of events that led to you learning this insight… be as specific as you can!

Rebecca> I was upset because I hadn't done as well with a project as I had hoped. Instead a friend had received top marks and I was jealous of her work. Prior to that, at school, I had always been top or close to top of the class in art and design. I felt down and a bit lost because my confidence in something I thought I was really great at had been shaken. I remember being quite indignant at first, that Mum hadn't jumped to my defence and told me that mine was probably better! But, after processing her words for a while, I realised that I was relieved.

Q> And if you got some words of wisdom from a particular person or there’s a key, influential person in this story – tell us about them! What was your relationship to them, what were they like, how did you feel about them (admiration, awe, respect… disrespect)…

Rebecca> My mum is a graphic designer. She studied at Central St. Martins in the 60s and was influenced in her work by artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Michelangelo and Arthur Rackham. When I was between four and nine years old, her studio was in the attic of our tumbledown Victorian house on the cliff tops in Felixstowe. To me it was a wonderful place where she was constantly creating. From typesetting and enlarging graphic work by hand to sewing clothes and toys, I absorbed the atmosphere with great pleasure. The sounds and smells of that room are forever imprinted in my soul, from Steeleye Span on the record player, the whirring motor of Mum’s sewing machine, to the fumes of Cow Gum and Magic Markers!

Q> Why do you think it struck such a chord?

Rebecca> It was a revelation and a big truth, shattering that juvenile self-centred bubble that teenagers can often live in.

Q> How did it change you as a person and in your career?

Rebecca> It gave me freedom. I no longer felt I had made a mistake or done something wrong if somebody else's work was better than mine. It was a huge weight off of my shoulders. Both my mum and dad have always said to us 'Do your best, that's all you can do' and I think that both these pieces of advice combined have really helped me to be able to create work without fear of it not being good enough and to have confidence in my abilities.

Q> And as you’ve progressed in your career, how have you re-evaluated this piece of advice?

Rebecca> In the creative and directing world, especially in the era of social media, it is extremely easy to get sucked into negativity about yourself and your output as you are constantly bombarded with images of new work from your peers. This can be demoralising and leave you feeling down, especially in quiet periods. But in those moments, and believe me I still have them, I always seek comfort in my mum's words. I suppose I have expanded on it myself over the years, adding that when someone else does well, it doesn't diminish your achievements or how well you will do in future. It's easy to stew in your own juices and get stuck there. It can be difficult to congratulate that person and celebrate with them when you are feeling low. But doing just that can open the door for more positivity and success to come your way too.

Q> Is this insight or piece of advice something you now share with others – if so, how do they respond to it?

Rebecca> From time to time I give MA masterclasses to animation students and it is something I share with them. I hope that they breathe a great big sigh of relief just as I did back then.

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Aardman, Fri, 20 Nov 2020 13:37:59 GMT