Baltimore-Area Animators Have Shot At Cartoon Network Show

BALTIMORE (AP) — Rebecca Stern gets anxious in loud spaces and struggles to communicate and socialize. The 26-year-old, who has autism, said she hopes to create characters who look and sound like her.

Marina Khatin, 29, said there’s a shortage of Black female cartoon animators. That’s problematic, she said, because it can be challenging to tell the true stories of women like herself. A 2019 USC Annenberg report on women in animation noted only 1% of animated film directors are women of color.

Stephen Church Jr., 16, said there aren’t nearly enough Black cartoonists telling the stories of Black culture. While there are high profile exceptions — the Oscar-winning “Soul” was directed by Kemp Powers and the recent Netflix show “Karma’s World” was executive produced by rapper Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges, critics say it’s not enough.

All three artists now have a shot at developing a show with Cartoon Networks Studios and former Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce’s Baltimore-based studio Outlook Visual Effects. They are among six participants in a program designed to identify, develop and showcase the work of underrepresented and undiscovered artists.

The six participants will be narrowed down to three and then to one. Cartoon Network will pick a finalist, whose project will be produced by OVFX, as Pryce’s studio is known. No air date has been set yet.

Stern, who grew up in Columbia, now lives in the Tuscany-Canterbury area in North Baltimore. She earned an animation degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2019 and since then has struggled to find work.

“It’s been difficult to find people to work with me, so when (Pryce) asked me to do this project, I immediately said ‘Yes,’” she said.

Stern began working on her craft about the age of 3 because her mother, Sheri Dunn, and grandmother, Bella, who are both deceased, were artists.

“My mother is my biggest inspiration of all time,” she said. “She was very accepting (of) the way that I am.”

While Stern was circumspect about her project, she said the main character is a young child with autism.

“Please be patient with us. Please accept us,” she said. “We are the same as you. We want to be like you, and we should work together.”

Kathin is a Silver Spring native and a 2010 graduate of Montgomery Blair High School. Six years later, she earned an animation degree from Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio.

Prior to joining OVFX three years ago as a character animator, she worked at the University of Maryland, University College (now known as University of Maryland Global Campus), in the commencement department.

Her project is called “Beyond the Stars” and tells the story of a little girl who goes to a kingdom of constellations when she falls asleep. Kathin, who has been passionate about animation since she was 6-years-old, said she didn’t see many Black female lead characters on cartoons that she could look up to while growing up.

“It’s always important to have that one person in the room with you to be like, ‘Well, let me tell you about my experience,’” she said “Because otherwise it would just be making guesses and go in based off maybe your one gay friend or Black friend, trying to make their experience the only experience of what story you tell.”

Church is excited to tell stories about his community.

“I don’t think there’ll ever be too many or enough because I feel like Black people have so many experiences — so many different experiences to share that haven’t been heard in hundreds of years because of the places we were put in,” he said. “Our voices aren’t always heard first.”

Church, a Randallstown native, is a friend of the Pryce family. He’s a sophomore at the Park School of Baltimore in Pikesville. His project is called “Party Poopers” and involves crime fighting as well as monsters who crash parties.

He’s a rapper, writer and designer. His goal is to attend a liberal arts college in California or New York, and probably study something artistic. Church, whose stage name is $armie (pronounced Sarmie), recently released an EP called “Prep.” He also owns a streetwear clothing line named Phart.

“I like to work on a lot of creative things at once because you never know what’s gonna be the one that works out,” he said.

Sam Register, president of Cartoon Network Studios and Warner Bros. Animation, said in a news release that uplifting “original and diverse creative voices” is one of Cartoon Network’s top priorities.

“Outlook Company’s mission to work with artists from underrepresented communities makes them a perfect partner and I look forward to the work ahead with Trevor and the amazing group of creators he has assembled,” Register said.

Pryce said he believes in all the projects.

“Some of the ideas, even if they’re not picked, other people (at other networks) want to see them,” he said.