A coversation with Jackie Lay, Animator

We sat down with the creator of the inspiring animation and learned more about what went into making the amazing minute-and-a-half We Are Here Movement manifesto.


What name do you like to go by and where can we find more of your work?
Jackie Lay. You can find me at jackielay.com.

What was your first thought when you were asked to do the animation?
My first thought was wow – that’s crazy! Alicia Keys is terrific and “Falling” was the soundtrack to my college years. And I remember walking down the street with “Empire State of Mind” in my head after I’d just moved away from New York City and was incredibly homesick.

What was your second thought?
My second thought was that’s it’s very cool of her to create this movement that focuses on so many important issues and I’m really honored that her team sought me out.

What is/was your process like for creating the animation? How do you come up with these really neat, eye-catching ideas? Is there maybe a spot you go to? A drink you drink, maybe? No judgement..
Every animation starts with writing the script, which I assembled from the mission statements of the charities that We Are Here works with. Once that was approved, I moved onto storyboarding, which is always my favorite part. I start by doing quick sketches of any and all ideas for visuals, no matter how stupid they are. Stupid ideas lead to okay ideas, and okay ideas lead to better ideas. Then I look back and pick out the best ones and draw them onto a storyboard and consider how things will transition from one thing to another.

Once the storyboard is approved, I design each frame and pick a color palette. I recently bought myself an iPad and apple pencil, so I drew each frame directly into Photoshop (with the help of an app called Astropad, which lets your iPad mirror your computer). For the colors, I wanted to avoid skin tones and racial connotations, so I went with a more fantastical palette of gold, magenta and purple.

While I was designing, Alicia and her team did the voiceover, which, by the way, had the best sound quality I’ve ever worked with — perks of working with a musician! Lastly, I animated the frames in After Effects with the voiceover and music. The whole process was very smooth, thanks to the lovely people I got to work with (Hi, Sharlene and Leigh!)

As for getting inspiration, I’ve always looking at what illustrators and animators are doing on Dribbble and Tumblr. I also like to read motionographer.com. I don’t drink while working (that’s a sure way to kill my productivity), but on the weekends I do love a strong manhattan or scotch collins.

Are any of the issues you illustrated particularly close to your heart? Why?
I did some animations on mass incarceration recently, so I know a lot about the struggles of that issue. Ta-Nehisi Coates has written some amazing articles on the issue and has also opened my mind to America’s true racial history. I cried while reading his “Case for Reparations”. There’s a lot about our nation’s history that I was just not aware of.

Being a woman, I also really feel for the 62 million girls that are missing from classrooms worldwide. Better education is the answer to almost all of our problems, for all ages and genders.

But the one issue that has always been my personal mission is the environment. It’s not a popular one because it asks us to shop less, drive less, travel less, eat less meat, and generally be less indulgent, which goes against everything we strive for as humans. But I can’t think of any issue more important or worthy of fighting for.

What’s the one movie the entire world needs to watch?
Oh, that’s tough because I have a long list of favorites. One I just saw recently though was Ip Man. I thought the main character had a beautiful dignity about him, and in the way that he treated the people around him, regardless of his own situation. The world could use more of that honor and integrity.

There are some pretty heavy issues you touch on in the animation, like drone strikes. How do you balance the gravity of something so dire while still keeping the work approachable?
When I’m brainstorming ideas, I’m always aiming for that gravity. I want to make images that make a strong statement and ideally, make someone pause and think. I think the friendly aspect of it is just due to my naive-looking drawings that I crudely animate!

Did you advocate any causes or donate to any charities, etc., before doing the WAH animation? Did that change afterward?
I do advocate strongly for the environment. I ride my bike to work, I switched my electricity to clean energy, and I’m a vegetarian. I’m also incredibly lucky to get to do work that brings awareness to issues like mass incarceration and women’s rights and the environment. I was honored to help promote the We Are Here Movement and I hope to do more for important causes in the future!