Meet One Of The Only Female Animation Directors In The Industry


Jenna Zona always knew she wanted to tell stories. How she would tell them, though, wasn't quite so clear. She began by creating comics and illustrating, always imagining that the characters she'd created were actually moving.

Then, while watching the credits scroll at the end of an animated movie she'd just watched, it all clicked. People get paid to do this, she thought to herself, and with that, she made the decision to pursue a Masters of Fine Art in animation.

Jenna Zona.

Not many universities offer this specialized program, but the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is one that's consistently recognized for its breadth of creative majors and, just as importantly, its ability to guide graduates into impressive careers. They also bring in speakers, guests, and professors who are legendary in their fields, and offer state-of-the-art technology used by real-world professionals.

“While I was there, I had a mental time limit to get a full-time job in the field, so I just worked really hard on every project handed to me and kept steering my boat in the direction of my goal," said Zona. “I asked my professors for advice — a lot — and they were all very supportive. When I started graduate school, I also told myself I would never pass by an opportunity because I have no idea if another one will come up. That's what I did, and that's how I got a job halfway through the program."

Jenna Zona Illustration

Today, Zona has animated and illustrated Emmy-award winning shows such as Archer, Chozen, and The League. In addition to serving as an adjunct professor at SCAD, where she mentors future animators, she serves as the animation director at Tiny Monsters Study, which animates numerous TV shows, including the PowerPuff Girls!

Zona's success in this industry is particularly notable when you consider the statistics for women working in this field. It's no secret that there's a gender gap in the entertainment industry, but this is especially true for behind-the-scenes tech positions.

SCAD Animation Fest Summer 2017. Photo Courtesy of SCAD

According to WomenInAnimation.org, last year 97% of films did not utilize female sound designers, 79% did not use female editors, and 96% did not use female cinematographers. The natural jump is to say, "Well, women aren't pursuing these positions!" That assumption would be false. Roughly 60% of animation and art students are women, but only 20% of the creative jobs in the industry are actually held by women.

In that sense, Zona is an outlier and a true pioneer for females in this industry.

“Why do we read stories or bother getting to know each other? It's to hear about everyone else's experiences and perspectives, and see what's going on in the world for them," said Zona when we asked why she feels it's important for women to work in animation. “Wouldn't it be nice to see stories from multiple perspectives other than your own?"

There's no truer female perspective than a perspective from, well, a female.

Jenna Zona Illustration

“When I was a kid, I remember pretending to be 'Mario and Luigi' with my neighbor friend. He was Mario — clearly — and he said that I was Princess Peach and had to stand at the end of the room while he rescued me. I said, 'That's boring. How about I be Luigi?'"

When he said no, Zona stood at the end of the hallway for a few brief moments before running over to help him fight off the imaginary “bad guys." She insisted that she could play both roles, and he reluctantly agreed.

“It's stories like this that demonstrate why we need to see both genders represented," said Zona. “Because how would myself, or other children, know that it's okay for little girls to be Luigi, or know that it's okay to be Peach, too? Or, even better, know that you can be Peach and save Mario!"

That the animation industry has gone so long with a lopsided perspective of the human experience is unfortunate. With that said, Zona is paving the way and inspiring current and future students, along with peers who are also pursuing jobs in the field.

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