Kaitlyn Yang is a visual effects supervisor and the founder of her own company, Alpha Studios. She recently participated in the Walt Disney Family Museum’s Happily Ever After Hours virtual speaker series. Her live Q&A session included her Chinese-Amerian background, gender diversity in the field of visual effects, and how companies can be more inclusive for workers with a variety of needs.
Born in China, Kaitlyn’s family moved to the United States when she was nine-year-old. “I grew up in the Midwest, in St. Louis, Mossouri, and it’s true, there’s not many things to do… I was lucky enough to kind of put all my energy and passion into movies. When we first moved here, I was able to get my own Blockbuster card and that’s something I held onto dearly.” Renting movies not only helped Kaitlyn learn English, but also developed a love of science fiction films and a desire to learn more about how they’re made. “I was also learning to type on the computer for the first time, so the computer that we bought luckily came with PhotoShop. That was the early ‘90’s, it was one of the free programs that came with it.”
The free PhotoShop software felt like a “Gift from the universe” to Kaitlyn, who started using the program to try and make art similar to what she was seeing in movies. “I started out with a lot of Disney films. I have watched Bambi so many times. And Beauty and the Beast and Snow White.” Kaitlyn first experienced these films in China in another language, but Blockbuster Video allowed her to experience them in English for the first time. But it was science fiction that really inspired the young artist. “Some of the films that really captured my attention were Star Wars and Back to the Future and later on, Lord of the Rings.” She also fell in love with TV shows that had a magical element, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Charmed. “I really love all the magic of storytelling, especially stories driven by visual effects, all led me to where I am today.” Another fun hobby with her PhotoShop skills was making GIFs of her favorite boy band, NSYNC.
“I never thought I would start my own company,” the founder of Alpha Studios shared, who went back to school to get an MBA after several years in the industry.. “When I went to college at USC, I was so grateful for the opportunity… My main goal was just to learn and absorb as much as I can from the professors that had worked on films that had shaped my life.” Kaitlyn stayed busy during summers by taking internships on film and TV projects, giving her a nice reel by the time she graduated, leading to jobs on shows like Bones and The Walking Dead. “There were not a lot of women working in visual effects and I just knew that if I wanted to highlight this problem further it would be really beneficial for me to start my own company.”
When Kaitlyn was first researching her future career in the Midwest, she remembers looking through library books about filmmaking and not seeing any women in behind-the-scenes roles, wondering if women were even allowed to work in the industry behind the camera. “I say to people who are interested in joining Visual effects, we still have a long way to go but I’m seeing so many women joining this industry.” She encourages viewers to pay attention to the names in the end credits of a film to see the disparity of men to women in the industry. In the field of visual effects, only about 6% of the industry are women. “It’s really about seeing a bit of yourself in the work that you do, but also the industry that you work in.” Kaitlyn’s hope is that the film industry can reach an even 50/50 someday.
Another reason Kaitlyn wanted to start her own company was to have a place that was more inclusive to workers with unique needs. Kaitlyn is wheelchair bound due to spinal muscular atrophy and she was tired of the sigma that people with disabilities can’t contribute in the same way. In the field of visual effects, workers sit for ten to fourteen hours a day at a computer and her work is in no way impacted by her physical limitations. To employers, Kaitlyn says all they need to do is ask what their employees need to do their jobs.
“I try to use my voice as my opportunity in the best way to not only inspire people but also teach them about post production, visual effects, and editing.” Kaitlyn hopes new industry standards will also make films more accessible to viewers with special needs, such as closed captions and audio descriptions on all films for the hard of hearing and the visually impaired.
Kaitlyn Yang and Alpha Studios have contributed to the following projects for the Walt Disney Company:
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.