Sibling Revelry

Animation Guild members often refer to being part of one big family, but in the case of these members, working in the animation industry really is a family affair.

Photo by Tim Sullens at Shot of Art, Los Angeles

While the Bové sisters may work at different animation studios today, they built their careers on intertwining paths. Lorelay is currently the Production Designer on an upcoming Disney Animation feature, and before Neysa left Disney to become Head of Costume Design at Skydance Animation, the siblings were nearly always in sync, from their childhood love of art to having their first children while they were both working on Encanto

Neysa and Lorelay Bové.
Photo by Tim Sullens at Shot of Art LA.

Born in Spain and growing up in the Principality of Andorra, their animation journey began when Lorelay, at age 10, fell in love with the medium after discovering a Preston Blair book in their dad’s studio. Art had already been woven into their family life, as their father, Quim Bové, is an abstract contemporary artist. After school Lorelay and the younger Neysa, along with Neysa’s twin brother Edgar, would go to their dad’s studio where he would let them play with art supplies while he created his huge paintings. The whole floor would be covered with paints, says Lorelay, and they would get messy with oil paints and clay as they explored. It was definitely their happy place.

Change came when the family won the green card lottery and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Lorelay was starting ninth grade and Neysa was starting fifth, so it was a hard transition. After graduating, when Lorelay didn’t get into CalArts, she moved to California and studied at Laguna College of Art and Design for two years. Neysa wasn’t sure of her path, and her parents sent her to visit Lorelay over the summer, hoping she’d be influenced by the arts. Their plan worked, although Neysa was unsure about what she ultimately wanted for her career, finding herself drawn to more experimental styles. 

After Lorelay took a year off to build her portfolio, she finally got into CalArts, and Neysa unofficially attended classes with her sister. But after trying her hand at animation, she decided it really wasn’t her thing and opted to study fashion instead. This was followed by an internship at Walt Disney World for costume design, while Lorelay got an internship at Walt Disney Animation Studios, followed by an internship at Pixar, and then a trainee position at Disney that led to full-time work in visual development.

Little did Neysa know that taking an internship in graphic design at Disney consumer products and later designing Barbies for Mattel would lead her toward her sister. Her experience with costumes led to work as a Visual Development Artist on Disney’s Moana. She continued on this path on other films, designing costumes as part of her role, until she arrived on Encanto as Costume Lead Design—working with Lorelay, who was the Associate Production Designer.

The four years they spent together on Encanto were special. Lorelay loved working with Neysa because they were on the same page in terms of design and taste. Neysa says they’d be quite blunt in their honest feedback to one another. At times, it would feel like they were at home chatting, and they’d have to remind themselves to speak to each other professionally. They bickered a lot too, the way only siblings who are close tend to do. But the upside was knowing they always had each other’s best interests at heart. Since moving to another studio, Neysa says it’s been lonesome without her sister. Lorelay agrees. She misses having lunch, coffee, and meetings together. 

Neysa explains that when siblings work together on a project: “You’re going to get a different energy than you would from two artists from different backgrounds.” It’s a special energy that comes about because they’re both passionate and know each other so well.

“To be able to have a partner to divide and conquer, 
or to team up [with] and be stronger than
just the individual—that’s the real superpower
of working with your sibling.”

The Houghton brothers like to joke about wanting the ideal creative partnership—something akin to the relationship between Lennon and McCartney. In fact, Chris and Shane have achieved their version of this dream. The joint creators of Big City Greens recently struck an overall deal to develop and produce adult animation and live action for Disney Branded Television, and their show’s movie, Big City Greens the Movie: Spacecation, premieres in June. 

Shane and Chris Houghton.
Photo by Tim Sullens.

Much of their success has drawn on their background, growing up in Michigan, out among the cornfields and dirt roads. They began drawing and reading books and comics from an early age, and their parents were very supportive of their creative endeavors. “I started making short films in high school and would often cast Chris in the lead role,” Shane recalls. They’d make fun, silly projects together, unaware they were honing their storytelling chops and the skills that go into showrunning. 

Chris explains that they were inspired by interesting stories, whatever form they took, from live action to comic strips, and they had no idea that they were going to get into animation. Chris headed to art school, while Shane went to film school. When they started working on a comic book together, it was more out of necessity because it was one way to tell a story that didn’t require sets and a big budget. The brothers soon discovered they enjoyed working together and that their strengths complemented each other. 

When Chris found work as a Storyboard Revisionist at Nickelodeon, he saw it as a day job that enabled him to continue doing comics. “Animation felt like the more stable career path,” he says, “while comics was the crazy, rock band dream we had on the side.” Meanwhile, Shane worked as a cinematographer for a web series and as an editor for reality TV, gaining experience that would be helpful later. 

Their first professional collaboration was the comic book series Reed Gunther, about a bear-riding cowboy. “We had so much fun collaborating on that, that we decided to keep doing it,” says Shane. Eventually Reed Gunther was published by Image Comics. This opportunity opened doors, and they began pitching their comic book as a TV series, along with other ideas, one of which became Big City Greens

Together the brothers have created more than 100 episodes of the show. Initially they shared a workspace which enabled them to solve any problems in the room as a united front. Nowadays they have separate offices right next to each other. Chris says that a simple way to describe their work dynamic is: “If I don’t have the answer, hopefully Shane does. And if Shane doesn’t have the answer, hopefully I do… We used to joke that between the two of us we make up one very talented person.” 

If there are disagreements, they encourage creative debates, but there’s nothing personal about it. It’s more a discussion of what’s best for the show, and often they’ll come up with a third option that’s usually a better solution. “We have different ideas, but we generally agree on what feels right, which I think is essential to a good creative partnership,” says Shane. Their general rule is if one of them is more passionate about a particular direction, that’s what they’ll try. “That takes having faith in your creative partner,” he adds. 

Is there a downside to working with a sibling? Shane quips that it’s having people “assume that we live in the same house and sleep in bunk beds.” It’s a pretty small downside, while the real benefit is that they’re able to accomplish so much more together than they would individually. “To be able to have a partner to divide and conquer,” he says, “or to team up [with] and be stronger than just the individual—that’s the real superpower of working with your sibling.”

“The secret sauce is that we both bring similar love 
and joy and perspective. But we [also] each bring something 
special and different to a script.”

Twin sisters Shawneé and Shawnelle Gibbs are a rare writing team—they share identical DNA, sign the same NDAs, and despite having shared a childhood bedroom, still love working together. The sisters have co-authored comic book series and written for DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Mattel, and Warner Bros. In January their graphic novel Ghost Roast was published by HarperCollins, and they have another in the works, as well as animation projects in development.

Shawneé and Shawnelle Gibbs.
Mural by Playhouse Village; Photo by Jenn Logan.

The dynamic duo grew up in Oakland, California, and credit their mother with instilling in them a love of art and story, including animation. Shawnelle recalls sitting in church as her mom, a preschool teacher, showed her how to draw houses on the back of a pamphlet. Their mom taught the twins to communicate through art, and when the sisters were in high school, she achieved her dream of becoming a registered nurse. “That showed us that no matter what is going on, you can go toward your dreams,” says Shawneé. “It really helped to inspire us in the way that we navigated our entertainment careers.”

The sisters’ path took plenty of twists and turns before they got into animation professionally. Feeling a little too fearful about submitting their portfolios to the animation program, they both studied cinema at San Francisco State University. Shawnelle says that when they were younger they watched The Wonderful World of Disney and saw Walt Disney’s sneak peek into the animation process, but “it still felt very inaccessible to us, from where we were, kids in Oakland.” However, by the time they were in college, the availability of technology like Flash and After Effects helped them independently create animation and illustrations, as well as develop their own voices. 

Shawnelle and Shawneé eventually made the move to L.A. in the hope of getting work in animation. Instead, they ended up in nonfiction programming working as television producers. This helped keep them afloat while they honed their storytelling skills. By day they were television producers, but by night they were animation and comic book writers, slowly building their name as a writing team. It was a dream come true when they landed their first animation staff writing roles together on Warner Bros.’ Little Ellen

Over the years the sisters have fine-tuned their collaboration system, discovering early on that writing together at the same computer didn’t work. Their first step is to select an idea they both love. Then they’ll start world-building. Outlining is done together, but in different locations. “Google Docs is our friend—it’s like a third sister,” says Shawnelle. After taking sections from the outline and writing separately, they’ll then stitch it together, making sure it sounds like one cohesive voice. Shawnelle then tightens the story. “She’s our Edward Scissorhands,” says Shawneé, whose focus is on structure. 

Despite being twins who have worked together for so long, Shawnelle is constantly surprised by how different their individual approaches will be. “We download differently,” she says. Shawneé agrees: “The secret sauce is that we both bring similar love and joy and perspective. But we [also] each bring something special and different to a script.” 

One of their goals is to buy a building and have a studio space where they can bring others in to work creatively. “It’s just such a pleasure to be able to play the way we did as kids… and make a living doing it,” says Shawneé. Shawnelle agrees—the work is a joy. Having been inspired as girls by animation artists ranging from Walt Disney to Hayao Miyazaki, they’re excited to be creating some of that magic together for others.