As a collegian Jana Day, Coe, never imagined that her career would lead her to one day holding an Oscar. But when “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” won Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards, Jana, who works for Sony Pictures Animation, had the opportunity to hold the golden statue.
As the Executive Director of Recruiting, Jana recruits and hires all of the front-end artists for the studio’s animated pictures. But her career didn’t start in animation. In fact, feature animation, outside of Walt Disney, wasn’t a phenomenon when she started in the business. With a human resources background, Jana worked in recruiting for Warner Brothers Studios. Following the success of the “The Lion King,” which made its mark as the highest grossing film of 1994 and garnered two Academy Awards, studios discovered that there was money to be made in animated films and began establishing animation units. Warner Brothers decided to launch its own animation arm and was looking for people to run it. Jana jumped at the opportunity.
“I was the youngest on the team at the time, and nobody else wanted to do it—they weren’t sure animation was going to last,” Jana says.
After Warner Brothers, Jana was one of the initial hires at DreamWorks. She helped the company start from scratch with only a handful of artists and grow into the successful studio it is today. There, she recruited for films like “The Prince of Egypt,” “Shrek,” “The Road to El Dorado” and “Spirit.”
After many years in the business, Jana had planned on retiring. Before she had the chance, a former colleague approached her about helping start up Sony Pictures Animation. “I thought it would be just for a couple of months,” says Jana. A couple of months turned into 16 years—and an Academy Award.
At Sony, Jana’s main role is finding artists all over the world to bring on staff when the studio is ready to work on a new film. One of her favorite aspects of her job is getting to know the artists. She often attends film festivals where she’s constantly meeting new people, something she compares to recruitment: “You’re thrown into a situation where you’re talking to several people you’ve never met—the skills I learned in recruitment of being able to help someone else feel comfortable when talking to them and listening has been invaluable.”
But the best part of her job, she says, is “getting to work with amazingly talented individuals who I normally would have never run across—that makes it the most fun.”
When it came to recruiting for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the film was a game-changer. The design and the way it looked on screen was unlike any feature animated film that’s been produced. As Jana explains, “We pushed every aspect of what had been done and took it even further.” It took an incredible amount of time—and staffing—to achieve the revolutionary look of the film. And it was up to Jana to find the artists who could make it happen.
“It was a beast to staff,” she says. “We had over 800 artists on that one film. We started with one director and by the time we were done, we had five. Each had their own area of specialization.”
Everyone’s hard work paid off, though, in the form of the coveted Academy Award. Jana had worked on films that had been nominated before, but this was the first one that had ever won. “It was amazing—that’s the only way to describe it,” says Jana. “We knew we had something special.”
Thinking back to that decision to join Sony 16 years ago, Jana reflects, “You never know where something is going to take you. As a collegian, I would have never guessed this is where I would end up. It was never on my radar to hold an Oscar.”
Her advice: “Dream big, but also don’t be afraid to take a chance if something looks like it could be the right opportunity.”