Montana State University - Bachelor of Arts, School of Film + Photography
If a dream is a wish your heart makes, then Aria Stewart has one heck of a heart! As an editorial production supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios Aria is in charge of making sure the Disney editors have what they need to stay focused. Some days she'll meet with a film's editor and producer, and other days she's working with actors on their dialogue. Sounds pretty fabulous, right? Aria's last film credit was for Disney's "Tangled". She's now working on one of Disney Animation's upcoming features, but she can't disclose the title. Before her promotion to her current position in mid-April of this year Aria was a production assistant for three years.
You have to work, to work.
How did you discover your current job?
When I was a senior at MSU, I took a class from Paul Monaco, which involved a week-long trip to Los Angeles. On that trip, we met with fellow alumni who were working in the industry, including Scott Seiffert, who was working at Disney Animation at that time. I realized it would be a great fit for me, if the opportunity ever arose. Sure enough, about two years after I moved to Los Angeles, I received an email from a friend, letting me know that Disney Animation was hiring production assistants. The application and interview process took a number of weeks (they are very thorough), and the rest is history.
What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?
My first job in LA was with a trailer editor, Radu Ion. He had previously worked for Universal, and was just starting his own post-production house. I was his assistant and worked for free for about eight months. I was also working nights at a high-end restaurant to pay the bills. Although I didn't get paid for that job, the skills I learned and contacts I made were invaluable.
I continued working free-lance, mostly doing short-form editorial work, such as trailers and promos. I even got a chance to edit my first independent feature film. However, I was always open to on-set work as well, because I have learned that one of the keys to success in this industry is being open to nearly any job that comes your way. So, I took a number of production assistant/coordinator jobs on a variety of projects, from commercials, to independent features, to one of my favorites -- a music video for The Killers.
Eventually, I realized that while I loved working in post-production (editorial), I also had strengths as a coordinator and the management aspects of that. Thanks to a fellow MSU grad and friend, Scott Chestnut, I was hired as a post-production coordinator on an independent feature he was editing. That job was fantastic, and I realized I had finally found my niche. Not too long after that job, I applied at Disney Animation. My current job is the perfect balance for my creative and management skills.
Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?
Honestly, the most helpful thing has been the network of Montana film students in Los Angeles. They are fantastic! We are often referred to as the "Montana Mafia." We are great about looking out for each other and recommending fellow Montana students for jobs. I can definitely say that I would not be where I am today without their support.
What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?
My days are anything but typical. Since we're making a film, the process is very fluid, and that requires me to be adaptable. My biggest priority is keeping the editorial department moving forward. I have to make sure the editors have what they need to keep working with minimal distractions. Some days we're meeting with the director and producer to discuss the latest cut of a certain sequence. Sometimes we're recording dialogue with actors. We are part of the backbone of the film, so we work with every other department on the show. The editorial department plays a big role in animation, because the editing happens constantly throughout the entire production of the film. This is different than live action, where the editing mainly happens during post-production.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The people are amazing. Making a feature animation takes years, so you form a very close bond with the crew. They truly become your second family. There are big challenges and stressful situations, absolutely. But in the end, when you're all in a room watching the final film, it's hugely rewarding. It's also a joy to know that Disney films have a lot of longevity. I can't wait to show these films to my kids someday.
What is the most challenging part?
Creating an animated feature requires years of dedicated work, so the hours can be long. Unlike many live-action sets, where the crunch time can last a week or two, crunch time for animation is usually months. We work very hard, but we play hard too.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
I've learned that every facet of filmmaking exists in animation. Most of our features have 10-12 different departments, and animation is just one piece of that much bigger puzzle. Lighting, EFX, modeling, and editorial are just a few examples of departments I've worked in that exist outside that bubble of character animation.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
I think most women working in film realize that the industry is male-dominate. I've worked on many projects where I was one of the only females, both in live-action and animation. In fact, I'm currently supervising an all-male department. I feel comfortable with that, but I know some women do not. You don't necessarily have to be "one of the guys," but learning how to succeed in that type of environment is key. Make your opinion heard, make your work count, and make yourself an invaluable part of the team.
Who are your role models?
I really admire one of the first supervisors I had at Disney, Marlon West. He is the EFX supervisor here at the Studio, and we first worked together on "The Princess and the Frog." He's incredibly talented, but also a true example of professionalism and good character. I've always admired his ability to stay positive, even in high-stress situations. He is a pleasure to work with, and he always keeps his sense of humor.
Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?
One of the Producers here at Disney (who happens to be a female) once told me "It's all about who you want to line up behind." Sounds simple, but it's a great piece of advice. Sometimes you may not be working on the best project, but if you have good relationships with the people on your crew or team, you will have a great experience and visa versa. Even if the film is fantastic, if you can't stand working with your crew, you'll be miserable.
Also, I just had a meeting today with Andrew Millstein, who is the executive vice president of Disney Animation. He was talking to all of the Sspervisors in the building about his business philosophies, and he said something that really struck a chord with me: "You have to work to work."
Simple, but so true, in my opinion. Some people sit around unemployed, waiting for that one "perfect job" to come along. They think they'll miss their chance for that if they take any other jobs. But I think Andrew is right ... If you want to work, you've got to be open to every opportunity. Every job I've had in the film business, no matter how insignificant it seemed at the time, has helped with future jobs in some way. Sometimes it's the people I meet, sometimes it's the skills I learn, but regardless, every job experience has been a valuable one.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Find something that you're passionate about. Find your niche. Usually the best way to do that is by trying everything. Take any decent job that comes your way, because you never know who you might meet, or what skills you might learn, that will prove invaluable for a future job. Get yourself out there and don't be afraid to try new things.
Can you tell us three things you love aside from your job?
I'm a huge music fan and a bit of a concert junkie. I've been following Dave Matthews Band for over 10 years, so I travel around the country every year to see their shows. I also love the Dodgers and The Magic Castle. Oh, and I love entertaining!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Everyone should check out "Winnie the Pooh" in theaters this July. And also "The Lion King" in 3D at The El Capitan Theater this fall!