Syracuse storyteller fights for diversity in animation

Syracuse storyteller fights for diversity in the animation industry

Syracuse University junior Sujean Gahng was inspired by the #NotAgainSU protests to found a chapter of Women in Animation at SU with the goal of creating more representation for women and those from marginalized communities within the industry.
Published: January 13, 2021 | Updated: February 17th, 2021 at 9:39 pm

Sujean Gahng is a junior animator majoring in animation at the College of Visual and Performing Arts of Syracuse University.

As technology develops stories are increasingly being told through different modes of multimedia. With more young people dedicating themselves to animation, a relatively young industry itself, storytelling through animation is now in full bloom.

Sujean Gahng is one of the explorers in today’s animation and creative industry. She is a junior majoring in animation at the College of Visual and Performing Arts of Syracuse University. Before deciding to become an animator, Gahng explored other areas of art and design.

“I actually pursued design at many other colleges I applied to because I thought I was going to go into like motion graphics or columns design like communications,” Gahng said. “But I really had an interest in storytelling and telling a narrative through my work.”

That’s exactly what animation is to Gahng — “It’s like film but in an animated way and that’s what drew me into animation as a whole,” she said. “I also think animation is such a small but growing industry that there’s a lot of excitement over there than design or illustration.”

Her adventurous use of creative mediums to tell stories comes from some important female figures that influenced her from a young age — including her aunt who is an art teacher at Pratt Institute in New York City.

“Not to sound self-important, but I always knew I had a talent for art because I took art classes throughout my life,” Gahng said. However, she had never seriously considered it as something she could pursue as a career. As soon as she got into high school, she then realized that the only constant thing in her life was art.

“It is something I genuinely do rather than dreading every day,” she said, “and it was something I felt myself committing to for a long time as of right now.”

After joining the transmedia department at VPA, Gahng took several great courses to help her build on skills, including the Animation Workshop that allowed her to work within a group to produce one short animation from nothing. Outside of classes, she also interned at and freelanced for the Meredith Corporation in New York City.

“Interestingly enough, I’m at a place where I feel like I’m an illustrator in an animation major,” Gahng said. “I do a lot of illustrations for Meredith, and it’s just so awesome to be in a space where a publishing company is pursuing 3D or 2D animation.”

Gahng found her internship especially valuable because New York City is traditionally a very print-heavy place, but as corporations begin to pursue more multimedia storytelling, Gahng is up for the challenge.

Working in the real world as an animator and illustrator, Gahng realized that even though the animation professors at SU have been trying as hard as they can, the resources they’re given are limited.

“Similar to the industry, animation here at SU is really young. We are missing out on a lot of opportunities,” Gahng said. “So, I wanted to bring those resources here that we might not have or don’t have that much of compared to other established art colleges.”

Being aware that discrimination against women and people of color still exists in this young industry, Gahng, as an Asian American woman, was inspired to fight for diversity by starting small. After the #NotAgainSU protests last year she was inspired to found a chapter of Women in Animation at SU in 2020, an organization with the core goal of making women’s voices heard in the industry.

Gahng wanted to create a community that allows animators to build connections and figure out their niche within the industry. At the end of the day, animation is a collaborative art and Gahng hopes to foster a sense of togetherness for SU animators. Since not many of them identify as female, part of the LGBTQ+ community or POC, she felt that it is important to bring that representation to the industry.

“As for myself, I feel that I have to keep on going, pursuing and pushing for more representation in not only my field but also in art in general because a lot of masters have always been white men and U.S. centric,” Gahng said. “I feel like there’re so many artists out there deserve more spotlight.”