Kendra Williford is a 30 year old animator, graphic designer, and fine artist from Morganton North Carolina. She grew up being fascinated by Disney animations and used to pause the movies in order to draw the characters from frozen frames. “The more I would draw, the more I wanted to animate,” she said in an interview with North by Northwest.
Throughout school, Kendra excelled at drawing as well as music, which earned her a scholarship to Lenoir-Rhyne University for music. But after just a year she knew she needed to do a double major in studio art as well. “I’ve always loved any kind of art. My grandfather was a carpenter. I’ve been surrounded by all kinds of art forms. In studio art we were exposed to all of it. I believe with art you should express whatever you want to express. Each medium is kind of its own individual challenge,” Kendra said.
An Animator in a Small Town
Kendra then earned her MFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco where she said she spent up to 12 hours a day working on her thesis film. This intensive schedule meant she didn’t have time to form a base in the bay area enough to remain in the state to look for work there. So she returned to North Carolina and has been working remotely on various projects since. “Fresh out of school it’s hard to get into animation. I did not have the money to extend myself [in California] and not have a job. I moved back home and did remote work for an interactive company in Vermont. Unless you’re a genius and you’ve been doing animation since you’re out of the womb it’s very hard to get a job straight out of school. We have to do freelance work for a lot of time,” Kendra explained.
I asked Kendra how she kept herself busy in Hickory and if there were many other animators around to engage with. Kendra joked, “Animating in Hickory is like animating in a cave.” She gets inspired by teaching young people in the community animation. This is rewarding since it’s not something many local youth have considered, much less been made aware of as an option for artistic expression. “There is a big artistic community in Hickory and people love artist trades. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of animators out here,” Kendra said. Although she revealed that in the south, in general, she has made strong animator connections and friends through social media and online platforms.
Kendra talked about the other artists that inspire her. “Other artists inspire me a lot and to get better. I have a few animator friends and a former professor who worked for Disney in Florida. They get online and do all kinds of tutorials and demonstrations. It’s so inspiring and I’m really eager to get to that level.”
Two particular animators who have been an inspiration are Aaron Blaise and Ronnie Williford. “Aaron hosts an art tips youtube channel. And I saw Aaron interview Ronnie about his style. I was excited that Ronnie was so good at animation and that he had the same last name as me. So I asked Ronnie to meet up with me and now we are good friends. Sherrie H. Sinclair, her former professor, provided a lot of support and inspiration while Kendra completed her thesis film in San Francisco. “If it weren’t for Sherrie I would’ve had so many struggles through that film. She is a phenomenal instructor.”
When I asked Kendra how she would identify her style today, she said, “Every artist out there is looking for their style. I have given up on trying to find ‘my style’. Aaron Blaise said “the more art you do the more your style will just come out of it.” I do what art makes me happy. My style will come on its own.
In animation I stick more towards the renaissance of animation style. That’s what I identify with, 80s and 90s animations is what I grew up watching, but I try to draw from the older classics.” She also indicated that she can draw inspiration from “Anything from real world experiences to an old person sitting alone in a diner. Animals are another huge inspiration because they’re so natural, they’re the most genuine thing. And definitely, light when it hits something a particular way it makes me want to paint it. I love the way light bends around objects.”
One project Kendra enjoyed working on recently because it was so different was a series of 15 second commercials for Duke Energy, who wanted chalk boards with motion mixed in it. “That required me to do four days on set using chalk to draw lamps, washing machines, a dishwasher, a TV, and all together it took 12 hours a day drawing on my knees. It was so cool in the end because they were my actual chalk drawings in the video.”
Kendra’s passion for what she does is obvious. “I love making drawings move,” she told me. “When I first saw some my drawings come to life that was when animating became my addiction. It’s so amazing. You want to do it more and more. You’re taking your original drawings and bringing life to them. It’s like magic. To know that I’m touching every single drawing in sequence.”
We are excited that Kendra has collaborated with our North by Northwest team on projects and helped design murals in our back parking lot. Kendra said she is excited for any future collaboration. To learn more about Kendra’s work, to consult her for a freelance project, or for enquiries about teaching contact her on her website. Or follow her on Instagram.