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Ellen's full bioAnita Borg

1 What inspired you to become a visual effects supervisor?

2 Have you faced resistance in the industry because of your gender?

3 How do you deal with resistance?

4 Does your technical background help you when dealing with Hollywood?

5 Have you ever been intimidated by technology?

6 Did you like math in high school?

7 What do you like best about your job?

8 What has been an important factor in your success?

9 What advice do you have for young women starting out in technology?

10 Is technology helping tell stories on film?

11 What are some roadblocks you've seen in your career?

12 What kind of education do you suggest for someone who wants to get into your field?

13 Why is film school the most interesting approach?

14 Is CG animation true animation?

15 Do you have any parting words for the audience
Ellen Poon, Visual Effects Supervisor, Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucas Digital Ltd. LLC

Our Special guest today is Ellen Poon, the Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucas Digital Ltd. LLC. Ellen obtained her undergraduate degree in Computer Science from the University of Essex in England. She continued her Ph.D. studies at the University of London and subsequently published two books on her research in Theoretical Computer Science. Ellen has worked on groundbreaking projects such as Jurassic Park, The Mask, Disclosure, Jumanji and Perrier's "Toy Soldiers" spot. She is a unique artist who can supervise a computer graphics crew, create character animation and perform lighting tasks for feature films and commercials.

We are honored to have Ellen with us today. Welcome Ellen.

Ellen: It's good to be here, thanks.

Moderator: Happy to have you. Before I take questions from the audience, can you tell us what inspired you to become a Visual Effects Supervisor?

Ellen: When I was studying computer science back in England, I was very interested in computer graphics. Another interest of mine is film and at that time I could see a future for combining film with technology. When I came to work for ILM, the role that can combine technology with creativity is being a visual effects supervisor.

Moderator: Great! Did you meet any resistance as a woman in this field when you first started out?

Ellen: Yes I did and still do. I think the fields of graphics and animation are very woman friendly. However, when it comes to film, it's slightly more resistant to women. Hollywood is still quite male driven. When I go to the set or to a meeting, they normally expect a man. Traditionally my role has always been a male role. I am breaking into it and changing people's perception.

Moderator: Yes, men are expected to fill those roles and I have walked into many a room where they wonder, "where is her boss?"

Ellen: Exactly my point.

Moderator: Do you have any tools for overcoming, or dealing with the resistance?

Ellen: The best tool is to be confident with yourself, of who you are and how much you know about what you do.

Moderator: Well said!

Ellen: Once they find out you are good, they start to respect you. But it does take a while.

guest-Wendy asks: Do you find your background in technology gives you more credibility in dealing with Hollywood?

Ellen: Well, yes and no. My job is a mixture of technology and artistry. Sometimes they fear that you are too technical or too artsy so I play it carefully to give them what they need but not too much otherwise I will lose their interest.

However, this computer graphics field is overtaking Hollywood so they are beginning to know more and more. So it's getting better. So it's good to know your technical stuff!

Moderator: Yes, it does seem that the technology is present in many more films than ever before.

Moderator: Ellen, have you ever been intimidated by technology?

Ellen: Mostly no. I love mathematics! I love learning new things, new technology in particular! But I don't let it take over my life though. I like to improve myself all the time and not lag behind. Which is key to our jobs nowadays!!

Moderator: You mentioned you love math – did you like math in high school?

Ellen: I love math and was very good at it. I still do—I hope. Apart from that, I was also very interested in other subjects like history and economics and literature.

Moderator: Good for you that you continued your math. Many girls don't because of peer pressure.

Ellen: I don't think girls should fear math or science subjects. Trust me, we can be just as good in it as boys/men, if not better sometimes. I believe it. One thing which drives me most of the time is we (all people) can achieve what other people can achieve, gender has nothing to do with it. As a result, I am interested in both arts and science at the same time.

Moderator: Yes, it's also important to show a balance in your life. That working in technology can empower women and afford them more choice in their lives. And successful women role models can show this to be true to young girls.

Ellen: I hope I can be one.

Moderator: Ellen, you are a role model! Which is why you are on GirlGeeks Chat!

Ellen: To be true to myself is very important, technology is part of our life and we all should be part of it.

guest-Susie says: What do you like best about your job at ILM?

Ellen: My job at ILM is like being in university and in the outside world at the same time. We are constantly pushing the envelope in what we do both in creating new images and the techniques that produced them. Secondly my projects change all the time, so I am never bored! I was working on the Green Mile and before that on Small Soldiers. The team is different and the type of work is different for every project. I am consistently learning new things and meeting new people, not to mention the nice credit at the end of the movie.

Moderator: Credit is important! :)

guest-Diane says: What do you feel has been the most important factor in your success?

Ellen: It helps you to realize how far you have come. I don't ever let that be a big thing though. The most important factor I think is my interest in what I do. I am never satisfied with what I know; I am always thirsty for more knowledge, which in turn keeps me edgy. I must say the other thing is my appreciation of fine arts and beautiful images. Because at the end of the day, we need to make pictures that stun people, so having the eye for good-looking images is a must.

Moderator: That is good advice Ellen, to always be seeking more knowledge.

guest-Debbie says: What advice do you have for young women who are just starting out in technology?

Ellen: First of all, don't give up ever if you are interested! Like I said, girls can do what boys can do, right!?

Moderator: Right!

Ellen: Work hard and do a lot of research yourself to keep on top of all the new technology and not be afraid to discuss what you know with other people. You learn a lot this way. Also pursue your interest in technology by choosing the right subject in college.

guest-meathead says: My professor in film school always said that technology is killing American cinema. Do you feel like we're telling better stories with the available technology?

Ellen: Yes we can. Look at Toy Story I & II. Technology is just a tool, like a new pen. You need to know how to harness this new pen to draw beautiful images. I think the problem with Hollywood is that they don't quite know how to use it, they need to do more homework and truly understand its usefulness and result. I see the future being better as in more film with technology will have more of a story. It's our job to educate them. So people are more receptive. Some people are old school, hard to change.

Moderator: Your answers definitely show experience in the industry, Ellen.

guest-adorable says: What were some of the roadblocks you came across and used as a stepping-stone?

Ellen: Well, the roadblocks that I came across are women are not technical enough (within ILM) and I just show that I can do it. As a result, they have more faith in women when hiring. So I hope I am a good example for women. The other thing is when I am in Hollywood, they sometimes don't trust a woman on the job. I prove them wrong again and gain trust; the next time you work with them they would be more helpful. But above all, I think most women have a pretty good taste level, I use that a lot to my advantage. This means my work will look better because of my sensibility!

Moderator: Yes, more women performing well, at ILM or any company helps strengthen women's position. When I worked at LFL/ILM, the project I was on started out with a few great women, and then we kept on hiring more and more women - editors and VFX Crew.

guest-PIM79 says: What kind of educational background do you think is best to get into your field?

Ellen: You can get in by means of several avenues. One is, like me, study computer graphics and computer science, the other is animation, the third one is film school which I think is the most interesting. On top of that, be interested in things like photography, graphics design and arts. The business is great in that way, it combines everything in order to make it work. It makes us a renaissance woman. I am a better person because of that.

Moderator: It is great that you understand how important balance and interests outside of "work" are!

Ellen: Yes, I spend a lot of time having fun as well as working hard here at ILM. Fun for me is to go to galleries, see movies and read books.

Moderator: Why do you think film school is the most interesting approach?

Ellen: It is so that the next generation of computer graphics artists also knows how to make films. This will certainly make this art form better utilized in the future. And I hope better and better films will come out.

Moderator: Yes, that will be important. We hope so too.

Ellen: This is based on the fact that I think film schools are teaching this technology now. They need to and will keep up with the times when it comes to the tools. But the art of storytelling will remain the same and they are the best people to teach it I mean.

Moderator: Yes, the values of good teachers can never be over-estimated!

Moderator: We have time for one more question from our audience before our chat is done.

guest-meathead says: Some argue that CG animation is not a true animation because of its heavy reliance on technology. What is your take on this topic?

Ellen: Again, I point you to Toy Story II, it has wonderful animation. Even the classical animators think so. I think some CG animations do look funny. It just takes a good director to bring out the best performance from us. And good directors can be hard to come by.

Moderator: Thanks Ellen for joining us today! You gave some very good advice to our audience, which I am sure they will take away with them.

Ellen: YOU are welcome!

Moderator: Do you have any parting words for our audience today?

Ellen: I hope I will be working with you all of you GIRLGEEKS in the future.

Moderator: Yes! Many of those GirlGeeks and aspiring GirlGeeks hope so too!

Ellen: Be leaders in everything including TECHNOLOGY. We need more women in every field. Most importantly, believe in yourself and your dreams!!!

Thank you very much for chatting with me...

Moderator: Good words to end with Ellen, to help ALL those GirlGeeks, and aspiring GirlGeeks out there!

A Special Thank You to Ellen Poon for chatting with us!

Ellen: Pleasure is mine, bye!





 
 
 
 


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