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Conversations with Atlanta's Movers and Shakers, Allyssa A. Lewis

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

Creative Strategist and Career Consultant, Allyssa A. Lewis

A few weeks ago, Atlanta Film and TV was fortunate to have a conversation with Creative Strategist and Career Consultant Allyssa A. Lewis. Allyssa also is a prime-time television Emmy-winning animator most noted for her animation on over 75 episodes and promos of FX’s series, Archer. She has created content on NBC’s 30 Rock, Discovery Channel, MTV, I Am Other, Animation Domination, Comic-Con San Diego, Georgia Public Broadcasting (PBS), and Captain Planet’s Planeteer Movement.

As founder and Executive Director of Georgia’s first and largest animation and resource staffing agency, My Animation Life (MAL), her team works to find creative strategies and solutions for both studios and independents. Creating Georgia’s most inclusive animation map, calendar, and classified listings, are just a few of the popular assets MAL provides to strengthen Georgia’s animation industry.

She uses her education in animation from Savannah College of Art and Design and business from Harvard University Online towards emerging artists in film and digital media in creative employment, business development, and animation production and pitching. In addition, Lewis is on the Board of Directors ASIFA South, one of the largest international animation societies in the Southeastern United States, and a judge for the EMMY Awards.

Atlanta Film and TV: Can you take us on your journey from how you fell in love with animation to how you got your start?

"When I was two, I watched Looney Tunes with my mother and watched Bugs Bunny brought to life. I never considered how Looney Tunes was created. But, when I saw someone drawing Bugs Bunny, I said, ‘ Hmm. I want to do that! I told my mother I was going to become a cartoonist, and I’ve been on that path ever since. I have had other interests, like plants and finding dinosaur bones. All the jobs children look into when they first learn about careers. But, my eye has always been on animation, and it always excites me! Unfortunately, I come from a background that didn’t allow me to go to art school because my dad was in the military, and we traveled a lot. The bases we lived on were small and didn’t have art classes. When I finally settled into a civilian school (which, by the way, were in small towns) didn’t have the funding for the arts. I spent time in my classes doing coloring book activities, small task arts and crafts, and most of my animation education came on my own at home. I didn’t fully understand the software needed to create an animation, and I would use Microsoft Paint, draw my characters, save the file, and put it into PowerPoint. I would click the button quickly and watch the images."

- Allyssa A. Lewis

"The first college I attended was Wesleyan College in Macon, GA. I excelled a lot in my artistic studies, but I wasn’t learning how to be an animator. So, I transferred to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta, where I learned the Twelve Principles of Animation. During my first year first quarter, I got a job working at Georgia Public Broadcasting. I remember getting my first taste of working with other professionals and how exciting it was to be a part of something which would broadcast throughout the country. I also got a freelance opportunity with Sean Stephens on Somebody Stole My Pancreas Productions, where I met voice actors who worked in the industry.

2008 was the year I had a turning point in my career, and it was when the recession took its toll on the animation industry. I looked for consistent work that was closer to the television work I wanted to do. I spent seven months going back and forth from temp jobs and settling on working with a construction company as an Executive Assistant by helping to order supplies and project bidding. I spent my evenings working at a yogurt shop, where I would come up with different recipes. I worked at least seventy-two to eighty hours a week, and as I did that, I continued to work on my portfolio and creating work. I didn’t have a computer or access to software because I had been out of school. But, what I did have was half a day off each week and access to a public library. I applied for jobs within the animation industry and figured out which networking events to attend. I put the animation I created on a small player I got from a fast food place and showed it to people at networking events.

Eventually, I showed my animation to someone who wanted to see the rest of my work. From there, I took an animation test, got into the studio, and that is how I started working on FX's series Archer. After getting in and working on Archer, things were easier, and I was able to network and work with people who worked on 30 Rock. I also was able to work on a small spot on Family Guy and was able to work with Animation Domination and many other entities that I would not have had access to if I were not already working on a production for television.

After that, I decided to start My Animation Life and felt confident that I had all the information I needed. But, I quickly learned there was so much more I had to acquire information-wise. Such as how to write contracts. Or how to chase an animation bid and how to staff a production. These are all the same things I currently do within My Animation Life. I work on projects with clients that need an animation completed. I staff artists for a spot in the pipeline and education, and if someone needs assistance with figuring how they can get into the industry - whether on television or commercials. Or if they would like to create their project and want to know what it will take to complete."

Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your family recognize your gift of the arts early on, and, if so, how did they nourish it to facilitate growth?

"My family has always been supportive. My mother has believed in chasing your dreams and fighting for what you believe in. My father, on the other hand, was concerned with my career choice. Both my parents are from Guyana, South America, and come from a period where people who look like me – African-American female with a deep complexion, don’t always get the dreams they go after. My parents wanted me to pursue a career that was (in their opinion) more secure and didn’t want me to be the stereotypical ‘starving artist,’ selling my paintings on the side of the road. My parents put me in sports such as track and field, bodybuilding, basketball, softball, golf, tennis – all of which didn’t work! When I was younger, my parents bought me art supplies. Which I think is common if you’re the artist of the family. Often, my parents would show my artwork to others. When I was twelve, my mother had an art mentor come to our house to see if I had a chance of moving forward. The mentor said I had potential, and if I attended their school, they could assist with my development. My parents, however, decided not to go forward with it because we (as a military family) had to move. However, they were not upset but supportive of my decision to attend art school. When I finally landed my creative job, people were relieved, and my mom was enthusiastic about me running my creative solutions agency.

- Allyssa A. Lewis

Atlanta Film and TV: Upon leaving SCAD, and embarking upon your professional career, were there any moments of fear or self-doubt you had to conquer? And, what were some of the day-to-day obstacles you had to overcome as a black woman operating in a space viewed primarily as a white art form?

Alyssa A. Lewis: "In general, there were several obstacles I overcame. In terms of fear, it’s happened most of the way. When I first got to Wesleyan, I didn’t think much of it because I excelled in school, and academia was never an issue. But, when I got into college, I had to learn how to study differently. I learned about deep research and that art with a deadline meant people would stress! All the different methods and techniques I had to take into account outside of only expressing myself creatively. I remember having a teacher who was very thorough about craftsmanship."

"There was an assignment where I had to cut shapes, paint them, and be sure they were perfectly opaque with no transparency. I spent numerous hours, eventually completing my assignment. The day I turned it in, my teacher took two strands from her hair, laid her hairs in between a tiny slither of space, between two of the shapes, and said, ‘Your shapes are two hairs too far apart.That will be twenty points!’ There was a level of dedication to craftsmanship when I attended Wesleyan College. But, when I transferred to SCAD Atlanta, they weren’t as strict on craftsmanship, but we had to understand techniques and make sure no matter what it takes, you got your projects complete and on time. That meant reaching out to other people to collaborate and strengthening whatever strategies you were using. Coming from a small town, I did not know how to formulate an email and struggled with technology. I remember sending my portfolio on a floppy disc because it's what I understood. There were assignments where we had to watch films and analyze them. I thought I watched an entire film and did not understand that you could take a DVD, flip it over and watch the other side. It was because of that my grade ended up being a 50. There were many things I was not up to date on, and it made me worry that I would not be able to keep up with my peers. I began taking an assessment on what I was good at doing. What was I able to offer? Where was I falling short? I found people to interview in the animation industry about how they made it. I also wanted to know if anyone in my situation made it? Which I found out there were!"

- Allyssa A. Lewis

"Being black, female, and in the animation industry is not something people see often. On the other hand, I have black people who will say, ‘Oh! I didn’t know black people did animation!’ People not being accustomed to black females being animators either excite people or lets them know there are possibilities they were not aware of for themselves or their loved ones. Or, it shocks people and makes them ask a lot of questions, (which by the way, I don’t appreciate but understand their curiosity.) Sometimes people ask more questions than they do other people. And that means checking your work more often than others. There is a phrase called Black Tax when you are speaking about black people. It is extra you have to pay to exist in the game. The number one reason why you don’t see many black female animators is that most black people do not see animation as a career option. Most people will not experience a career in the arts if they do not come from a family secure in allowing their child to risk what they want to do for a living. This way of thinking often comes from first-generation people and those who come from lower socio-economic classes. Most blacks are not familiar with seeing people who look like them working in a career in animation, and think they will not be accepted in the animation industry, which is a concern I get from numerous parents.

When I was younger, I was often told what I couldn’t do or be, and how I’d be held back because of my appearance, and the fact I am female. During that time, my opinion of myself as a leader was low. I thought there was no way I could strive to do anything that was high-level. I stayed away from all leadership opportunities outside of school clubs. Which made me shrink, and not go full-force on things I could’ve early on. As a career advisor, I noticed specifically black students never asked for leadership positions, or how they could be directors or producers. Their goals would be, or entry-level work. At the time, I was able to relate to where students were, and if you don’t see yourself as someone climbing the ladder, or that there will be a place for you, you don’t prepare or ask for it. All of this can affect people during the hiring process."

Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about the importance of networking and building relationships in the entertainment industry?

"When I first launched My Animation Life, I spent the first two years spreading the word about who I was, what I did, and what we offer. But, when you are networking and making connections, you will create a life for yourself in the future. The difference between you being able to sit back and do your work without having to hustle to find someone who can help you is how many people already have a good rapport with you? How many people know your name, or who can advertise for you? It may be difficult to network now. However, investing time in networking won't be difficult later. If you are starting in the industry, just graduating, or if you are still in school, think about your future. Networking now will change your life later."

- Allyssa A. Lewis

"I thought networking meant mostly I had opportunities to get – maybe tomorrow! But not right now. Being able to automate my career and my paychecks is because of the investments. There are several things you can learn from networking, such as where your industry is going. If you do not know where your industry is going, then at some point, you are going to sound as though you are outdated! No matter what happens in our economy, you will have others whom you can rely on to give you the scoop on which jobs are available, what clients need work done, or how you can improve yourself. You might even meet someone who may end up changing your life because the relationship built was strong! Try going to events to meet people! Unlike before COVID, you have the excitement of people wanting to see another face. Networking events can shape your future on where it's headed."

How and why did My Animation Life come into fruition, and can you share with us some of the things you provide?

Allyssa A. Lewis: "My Animation Life came from a need for the industry to be transparent and a need to be supportive. There was also a need for information to travel outside of art schools, including circles of whoever knows whomever. That information needs to reach those who might aspire to be Animators, Character Designers, or Storyboarders. And do not know how to go about doing it or even know it’s an option for them."

Atlanta Film and TV: How and why did My Animation Life come into fruition, and can you share with us some of the things you provide?

Allyssa A. Lewis: "My Animation Life came from a need for the industry to be transparent and a need to be supportive. There was also a need for information to travel outside of art schools, including circles of whoever knows whomever. That information needs to reach those who might aspire to be Animators, Character Designers, or Storyboarders. And do not know how to go about doing it or even know it’s an option for them."

Atlanta Film and TV: If I could travel back in time, and interview eighteen-year-old Alyssa, and tell her all the things she would become, what would you least likely believe to be true?

Allyssa A. Lewis: "I honestly wouldn't believe I was running a company and people felt confident in paying me. I experienced a lot of rejection, and people would attribute that to my appearance. The idea that people would accept the way I exist and feel confident with paying me, working on their project, saying nice things about me and my work. All of which would be a challenge for me to accept."

Atlanta Film and TV: Where do you see the Atlanta Film industry in the next five years?

Allyssa A. Lewis: "I see the Atlanta film industry taking over. I am seeing people move to Atlanta from Los Angeles and those who already live here get hired by people in Los Angeles. Major cities will lose their top talent to the Atlanta market, and we will continue to grow. The artists already here have had a runway to learn more about how production operates outside Atlanta. We have always been the small town that is the place you come to, and meet friendly faces that will help you get your project done for a low price. But, we need to start thinking about what Atlanta will look like when people who are accustomed to a different culture come here and spread their cultural norms in our city. The type of warmth and kindness we have culturally comes from the people in Atlanta. If people come here without that “Southern Charm,” I think it’ll change the way we adapt because we still want opportunities. All of which I think will reshape the way we will engage with each other."

Atlanta Film and TV: What is one piece of advice you have for someone looking to pursue a career in animation?

Allyssa A. Lewis: "If you want to be an animator, and if you have never made an animation, my first piece of advice would be to make an animation! Go online and figure out what you need to do. If you have access to a computer and cannot afford software, use Blender or OpenToonz. Figure out if you like animation, and if it is something you enjoy learning, know that you will be doing that for the rest of your career because you will constantly learn. If you find you enjoy learning, your next step would be to find people who are animators. Reach out to animators, and find out more about what they do and how they can add value to what you want to do. Get as much exposure as you can early on, which will help you figure out if animation is something you want to do in the long run. Getting clarity early on will save you a lot of time because it will help you decide what kind of animation you like most? Where do you want to be in the pipeline? Is it just animation or character animation? Remember, what you start doing is not for the rest of your life. It's only for the next few years!

To connect with Allyssa A. Lewis, be sure to follow her on Instagram @myanimationlife You can also connect with her on Facebook at Alyssa A. Lewis, and be sure to check out her website at

Click here to view part one of our conversation!

And, here to view part two!

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