Creative artists, movie sets, Dreamworks, Sony, “Rugrats,” “Flags of Our Fathers” … these are just a few of the listings on Rachelle Lewis’ resume as a top recruiter in the industry of animation. This past year, she established herself as a leading lady and started her own firm.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do until my early ’30s,” Lewis said. “I studied acting in New York and I loved it … but I also loved the finer things, too — like food and electricity.” (She said the last sentence with both a hint of laughter, and a sentiment of reality.) “I needed to earn a living, but I had to somehow be involved with artists.”
So Lewis looked at what she loved as she assessed her life and her goals. Married at the time, she and her husband moved to Los Angeles in an old 1979 Volvo with two cats in the backseat, a U-Haul on top and $1500 in their wallet. Once in L.A., that assessment also included knowing that she grew up loving animation. “I loved Coco Puffs and Bugs Bunny,” she said, matter-of-factly. So, she capitalized on that love and forged into a world that is changing and growing as a career for women.
What makes her role in the industry especially interesting is Lewis isn’t an animator — she recruits them. Her first start in the field was with Klasky Csupo, the creative outlet behind “Rugrats.” It was a position she acquired without any animator recruitment experience, even though she was up against a current Disney recruiter. “I think it was absolutely due to how I presented myself in the interview,” she said. “I just felt that I could do it [recruitment] better than anyone else. Is experience important, yes; but a brain and desire is much more so.”
After several years with Klasky Csupo, she was contracted at DreamWorks, where she recruited animators on projects such as “Shark Tale,” “Over the Hedge” and “Flushed Away.” Which led her to Sony to hire talent for “Open Season,” “Surf’s Up,” “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Monster House.” Which led her to Digital Domain as the director of recruitment, where she was part of the films, “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Zoom” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.”
How does she know how to recruit animators, not being one herself? “Through a lot of osmosis, I have learned. I’ve been through 100,000 reels, thousands of portfolios. I dropped my ego and I learned,” the successful recruiter explained.
Well, the combination has proved quite successful for this savvy gal, but it also took its toll. “In February, my body was just physically exhausted. Nothing was wrong, except my body just shut down,” Lewis said. So she did some soul-searching, walked along the beach, and with ten years of solid experience, knew she could start her own firm: Rachelle Lewis Talent. The company successfully handles both staffing of major movies with animators, and also manages very high-profile Oscar- and Emmy-winning animators.
During the last five years, the recuitment-guru has seen an increase in the number of women in a field that has been predominately male-dominated. “More women are choosing to study animation,” she said. But it has also been a world where the characters were male-oriented, too. “There weren’t always a lot of strong female characters … I love Cinderella, I own Cinderella, but it isn’t a strong female role.”
With a lot of interesting insight, Lewis explained we now have Eliza Thornberry, a twelve-year-old inquisitive girl who likes to make her own path, a creation of Klasky Csupo’s “Wild Thornberries,” who was one of the trailblazers to showcase a strong gal. There are the Powerpuff Girls — three little gals with super powers who are out to save the world. “Networks have realized they missed the market — and more and more they realize the smart girl doesn’t have to be ugly … women can be attractive and have a brain. Even Barbie is now Career Barbie. And oh — the powerful girl isn’t always an evil girl anymore, either…”
Females are being portrayed with integrity — a quality Lewis said is a key component in being successful in business. “If you say you’re going to do it, do it.” But because she loves what she does, it is a pleasure for her to follow-through. “The people are so great,” she said. “I knew I had to work with artists, and I do. And what makes this special is it is an ego-less industry. No one knows the guy at the coffee shop did the animation in a favorite movie. These are soulful, intelligent people.”
Apparently, so is she.