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Uprising: Mollie Davis on Her Beginnings in a Diversifying and Stabilising Industry

Uprising 122 Add to collection

Sarofsky designer and animator Mollie Davis speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about her journey into the motion design industry and why “it’s not always about how much polish the work has”

Uprising: Mollie Davis on Her Beginnings in a Diversifying and Stabilising Industry

Like many children, Mollie Davis, designer/animator at Sarofsky, grew up indulging in her imagination and the make-believe. Reading her way through stacks of books and exploring the local woods, which her father was conserving and using to survey wildlife, the “pretty fearful” young Mollie preferred the quiet focus of her drawing classes, origami and “obsessive research” of authors as ideal ways to whittle away her free time - unconsciously preparing herself for a career in the creative world. 

Culturally Jewish and from a relatively small-town, middle-class upbringing, Mollie attributes some of her principles and characteristics today to her childhood experiences in her “fairly liberal” hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts. “Northampton takes a lot of pride in its feminist, queer, and artistic community and history. Growing up there influenced my outlook in a lot of ways and set me up to pay attention to power and influence. I’m grateful for that and love returning.”

Since developing an early love for Pixar animations - especially 1998’s ‘A Bug’s Life’ - Mollie seemed destined for a career in the arts. Despite never animating or using digital art software before attending college, she graduated from Northeastern University with a BFA in Studio Art in 2017. Focusing largely on experimental, independent film work during her studies, the training animator also volunteered at the Museum of Illustration at New York’s Society of Illustrators - gaining valuable access to their figure drawing sessions. She also studied abroad, “drawing, painting, and drooling over some of the most famous artworks in the world” in Florence, Italy, as well as spending a month at an animation summer programme in the UK. 

Speaking of her time at college, Mollie expresses the pride she has in the 2D short film she made in Photoshop for her capstone project, as well as the experiences and internships she completed with Hero4Hire creative, AniMAtic Boston and more by the time she had graduated. These adventures into the professional animation industry added to her portfolio, which was mostly school coursework and online courses at first, and got her hooked on the animation studio environment.

After dealing with some initial imposter syndrome, Mollie learnt two valuable lessons in the early days of her career: “To trust the process and how to receive critiques.” And after being praised for a short cel animation she created of a woman turning into a flame, she also realises the value of work made with your unique strengths and abilities, regardless of whether it was during an internship or a professional project. “I’ve had several employers point that out as a strong element in my portfolio. I think it just goes to show that, if you have the time and energy, you should do the type of work you want to get hired for. It shows your potential!”

When beginning a project, the young animator loves the initial exploration of ideas - both alone and with collaborators - before the outside world has its influence. “There’s always something to learn from each other and creative or technical challenges,” she says, before explaining an occasional, unfortunate by-product of teamwork in her field, “Miscommunication can be a real problem. No one works or thinks the same way. It’s important to hear people in good faith and be honest with each other when issues arise.” 

Hoping to avoid miscommunication, a desire for Mollie is to produce work that is compelling and “connects with people” - something that she believes is inherent to the motion that’s involved in animation. To keep up to date with her contemporaries’ compelling work and be inspired, she has curated her Instagram to follow people and studios from the motion industry, such as ‘Motionographer’ and ‘Wine After Coffee’.

“I’m interested when design trends change and we see something new. I’m also curious about how the industry is stabilising and maturing with the older generation of motion designers. For a long time, it’s been a field dominated by young talent.” 

Mollie also highlights that the field has been dominated by a less than diverse demographic of professionals, which still has “a way to go” in its current process of diversifying the motion design industry. She says, “I think we’ve made a start so I hope to see more studios actively consider people with intersectional identities and from outside the art school pipeline. Apart from the obvious social justice goal, diverse voices can only help the work. We should also think critically about how portfolios are influenced by societal issues - it’s not always about how much polish the work has.”

One of these studios leading the diversification effort with some work that Mollie admires is ‘OK Motion Club’, an Atlanta-based, woman-run organisation that she was made aware of at the ‘Dash Bash’ motion design festival last year. “I really like their principles and it’s great to see another female artist-led studio that does a variety of styles.”

Currently based in Boston, Massachusetts - where she’s lived for almost a decade - Mollie will soon be joining the rest of the Sarofsky team in Chicago, after benefitting from the remote setup that the pandemic has made commonplace for many. 

Outside of the work bubble, the animator and designer has rekindled her passion for reading and enjoys knitting, choral singing and fawning over her apartment’s cat (even running his social media). In her free time, she has also recently begun to enjoy more YouTube content as a means of relaxing and learning something new. “I have really enjoyed cultural and social analysis from creators like Cinema Therapy, The Take, Khadija Mbowe, and Contrapoints, to name a few. There’s so much we can learn from each other and it’s amazing that a lot of this content is free!”

It’s evident that Mollie finds great enjoyment and personal satisfaction from developing her skills and knowledge, both in her professional career and her leisure time - seeking an improved future for not just herself but for those around her too. Still following her passion for creativity with the same awe and wonder she found in Don Bluth animations and the woodlands of her hometown as a child, the young creative draws her motivation not just from the past, but from her work in the present and the opportunities that the future presents: 

“Staying financially stable, doing work that I’m proud of, thinking about ways I can exist sustainably on this planet and what the future might hold.”

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Sarofsky, Wed, 04 May 2022 17:08:00 GMT