8 questions with Cartoon Network animator Julia Pott
Pott explains the ‘cozy horror’ genre, names the 3 children’s books that inspired her most, and shares her best tip for aspiring animators.
Each year, Interlochen Arts Academy’s Film & New Media division hosts highly-regarded guest artists from around the world who share their expertise and industry knowledge with students. This fall, they welcomed award-winning British animator Julia Pott.
Pott’s animated films have screened at festivals worldwide including Sundance, TIFF, Annecy and SXSW. She is the creator and executive producer for the GLAAD- and Emmy-nominated series Summer Camp Island on Max, formerly known as HBO Max. In 2012, she was named one of the 25 new faces of film by Filmmaker Magazine. Her clients have included Toyota, Oreo, J. Crew, Hermes, Madewell, and MTV.
Here, Pott reflects on her artistic influences and reveals her top tip for aspiring animators—one that she’s still trying to learn herself.
Much of your animation plays with surreal or bizarre scenes and characters. How would you describe your style, and when did it start developing?
I am very into the 'cozy horror' genre and am drawn to art that personifies subjects of death or grief in a vessel that feels safe or comforting. Margaret Wise Brown's work is a brilliant example, especially her book The Dark Wood of the Golden Birds. At the end of the book, which explores loss of a loved one, she describes it as "the quietest day in the world.”
I've always been moved by work, especially in the kids' space, that adds a poetic layer to unspeakable emotions. For example, I think of in The Neverending Story where the villain is 'The Nothing' or in The Witches where instead of dying, a girl is trapped inside a painting, growing older inside it until she one day disappears. In Summer Camp Island, we didn't want our villains to be a person or a group of people, so our antagonist is Time which felt like a far more relatable subject to explore. I grew up on Casper the Friendly Ghost, where he can't make friends with anyone because he is a ghost, and that I think stuck with me as a form of storytelling I wanted to bake into my own work—something essentially 'cute' in the least diminutive version of the word, but also devastating.
Who are your artistic influences?
Along with those mentioned above, I found a lot of my influences from children's book authors and illustrators in general—I love James Marshall, Remy Charlip, Ruth Krauss, and Arnold Lobel—I love bold sincerity as a form of humor. I grew up on Twin Peaks and The X Files and that balance of home and sci-fi really spoke to me and threaded through my work.
In school I was very inspired by Eastern European animators like Pritt Parn and Igor Kovalyov—anyone who really used the form to squash and stretch the bodies of the characters. I was so drawn to animation because I felt like it was a way of translating the way my body felt emotionally into a visual medium.
After someone watches one of your films, what are some emotions or thoughts you want them to walk away with?
If someone feels seen by a character or feels like the story made them feel soothed or better able to face their day or they had a good laugh, that would be the greatest feeling.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments so far?
Making 6 seasons of a show on Cartoon Network and HBO Max and getting the opportunity to work with so many artists I'd been a fan of for eons is by far my proudest accomplishment in my career so far. It was hard in the thick of it to realize what a rare opportunity it was because I felt so burnt out from the process, but looking back, I miss it deeply.
What major projects are you working on right now?
I have a few projects in development but unfortunately I am not allowed to share what they are just yet. I also have a Substack called Slow Motion Multitasking which I started right after wrapping Summer Camp Island which goes down rabbit holes of subjects I'm obsessed with on any given week. That probably brings me the most joy at the moment.
What are some new things you would like to accomplish in the next few years?
I would love for the projects I am working on to come to fruition. My newest rumination is that I'd like to attempt a YA novel. I just got married so that feels like a whole new chapter of existence which I'm excited to explore. I have been on the road for work for the last month so right now I'm most excited to go home and cook and bake and draw and lie in a big pile with my friends.
What do you like to do when you're not working?
I love going on long bike rides—there's a bike ride that goes from Ventura to Ojai that is 3 hours round trip, all on a secluded bike path and I get my best thinking done there, while my legs are busy.
I love learning new facts about truly anything and can spend hours lying on my back with my laptop on my stomach going down internet rabbit holes. I've been trying to learn how to get into the front splits but I am so far from this goal. I love dancing but am quite rotten at it. I like visiting libraries I've never been to before. I've recently been watching Michael Tilson Thomas' documentary series Keeping Score where he unpacks the narratives behind different symphonies and it's deeply soothing and enlightening.
What are your top tips for aspiring animators?
Make personal work every opportunity you get, and see paid work as an opportunity to hone your craft. This tip is as much for me as it is for anyone else—try not to worry too much about the future or how much time you have or that you're not where you want to be. It's all just putting tiny beans in a jar slowly but surely. Really, the song “Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by Baz Luhrmann has all the advice you need.