Moms in Animation

These women share their experiences juggling family and their animation careers.

KC Johnson and Anna Hollingsworth

Carol Wyatt 
Color Supervisor
on Rick and Morty 
5 kids, ages 11 to 21 

KC Johnson 
Retake Director
on The Simpsons 
2 kids, ages 6 and 10 

Fawn Veerasunthorn 
Head of Story
at Disney Animation
1 kid, age 2 

Mairghread Scott 
for Nickelodeon’s Artists’ Collective
1 kid, age 2 

Katya Bowser 
Storyboard Artist
at Wild Canary 
1 kid, age 2 1/2 

Beth Sleven 
at DreamWorks 
2 kids, ages 15 months and 5 

Anna Hollingsworth 
Animation Director 
at Warner Bros. 
1 kid, age 3 

Monica Tomova 
at Wild Canary 
2 kids, ages 21 and 31 

Jessica Borutski 
Supervising Director
at Nickelodeon 
1 kid, age 2 1/2 

Teri Cusumano 
Background Artist
at Shadow Machine 
1 kid, age 2 1/2 

Ellen Harris 
Final Layout Artist
at DreamWorks 
1 kid, age 4 

Haley Mancini 
on The Last Kids on Earth 
No kids yet 

Elizabeth Ito 
at Netflix 
2 kids, ages 2 and 4 

Jeanette Moreno King 
at Bento Box 
2 kids, ages 9 and 12 

Gina Warr Lawes 
Lighting Supervisor
at Disney Animation
2 kids, ages 12 and 16 

Why was it important to balance motherhood and your career?

Carol Wyatt: I really needed to get back to work and have a creative job where I was making money.

KC Johnson: The whole reason why I’m in LA is because of animation. I worked hard and there is sacrifice. I never thought of giving it up and kids didn’t change that for me.

Fawn Veerasunthorn: When I told people I was pregnant, they’d [ask], “Are you coming back?” And I was like, “Oh, is that even a thing?” I guess because I had kids later I couldn’t imagine not doing it.

Mairghread Scott: The question mark for me was why would I have kids? I went to school for this, I fought for it; I’m doing this because it’s what I love to do. My husband is a real family guy and I was okay with kids if they happened. I love my son and now that I’m a mom, I can’t see myself as anything else.

Katya Bowser: When I had my daughter I was still hustling to get into animation. I was just doing random freelance here and there and I had to slow down a lot because I was at home pregnant [but] I couldn’t let it go.

Haley Mancini and Ellen Harris
I think there’s probably a little bit of a double standard.

Beth Sleven: I was asked if I was going to be returning and my answer was always, “Yes, of course.” My husband [got] laid off while I was pregnant. We were close enough to my due date that I was like, why don’t you just not look [for a job]. Five years later and he’s a stay at home dad. So I’m the working parent. I guess a lot of people would see that as like a role reversal. But I have never heard one of my male coworkers be asked: Are you coming back to work?

Anna Hollingsworth: I was working on Bunnicula with Jessica [who was pregnant] and I was a big pregnant monster. So that was an amazing experience to be able to go through it with somebody else. I remember our line producer to his credit asking me, “When you come back, do you want to be animation director?” I [thought], “You see me as still being a human being that can function in the workplace. Thank you.” After nine months at home, I was so ready to come back.

Monica Tomova: It never crossed my mind to choose between one or the other. If somebody came and told me you’re never going to work again, I don’t think I would even comprehend that. And I’m glad I did it because as a mother, you’re also setting an example every day to achieve something.

Jessica Borutski: Being a stay at home mom is a hard job [too]. It’s so personal.

Carol: I had both experiences. I did stay home. It was different then because it was expected that I wouldn’t come back. I was offered a job while I was pregnant and [when] I told them they said I couldn’t have the job. That was in the early 90’s.

Teri Cusumano: That can’t happen anymore, right?

Carol: No, it’s illegal. And it was illegal then, but I did want to stay home for a couple of years. So after two years of staying home, I couldn’t get work anymore. I left as an art director and when I came back, I had to start out as the lowest paying color stylist.

Were any of you scared you weren’t going to work again?

Jeanette Moreno King: With my daughter the writer’s strike happened so I [thought], “Yay, I get to stay home with her and nobody’s going to think I’m blowing off my career.” But when I had my son, three months hit, and it was really hard. I didn’t want to have to go, but I knew that if I didn’t, it would be hard to get back in.

“The whole reason why I’m in L.A. is because of animation. I worked hard and there is sacrifice. I never thought of giving it up and kids didn’t change that for me.”—KC Johnson

Mairghread: I found out I was pregnant as I was negotiating my contract for the next season and I was terrified because I’d been in the room when they were like, “Should we give her a script? No, she’s going to have a baby.” If I tell them, are they not going to hire me? If I don’t, is it going to be a contractual violation? I took off two weeks and I was back at full workload in a month. I could do this because I work from home. But because I was a loan out, I didn’t qualify for maternity leave.

Beth: I was directing at the time that I was pregnant with my first child. I was very scared of what their reaction was going to be. I waited a comically long time to tell my boss. And so upfront, I [said], “I’m only going to take six weeks off.” I was already pre-apologizing. But it was based in fear of judgment and the fear of being “mommy tracked.”

Carol: What is “mommy tracked”?

Beth: It’s a term meaning that because someone knows that you’re a mom, they’ve made pre-decisions for you. Like they’re not going to want to do that because they’re a mom or they’re not going to put in the extra hours. Judging you without talking to you.

Ellen Harris: I had an awesome experience, no one ever questioned that I wasn’t coming back. I work in a department that’s pretty mixed [half men, half women]. I took the full five months off. Work lets me work shifted hours.

Haley Mancini: I really want to have kids and I’m really scared. I froze my eggs last year and I had to go into the fertility clinic every day because they keep monitoring your hormones and my bosses were super cool about it. But I definitely felt that pressure. I was late every morning for a month.

Jessica: When I found out I was pregnant, I was running a show at Warner Bros. Everyone was happy but I could almost see the look in the line producer’s eyes: “Oh my God. What are we going to do?” But they always made me feel like, we’re waiting for you. I went back part-time when Ryker was eight months. I love my job and I knew that would never go away but I wanted to focus a lot of energy on this new baby and I was grateful that work was great about it.

Teri: I only took three months off for my daughter. I was given a job offer to come back at three months and it was either take it or they’re not going to wait for me. I was given another job offer during that time and when they found out that my due date was right when they wanted to start, they retracted that offer. This was 2016. I felt I had to either keep working or it was going to be more difficult to get job offers.

“The whole reason why I’m in L.A. is because of animation. I worked hard and there is sacrifice. I never thought of giving it up and kids didn’t change that for me.”

“It helped immensely to have a producer who was a woman and who was a mom. As long as it’s an understanding crew, then you’re setting up a good situation for people.”

What do you wish someone had told you before you started a family?

Fawn: When I was pregnant there was only one other mom and now they’re like four of us. I find more people say, “These story ladies, they know what it’s like to be a mother.” And that’s pretty valuable in the story room. You can give perspective that was not usually available.

“It helped immensely to have a producer who was a woman and who was a mom. As long as it’s an understanding crew, then you’re setting up a good situation for people.”—Elizabeth Ito

Elizabeth Ito: Maybe Disney moms won’t be dead anymore.

Fawn: When I came back from maternity leave, Josie, who’s the other mom, was my supervisor. She was like, “I know what it’s like so if you need to leave the room to go pump, just walk out. No need to explain to anybody.”

Anna: You always feel like somebody is getting a little bit of the short end of the stick, but at the same time I feel like it’s made me a much more efficient worker.

Elizabeth: It would have been nice to know that it’s going to be really difficult to figure out daycare. I don’t think I expected it to be so emotional and taxing. Some studios have daycare, like Disney, and it felt like how come everybody doesn’t have that? It would be so useful, especially if do you want to encourage moms to come back.

KC: Beforehand you’re scared of all these things. It’s unknown but you’re capable of doing it and you’ll make it happen. Whether you’re afraid about your finances or finding daycare you figure it out and talking to people helps.

Elizabeth: I think another piece of advice is just to reassure somebody that all babies are so different. For me, I wouldn’t have been able to work from home with my first kid cause he was not an easy baby.

Jessica: I think you call it spirited.

Monica: It’s very difficult to give advice because everybody wants different things from life. I had my daughter when I was 22. At 22, by the time you realize what’s going on, the child is already grown up. At the same time, I missed on enjoying the moments because I was so young. When you’re older, you savour each moment.

Katya: When you have kids, you join the biggest club on earth.

If you could change the culture with respect to moms in the workplace what would be at the top of your list?

KC: At The Simpsons we’re really lucky in that we can have flexible hours. As long as you come in and you get your work done, everybody’s pretty happy. And that really helps, especially if there’s a day where you need to come in late because there’s a school performance or you need to take a longer lunch.

Teri: Last year, my husband and I were both on the same show in Hollywood and the earliest that the studio opened was 8:00 a.m. My daughter was in daycare in Burbank so we had to get in right when the studio opened and could only take a half hour lunch so that we could leave by 4:30 to commute and pick her up before the daycare closed. So having earlier hours would help so much.

And onsite childcare?

Elizabeth: Daycare [at studios] would be a game changer even just care after school. [Also] when after work mixers are scheduled, just planning those things around people who have kids.

Fawn: We do have flexibility at work to go pick up kids. When I was offered a position as [supervisor], the first thought that popped in my head was, I can’t work those hours because you have to be there for other people. And they’re like, “Think about it. We’ll be understanding.” And they have been. I try to leave at six and then if I need to I do work [at home].

Let’s talk about something Disney does—the at-home workstation.

Monica: They give you all the equipment?

Fawn: On Tangled, I believe, people were saying we work long hours on production. They wanted some flexibility [to] work from home. [Disney] listened and now allows people to have the Linux machine [or] for me a Cintiq. I can set up my own station at home. I don’t want to have to go home and then come back.

Gina Warr Lawes: The work-from-home kits at Disney were a godsend for me when I first started. It was one of the reasons I was interested in working for Disney. I would kick something off, leave, have dinner with my kids, and then when they went to bed I could hop back on the machine and continue working so I didn’t lose cycles. It benefited the studio, it benefited the production and it benefited me.

Mairghread: It makes the world of difference when you work from home because for the first three months they just eat and sleep. I wish studios realized if you trust your workers, you’re going to get even better work out of them.

Beth: For me personally, working from home would be very difficult. Directing, I need to be near all the people and communicating back and forth with them is a big part of it.

From left: Elizabeth Ito, Katya Bowser, Monica Tomova and Jeanette Moreno King
Has the decision to have children impacted your career trajectory?

Beth: I am an individual who has always had a ton of anxiety about everything. Should I take that job? Did I make the right decision? When I had kids, I realized there are way bigger things than to be afraid of your career decisions. I speak my mind a little bit more and so far it’s had a positive effect.

Gina: I shifted from daycare to a nanny, which took a toll on our expenses but was what I needed at the time to advance my career because daycare until 6 p.m. wasn’t going to cut it.

Katya: What I thought my career would be has changed. I thought I was going to hit all these milestones at this certain time and then I had my daughter and everything had to slow way down. It’s been life changing—accepting that things are different, they’re going to take longer and it’s still going to be good.

Jeanette: I would get offered director positions and I would keep turning them down. Now that my daughter is 12, I started calling and [saying], “I’m ready to be a director when you’re ready to give me a position.” But it would have happened sooner if it wasn’t for the kids.

You are the one who was hampering your career.

Jeanette: Yes, they were offering, it was a conscious choice on my part.

Anna: I was doing TV and I thought maybe I’ll go back to 3D features. Deadlines get crazy when it’s crunch time so that deterred me. I was like, back to TV. I don’t regret it but I do wonder what that path would have been like.

Jeanette: It’s never too late.

Jessica: One of the questions that I asked when I was being interviewed was what kind of hours are you working? Please be honest, I have a son.

So you’d tell someone to be upfront about work/life balance.

Jessica: I would. You have to know what you’re getting into. For some people that’s okay to work a lot of overtime. That’s just something that doesn’t work for my type of personality.

Elizabeth: I was on Adventure Time as a director when I had my first kid and second kid. It helped immensely to have a producer who was a woman and who was a mom. As long as it’s an understanding crew, then you’re setting up a good situation for people.

Mairghread: Guys who are new dads are in that same boat and can be just as understanding and supportive.

Jeanette: When I first got pregnant nobody had kids. They didn’t have a room for me to pump in. I got one of those single pumps because they’re quiet, and I pumped while I was working in my cube! So it was really hard.

Ellen: Our son had surgeries, so I wanted to pump to make sure that I was there for him. Work has a very large campus so the mother’s room—they have one—was 10 minutes away. You can sign up for a time, but inevitably with meetings someone will be using your time. You’re literally running across campus to go pump and then get back in. That’s my one piece of advice. Beware that pumping can be challenging.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Carol: I’m a supervisor right now—sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not, I go back and forth. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve seen so many changes, it’s up to us to make sure that women can do all these things.

Mairghread: About seven years ago when I first started at Warner Bros. there weren’t [many] women and then when I left it was like 50/50. It’s really cool to see that. So I think that can only help understanding what women need when they first have children and supporting their needs.

Do you want to get in touch with other families or caregivers in the animation industry? Join the closed Facebook group: Animation Parents of LA.