Meet the people behind our award-winning work across the globe. Up next is our global AAA, pipeline team, Katalina Williams, Anastasija Belaka, Kim Ash & Patricia Terol Tolsa from our studios in Los Angeles, New York and London.
Our pipeline team writes custom software that enables our creative and production teams to collaborate efficiently across the globe and share work with clients. Pipeline developers make the tools that artists use every day to publish, review, and assemble their creative output into the polished footage that you see onscreen.
We have a talented group of pipeline developers at MPC, two thirds of whom are female. These women–Head of Pipeline Katalina Williams, Senior Software Developer Kim Ash, Software Developer Patricia Terol Tolsa, and Pipeline Developer Anastasija Belaka–use their unique knowledge and skills to make MPC’s pipeline a standout in the industry. They hail from our studios in Los Angeles, New York and London. Each one has impressive credentials, including degrees in Computer Science and Psychology from USC, Physics and Studio Art from Brandeis University, New Media from NYU, Computer Science and Mathematical Science from Florida Institute of Technology, and Software Development for Animation Games and Effects from Bournemouth University.
We interviewed these incredible women to learn some more about their personal stories and career highlights. Here’s what they had to say.
Can you share your story with us – where did you get your start? How did you get to where you are today and what has your journey been like as a woman in both work and life?
Katalina: My high school had a tech program that had me learning C++ and breadboard circuits at age 13. Soon I was begging my mother to buy me computer parts, although that phase subsided after quickly destroying three motherboards. I ended up in the visual effects industry thanks to luck and a good memory. In college, I took an Introduction to computers graphics course taught by a professor who was also a developer at DreamWorks Animation. He asked his students to consider careers in animation or VFX, which were lesser-known applications of a computer science degree. He spoke of how much he loved his industry and job. He felt how I wanted to feel. A few years later when I wasn’t having much luck finding my sweet spot, I remembered my professor’s advice, took some courses at Gnomon in Hollywood to learn the basics of the creative process, and finally landed a pipeline internship at a studio.Working in pipeline has been nonstop learning, creating, and fun – everything I’d hoped for.
Anastasija: I’ve always had a great interest in both sciences and arts. During my school years, I found a passion for programming, however, I wanted to do something more with it, to use it in even more creative ways. That’s when I found out about a software development for animation and effects course at Bournemouth University and realised – this is it, this is where I want to open the next chapter in my life.
Kim: Throughout my life, I have had two primary interests: science and art. I grew up in NYC, and I spent a lot of time at the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a child, I was always making things or taking things apart. In high school, I took every art and science class that I could fit into my schedule. This pattern continued through college at Brandeis University, where I majored in Physics and Studio Art.
After graduating from college, I worked in e-commerce marketing for five years. I ended up doing a lot of QA testing as part of my job; it turned out that I was skilled at finding bugs. This experience led me to pivot toward a career in technology. A friend told me about a graduate program at NYU called ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program), which her sister-in-law had attended. She said that it was a place where people with a lot of seemingly unrelated interests could find themselves. I applied the following year and enrolled that fall.
At ITP, I developed a passion for coding, particularly graphics coding. My knowledge of math, physics, and art allowed me to make beautiful visuals with software. While I had some knowledge of programming from my undergrad days, it was the synthesis of software and art in grad school that really excited me. This directly contributed to my interest in the visual effects industry.
Because of my interests, I have spent a lot of time in male-dominated fields. When I started applying for software developer jobs, I interviewed at many places where there were no female developers at all. In a previous job at an experience design firm, I was the only woman on the software team. I found that my physics degree was helpful in gaining the respect of my male peers. Unfortunately, I have met many men in my career who have felt the need to establish dominance over their colleagues, especially the females. It’s nice to work on a software team with a female manager and so many other women. I don’t have to prove my qualifications when I’m not a novelty.
Patricia: My story starts back in Spain where I grew up. As a kid, I used to collect many movie tapes and DVDs, but it was never actually the films I was interested in, I loved the bonus filming/VFX features and documentaries that came with it. Fast forward to university, while trying to decide which areas of computer science to study, I found SIGGRAPH through a professor, and I decided to attend the conference as a volunteer that year.
Needless to say, SIGGRAPH brought me back to those bonus features watching days from my childhood, in a much more tangible and practical way. I met people that helped me discover the many different areas within the VFX world, and that is how I discovered the position of a VFX Pipeline Developer and many companies in the industry such as MPC. When I graduated a few positions opened at MPC Advertising and, well, the rest is history.
In the past few years, I’ve seen many changes with regards to dropping stereotypes, expectations and cliches that are not only unnecessary but sometimes extremely untrue and not fair to women, such as what we are “supposed” to study, wear or like; I hope these generalizations will not be a part of future and people will embrace and acknowledge that each individual is different themselves.
How has your industry changed culturally since you started your career? What support / knowledge / collaboration within the industry would help to make positive change?
Katalina: Increased accessibility of content creation tools and technical resources helps level the opportunity field and makes the industry feel more collaborative and approachable than ever.
Anastasija: It’s only been a few months since I’ve started my journey in the industry, however, it’s great to see that a lot of people can find the support they need in the industry. For example, there are many talks, events and activities organized by MPC to help and encourage everyone.
Kim: One nice thing about working in this industry is that every studio has their own tools and pipeline, so every new hire has to be trained, regardless of their skill level. It makes an ideal career for someone who has some knowledge but may have taken some time off, or someone who wants to transition into a new role. There are lots of skilled female software developers who find it difficult to return to the field after taking time off for their families. VFX studios should reach out to these women when hiring pipeline developers.
Industry conferences should continue working on increasing the number of females, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ panelists and presenters. This means inviting and encouraging more underrepresented people to discuss their work and submit papers; too often they are only invited to speak about diversity and work/life balance. True equality will only be achieved when it is normal to see a diverse set of people on the stage at all times.
Patricia: I am new to the industry, having been around for 5 years, so I don’t have much of a long-term perspective on the issues in the industry or how things evolved over time, but I do feel like there is a growing number of events and initiatives to cultivate inclusiveness and help support issues and raise awareness about certain topics that might be less talked about.
Where did you study, and the subject?
Katalina: I studied Computer Science and Psychology at USC (University of Southern California). I get asked a lot if I had a master plan when combining those programs and the truth is I didn’t – I started in psychology despite loving my high school computer science classes because I lacked the confidence to imagine myself in an engineering career when choosing a major. I’m so glad I figured out that that was nonsense.
Anastasija: I studied Software Development for Animation Games and Effects at Bournemouth University (graduated in 2019).
Patricia: I studied Computer Science and Mathematical Science at the Florida Institute of Technology.
Can you talk about your work at MPC?
Kim: I have built a lot of the software that artists, TechOps, and producers use every day at MPC Advertising. I made the copy asset tool, rebuilt and maintain the ftrack listeners, built a web service that automatically adds projects and users to ftrack, and I have contributed development to the ingest web service as well as several pipeline tools. I also maintain and develop new Flame tools, and I am about to release a standalone tool for generating slates
Patricia: While we in technology don’t get to work on specific client projects, I’ve definitely supported in some capacity a lot of the projects that have come through the MPC advertising offices in the past 5 years. On the technology side however, aside from supporting current projects, I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of integrations and tool developments, particularly focusing on 2D workflows, such as the integration of our asset manager on the conforming and compositing workflow in Nuke Studio.
What drew you to work at MPC?
Katalina: I was lucky that a friend was a VFX supervisor at MPC when I was last on the hunt. I’d heard the company name before but wasn’t too familiar with the industry yet. He got my resume to the right people, the interview felt like the perfect fit, and I was thrilled to join a couple weeks later.
Anastasija: The incredible work done by incredible people. I was always looking forward the talks by MPC guest speakers at BFX Festival and Bournemouth University. These motivated me to work even harder.
Kim: My friend Leslie Chung, whom I had known since high school, was working at MPC as a compositor at the time, she told me that there was an opening for a software developer and engineer in the NY office. I ended up getting the job at MPC, and I have enjoyed the experience of meeting so many wonderful colleagues and solving so many fascinating and complex problems.
Patricia: During my student years, as I was getting to know the industry through events and conferences like SIGGRAPH, there was immediately a couple of companies that stood out to me amongst the rest for their creative work. I was lucky to be able to visit one of the offices at the time during a student event and learn more about the company from the people working there.
What would you say makes you good at your job and what advice would you give to those entering the industry right now?
Katalina: Tenacity, empathy, and forming friendships have been key. I’d advise someone seeking a role in pipeline that inherent loves of problem solving, listening, and doing what is best for a team are the required attributes. The technical knowledge will come over time.
Patricia: You need to be good at more than just the technical coding skills. It’s a job that involves fast-changing circumstances, where things come up unexpectedly and need to be resolved in a short timeline, a very useful skill to have is being able to adapt quickly as things change and be willing to completely switch your focus from one thing to another as things evolve. It’s it a job where you are trying to figure out what artist need to work more effectively, and you also need to communicate about feedback for new features – being a team player and having good inter-personal skills is also essential to succeed.
Favourite piece of MPC work that you didn’t work on?
Katalina: I’m a sucker for the Monty the penguin Christmas ad for John Lewis.
Anastasija: Ed Sheeran’s music video ‘Cross Me’. I like everything about it – it’s a music video with breath-taking and ground-breaking visuals and it’s also showcasing the behind-the-scenes of motion capture in the final film.
Patricia: On the Film side, the work on The Lion King which is just outstanding. On the advertising side, I am a big fan of the Samsung VR campaign “Do What You Can’t” featuring an ostrich that learns how to fly thanks to VR.
What are you most proud of?
Anastasija: My family, my determination and the ability not to give up. I feel very proud that, despite all worry and uncertainty, I didn’t give up, I went abroad to study, graduated and continued to pursue my dreams in the industry. And my family is always there to support me anytime. I still remember that time when I was feeling uncertain, and my mom asked me “Are you sure you want to forget about your dream?”. This still motivates me today.
Patricia: Every time I’ve found myself fearing something, I’ve chosen to make the effort to face it or do something about it instead of letting it stop me from doing or achieving something.
What do you like to do in your spare time, any passion projects or side hobbies?
Katalina: I enjoy baking wildly elaborate cakes. Over the past year, I’ve gotten into knitting and indoors plants (they’re classics for a reason) as well as making my own bitters from scratch.
Anastasija: I have many, some of them are daily activities and some not. When at home I enjoy playing the piano and learning to play the guitar as well as exploring the software I often work with (Houdini – It’s interesting to see what other unusual results you can achieve with it).
Kim: In my spare time, I maintain a multidisciplinary art practice. I do a lot of drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, and graphic design. Occasionally I still make code-based graphics art as well, although now that I write software in my regular job, sometimes I just want to step away from the computer for a while. Lately, I have been working on making mixed media pieces that combine multiple artistic disciplines. I created a few pieces composed of photographs and drawings layered in Photoshop, which were featured in an online show a few months ago.
Patricia: I am actually an avid creative person, you can find me at times adding yet another musical instrument to my background, brushing up on interior design or practicing my graphic design skills. In the past year, with all the time at home we suddenly had, I also took on a new project and decided to get some basic studies in nutrition.
If you could go back, what one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Katalina: Speak up and wear whatever you want to.
Anastasija: Remember that everything has its own time. If something hard is happening, it will pass, and if something good – treasure it with all of your heart.
Patricia: To always surround yourself with many voices of both equal and opposing views. It’s easy to lean into the natural tendency of filling up your life with information and people that you agree with, as it makes you feel comfortable and understood, but I have found invaluable growth in actively seeking information as well from points of views that I was not necessarily keen on.
What challenges do you see for equality in society today?
Katalina: Pay equality and diversity in representation, especially in technology and company leadership, have a long way to go. I promise to do my part and hold others accountable to do the same.
Kim: Achieving equality is going to take a lot of work in many different areas. We need to make sure that quality education is available for everyone, regardless of where they live or how much their parents earn. Education was such an important part of my career story, and I know I was lucky to some excellent opportunities.
Another important piece of the puzzle is representation–young women, and especially young women who are BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ or from another underrepresented group, we need to see people like this in STEAM careers. Organizations in the corporate world and in academia need to make an extra effort to hire and train a diverse group of people. The entertainment world also has a role to play. Children are strongly influenced by the characters they see in movies, TV, and video games. Watching women and minorities participating in science and technology teaches young girls that they are capable of anything, and it teaches young boys that those spaces are open to everyone.
Finally, we need to ensure that women can keep their careers and continue to be promoted if they choose to have children or care for an ill family member. Affordable childcare, flexible working hours, and paid leave need to be available to everyone, and there should be no career penalty for using them. My mom took two weeks of maternity leave when I was born, because she feared that taking more time would jeopardize her law career. No one should feel pressured to make that choice, and many people simply can’t afford to do so.
Patricia: I think equality starts by taking down barriers of division based on labels that have been imposed over time. I think the best wins come more from truly understanding where we are at, acknowledging the negative past influences that have or still play a part in unfair divisions, and then working towards a more balanced and unified ground. In order to reach equality, the need to categorize people needs to disappear, in favor of considering each unique individual for what they are: unique. However, I am aware that is sometimes much easier said than done in certain environments.
Get in touch with our pipeline team here.