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World Autism Acceptance Month (April) recognises people with autism and those who support them.
To mark the occasion, we launched the Pablo Academy to offer autistic people work experience here at Paper Owl Films.
Michael White is a member of Pablo’s autistic cast and is now working as one of our animators.
Below we hear from him about his experiences to date:
Tell us how and when you first started working in the animation industry.
Michael: I’ve always been fascinated by animation – I used to make clay films on my computer for fun, and then in 2012 I joined a course which had a class on animation.
Later, whilst on a work placement with Sixteen South, I auditioned for a new children’s program, Pablo, as a voice actor. I got the part as one of the main cast members. I was then asked to join the writing team.
How did you get to where you are today?
Michael: In 2019, I was given a work placement at Paper Owl as a trainee animator. I had on-the-job-training and soon started animating scenes on their production Ladybird and Bee.
Later that year I returned to Paper Owl to work on another new show, Happy the Hoglet, which I’m still happily working on today.
What other opportunities, if any, have you been able to take up since working with Paper Owl Films?
Michael: Shortly after working on the voice cast of Pablo, I joined the writing team. In 2017, this experience to a dream opportunity: writing for Thomas and Friends – a childhood favourite of mine. In 2020, I was asked to be a consultant for an autistic character they were introducing into the new series of Thomas.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying to the Pablo Academy to get a work placement at Paper Owl Films?
Michael: Strike while the iron is hot! As someone who was given the chance to work for Paper Owl in different departments, I can honestly say that the experience is truly worthwhile.
And don’t be afraid to speak up – the studio always welcomes new ideas and methods that would help develop their programmes. The team are the most supportive, kindest and most caring team I could have ever worked with.
What’s your dream job/role in the future?
Michael: Right now I’m living my dream job as an animator! Although combining that with my pastime hobby – making model railways would be the amazing too. I love to multitask in different types of work to develop my skills as you never know what lies ahead in the future.
How do you think the launch of the Pablo Academy will change perceptions of autism in the animation industry?
Michael: In the Pablo Academy, people with autism will be able to share their talent and skills to the full.
As someone with autism, I can relate to how challenging it can be to understand the world and finding work in an industry that we’d love to work in can be difficult.
But within the Pablo Academy, the team at Paper Owl will guide and train you so your first experience in animation will be a happy one, and you’ll be all set for your future career.
Do you think you can bring any new perspectives to your work on Pablo? What are they?
Michael: With Pablo, I place myself in his shoes whenever I’m given a slot to write a story about him. Nearly all of my Pablo stories are based on my own experiences. But it’s also through my writing that I’m able to express myself in a way that I couldn’t explain in every day conversation.
What do you think neurodivergent people could learn from their autistic colleagues?
Michael: Firstly, never be afraid to take the chance while it’s there.
And don’t worry that you might not be able to do the tasks you’re given: no matter where you work, someone will always help you out if you get stuck and can guide you until you gain your confidence and experience.
How do you think workplaces can be more accessible to young people on the autism spectrum?
Michael: Finding a job in a workplace can be tricky for young people on the spectrum who wish to be part of that workspace’s community.
Animation vacancies are often posted on studios’ websites, but not everyone on the spectrum would be aware of those.
But looking on social media is often the best way to find opportunities.
It’s worth adding that filling in a job application form can sometimes be tricky for someone on the spectrum. Providing clear, non-complicated wording helps really helps.