Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur launched today. Did you know Rodney Clouden is supervising producer of the Disney-branded television premiere based on Marvel’s hit comic books?
No stranger to blockbusting movies, Clouden received an Emmy in the Outstanding Individual in the Animation category for his work as a storyboard artist on “Futurama.” Clouden’s additional credits include “American Dad! ” “The Wild Thornberrys,” “Drawn Together,” “Baby Blues,” and “Stressed Eric.”
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Los Angeles, Clouden experienced the best of both coasts. He currently resides with his family in Los Angeles. Recently, US Black Engineer magazine interviewed Clouden, and here are excerpts from the conversation.
USBE: What’s it like to produce Marvel’s first Black teen superheroine?
RC: It’s wild that “Marvel’s first Black teen superheroine” is being said in the 21st century. I’m proud to play a part in introducing Lunella Lafayette, aka Moon Girl, to the world. We are making a statement with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur with the vibrancy of the visuals, stories, and music. I have to give it up to Disney Television Animation for supporting our vision of a show with such a unique vibe and swag. I’ve been waiting to see someone like Moon Girl. The Black Superhero space has been underrepresented, and our show is another step to move the needle forward to see more Super Heroes of color.
USBE: What’s the fun part of your job?
RC: I enjoy the process of creating. Brainstorming ideas, figuring out the solutions to challenges, and seeing everything come together are so satisfying. I’m making cartoons! It’s hard to complain.
USBE: How can a middle or high school student get a job like yours?
RC: It doesn’t happen overnight. I spent years working in the artistic side of animation as a character designer, storyboard artist, and director. Then, I was offered an opportunity to move into the producing side and said “yes.” It’s a different trajectory than someone entering the industry as a Production Assistant and working their way up.
Thanks to the internet and social media, there are many resources for online tutorials, online classes, etc. In addition, art/Animation expos like Lightbox or CTN have free portfolio reviews and Q&A panels with amazing artists about breaking into the industry and learning to improve your skills.
Get inspired by following your favorite artists, designers, storyboard artists, or directors that you like. I’ve discovered many comic book and animation artists and follow them on Instagram. Always work on getting your skills up.
USBE: What do students need to get right early on (i.e., community college, apprentice programs, or four-year college)?
RC: The saying goes, “there are many paths to the top of the mountain.” There is no “right” path. The internet provides many sources of information to prepare you if there are other options besides going to a four-year college. Some schools may have a la carte art courses available.
It also helps to extend your artistic vocabulary. I listen to director commentaries, watch documentaries, and “making of” extras of animated and live-action films or shows. I listen to podcasts about writing, filmmaking, and the creative process. Read the credits. Whether it’s from a movie, TV show, or “Art of” books, find that artist that speaks to you and follow them on social media.
Some great Instagram and YouTube accounts have interviews and information about getting into the industry specifically for people of color, such as: Rise Up Animation, Women in Animation, Black ‘N Animated, BWA Studios, and @blkwmnanimator, to name a few. Find your tribe. An artist meetup group that gets together to draw, paint, write, etc., is fun, and you’ll have a great support system. But the main thing is to practice, practice, practice.
USBE: How do you advance career growth in your industry?
RC: Being a talented artist can only take you so far. Most of the jobs I’ve gotten were from referrals to the producers by people I’ve worked with. In this business, you’re only as good as your reputation. That means that you get your work done right and on schedule.
USBE: What’s a typical workday like?
RC: Lots of meetings with bathroom breaks in between (because I drink a lot of water). The days always vary. My job involves collaborating with many talented individuals. My hand is in every aspect of helping to shape the show. I read episode scripts and write notes for the writers; attend meetings about overall plans with leadership; look at animation done by our partner studio with our leads and make notes; sit in on voice actor records and select what lines get used on the show; attend art reviews with the design team where I give input on backgrounds, props, and characters, including authentic costume elements; do draw-overs on franchise materials; meet with executive music producer Raphael Saadiq and his music team to talk through the thematic intention of a song for an episode; and day-to-day decision making. So I stay busy.
USBE: Tell us about some of the challenges in your career and how you’ve overcome them.
RC: I’ve been working in the animation industry for a long time, and one thing that didn’t go unnoticed was that I was always one of less than a handful of the only Black persons on the crew. The only Black character designer, Black storyboard artist, and Black director. You feel like an anomaly and ask yourself, “where are all the Black people in animation?” I didn’t allow that to define me. The one thing I never did was as the question, “am I good enough” or “do I belong here?” I realized that I am an artist working in the field I chose. And that’s amazing! They have yet to fire me, so I must be doing something right. But it makes me feel good now to see so many more Blerds in the industry. I’d love to continue to see more at every level.
USBE: Tell us about some scientific and technical advice you got to make things real on screen.
RC: I can’t tell you too much without giving away any storylines, but we have science consultants that help us with accuracy. For example, Lunella uses many scientific terms when discussing her experiments and theoretical scenarios. Even our “made-up” stuff has a kernel of pseudo-science to give it an air of plausibility. We even have Dr. Mae Jemison doing a guest spot. So in the show, we give shout-outs to and even cast actual real scientists!
USBE: What do you hope Lunella’s love of S.T.E.M. will bring to the screen?
RC: I hope that Lunella inspires a generation of kids, particularly Black children (and even more specifically Black girls), to get interested in S.T.E.M. There is a serious lack of representation. I would love to see more Black scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and code developers in that landscape. I hope she helps kids embrace who they are without shame or stigma. Embrace your nerdiness.
USBE: What’s next for Lunella?
RC: Season 2. Expect Lunella to come into her own as Moon Girl. More gadgets, cool villains, and high-stakes adventures with her partner Devil Dinosaur. As Lunella would say, “We’re going to juice it up!”