ANIMATED INSIGHTS – Reflections on VOLTCON 2021, Resilience, And More

ANIMATED INSIGHTS BY SHANNON MUIR takes you inside Shannon’s latest reflections on her passion for animation as a medium, and other animated insights about life. To catch up on all posts, check out the Animated Insights portion of the website!

THIS FEATURE: Reflections on attending VOLTCON 2021, the meaning of resilience, and other related thoughts.


It is coming up on about a month since VOLTCON 2021, an opportunity to meet up again with old friends and make a lot of new ones. Additionally, it proved a time to see how so many elements of my life over the course of so many years came together in one place.

Sometimes life knocks you so far off course you don’t think you might ever come back, because the odds are against you. I’m sorry to say I’ve been there. However, as I’ve also recently been reminded, things like passion and persistence can keep you going forward. Luck and talent also come to mind, from discussions of long ago.

As to my own core qualities, someone put it to me recently that one thing that stood out to them about me was my resilience. It is not the first time I have heard something along those lines about me, but I think it’s the most precise one that has been used in this regard.

So I looked up the definition of resilience, to remind myself of the meaning of the word. Merriam-Webster defines this in what they call “essential” and “full” definitions. The essential meaning in terms of people is: “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens”. I would say that that is accurate. I talk about my need to do that as far back as my undergraduate years in college in the piece that I did with Greg Tyler on being part of the official Denubian Galaxy Starmap during VOLTRON: THE THIRD DIMENSION.

But how about since then? Have I truly embodied resilience?

Since I first arrived in Los Angeles in 1996, I did my best to stay involved in the animation industry the best I knew how. As I also talk about in the article I mentioned, I stepped aside when I probably should have hung on. However, I fought my way back again, only to be on the second season of INVADER ZIM before it was unexpectedly cancelled. Again, I hung on and decided to go for a Masters Degree in Communications as I searched out my purpose in regard to why animation called to me. As my Masters degree classwork came to a close and I completed working on my thesis, I would get a Production Coordinator gig on half-hour versions of NODDY for PBS, including new animated shorts and music videos to package with the existing material. That would be my last time on an animated series, but not for lack of trying.

After a series of rejections and repeatedly being told “there are people with more experience with you” (which which I could not argue), a series of events opened up moving into the newer field of virtual worlds and large-scale multiplayer experiences. Nickelodeon had purchased Neopets and started to spin up a new 2D world that had an illusion of being a 3D world called PetPet Park, where players could move avatars around and interact with other NPCs. Think something like World of Warcraft for kids in terms of function, but far less complicated. That would become the primary project I worked on during my over three year run there, and it made enough of an impact on me that when I found out they were going to close PetPet Park for good, I logged on that night and played for several hours in the world. The biggest thing I learned is that while I thought kids would leave watching passive animation in droves for an interactive experience (I was only partially correct, they did not abandon animation entirely as the ongoing popularity of animation has shown), what I did in animation is lasting and still able to be seen today, while experiences done for the web are transient and do not last.

After 2011, when my time with virtual worlds came to an end, I found myself continuing to to work on websites for various entertainment companies. After a while, I wasn’t certain what my purpose was anymore being where I was. I suspect resilience applied to me at this time probably the most of any time in my life, though I think this possibly was the slowest rebound I’ve ever made. Perhaps, I’m still on it.

I do know where it starts, though.

The year would be 2015. I’d been doing contract work in Quality Assurance for the websites of several major entertainment companies, which was where I’d been reorganized to at Neopets in 2010 before they let me go in 2011, but the whole time still hoped to land some kind of full-time employment. In the summer of 2014, I started up with another company in a contractor role and around the same time had a real heart-to-heart with my fiance’. At that point, we’d known each other since I came in 1996 and been engaged since 2007 (but after a layoff from a job in between NODDY and my stint at Neopets, had put wedding plans on hold indefinitely since everything looked it would be dependent on myself as a one-income household, and frankly I was afraid of the responsibility). He had the same part time job he’d held since we’d been engaged, and while I wasn’t ending up with anything as a full-time employee, at least I was at least moving from place to place though I did have some six month long unemployment stints in between.

The bottom line was this: clearly it hadn’t gotten better in the intervening years, but it could be worse. Were we willing to encompass all of what “for better or worse” and all that entailed knowing we were kind of somewhere in the middle to start?

We decided yes, and agreed to get married on June 20, 2015, the exact month and day I’d moved to Los Angeles years earlier, which that year was on a Saturday. Interesting how things lined up like that.

In the middle of my wedding planning, I get an e-mail from Marc Morrell of the LET’S VOLTRON PODCAST, asking if I can join another special guest named Greg Tyler for episodes on VOLTRON: THE THIRD DIMENSION. This is the first I’ve heard of the podcast, I’ve been too busy trying to stay employed to be aware of the Internet world at large. However, I knew VOLTRON was something I could contribute about.

There was the reason I was looking for.

So, staying in my husband’s hometown for the weekend at a motel for a series of wedding preparations (a place I had a good relationship with because I’d stayed there for years, on various holidays and when I had to be in town working on my Masters’ thesis), we did that first podcast on a Sunday. Marc and Greg didn’t know I was at a motel and not at home, and I forgot to ask how many hours they planned to record. They wanted us to do more than two episodes, but I couldn’t get the manager of the motel to extend my checkout any longer. I still remember muting my Blackberry (!) and racing out to ask the manager if he could give me an extra hour to check out because I was on an unexpectedly long conference call. That was the best I could manage.

The episodes were released in May 2015 but as memory serves I think we recorded them in the later half of April of that year. I traveled a lot in May 2015, including to Spokane to help set up a second reception for my own family – none of whom could make the actual wedding – and record an installment of StoryCorps with my father.

Even at that point, I thought it might perhaps be a one-time thing. I’m glad to say that wasn’t the way things turned out.

Here I am years later, finding this to be my primary call to service in regard to animation. Even the pandemic did not silence that. This October in 2021 at VoltCon, being invited as a guest of the special media guests to take the stage with them brought a sense of bringing things closer together than they’ve felt in longer than I can remember.

I still don’t know what the next phase looks like, or how many years it will take to get there… but I think I’m resilient enough to find out.

 

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