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October 19

Trailblazing: Forge a Path Where One Does Not Exist

Ellen Poon grew up in Hong Kong in the 1960s in a film-going family. Her creative aesthetic was highly influenced by the combination of British and Chinese cultures. A world-renowned expert in visual effects and animation, Ellen is a founding member of MPC’s Computer Graphics department. During her tenure at Industrial Light and Magic, she was the first woman to be made Visual Effects Supervisor. Ellen has a passion for Chinese film projects and has won two Hong Kong Film Awards for her work on Hero and Monster Hunt. Her filmography includes Jurassic Park, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Jumanji, Frozen and Raya and The Last Dragon. Ellen advocates for increased diversity and inclusion as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Executive Committee.

Starting out, I wanted a mentor, but couldn’t find anyone because computer graphics was in its infancy and there was no one in the field like me. What I’ve learned: when you are trying to forge a new path – for the industry and yourself – you need people who are kind and supportive in your corner. Mentors don’t need to be offering something tangible, like a job; they need to offer guidance, especially on how to navigate the microaggressions that women and minorities experience in our industry. To maintain focus, you need to have a very strong compass. Know who you are, what you’re trying to do,and maintain a sense of professionalism.

Ellen Poon, Visual Effects Supervisor/Visual Effects Producer

“Bold leaps are life defining moments; take them when you have the chance.”

Being the first woman to be named VFX Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic was a great privilege and a huge responsibility. I felt the weight of representing all women, all minority women, and the need to be not just good – but excellent. I’ve seen how implicit bias manifests – the looks of disbelief from crew and clients that I could be a supervisor, or the unknown quantity that many people find hard to accept because there are just so few of us. It is harder to get work as a female supervisor, but the obstacles have increased my resolve to do well in this business and prove them wrong. For people starting out, this environment can be discouraging, so I am committed to sharing what I’ve learned.

As an artist in a position to lead others, it’s important to stay deeply connected to your craft. It takes budgets and pipelines to make our shows run, but to feed my artistry, I need to be creating at my workstation and imagining out loud. Technology changes nonstop, and to be a good supervisor capable of selling it into a project, you must keep your hands dirty.

Do not be afraid to dare greatly and listen to your inner calling. While working at ILM, a lot of great films came out of Hong Kong, China and Asia. I felt like I had a role to play in making these movies, as well as a connection to helping the business go further technologically in my hometown, the place that shaped me. I pursued the chance to work with the best Asian filmmakers on Hero by quitting my job at ILM to follow my passion. Bold leaps are life defining moments; take them when you have the chance.

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