top of page

Creator Q&A: Mary Hawkins

1. What is your name, what do you do, and which film did you make?

I'm Mary Hawkins ( Mary Switchblade, and along with my friend Erin Knitis ( Fleshwound, I made Skate Fast, Turn Left. She's a creative director and writer and I'm an art director, animator and designer. We first met at auditions for the Gotham Roller Derby Jeerleaders on Dec 8th, 2008 and we've been friends ever since.

2. Give a brief history of your experience creating art and animation.

I've been working in the industry for 20 years, and it just keeps morphing and changing over time -- it's really been an amazing journey. My undergrad degree was from NYU/Tisch in production design, and I worked on a few indie films in the late 90s and early 2000s. I was an early adopter of Photoshop (v2.0 -- no layers!) and AfterEffects, and I heard my university was starting a Masters in 3D animation, so I decided to dive in. We didn't yet have a word for what I wanted to do, so I kept telling people I wanted to do animation that was design-oriented and didn't involve characters and used non-photorealistic rendering, and that didn't always make sense for folks. I worked as a broadcast designer for most of my early career, and it was a relief when the phrase "motion graphics" caught on.

Clients often hire me to do a spot from top-to-bottom, boards to finished product. I'd never considered doing a short of my own since animation is so labor intensive, but this is my second short this year. My client work is often so clean and slick, and I've noticed that my personal projects tend to do the opposite. They'll have a lot of texture, a punky look or wild visual choices because I'm trying to make an all-digital process look handmade and personal.

3. What inspired you to pick the story you chose? Was it original or an adaptation?

I wanted to work with Fifi, and we were trying to come up with new things to do that we could finish by the deadline, and fit the theme. At one point she pitched the idea of doing a sea shanty about the end of the world. I wish! We were talking about what the world around us is like and where we are in our lives and trying to connect those ideas back to the theme of this year's anthology. Fifi and I have known each other for so long, and every time we're together we talk about derby -- who's doing what, who's still skating, what's going on with our friends and the different leagues, but we've also always talked about our injuries and our levels of burnout. We basically tried to cram what we talk about over those long lunches into a very, very short script.

4. What was your process for making your film?

Honestly, we spent most of the time trying to figure out what our subject was. We were coming up with ideas and spent time shaping what we wanted to say up until I really had to start working on the piece. We weren't thinking it would be autobiographical, but around August it became clear that our story would be strongest if it were about us. I took November off from client work and went into production for that entire month. Our derby photographers were really generous with me, and everyone I reached out to gave me open access to their archives. (The only sequence that isn't from the archive photos is Fifi making a snow angel in all the orthopedic equipment we'd both collected over the years.) We had photos from several leagues going back 15+ years and they were super fun to look through. I had a wealth of choices, but that created its own problems. I'd thought originally that we were going to use only a handful of photos for each scene, but a lot of our photographers gave me access to their full back catalogue, not just the selects. When I saw that I could build real sequences out of what I had, I started going for a different look and really digging into these archives to match several photos of the same player over several years. There are sequences in the piece where I'm matching people who are on different teams, on different continents, with different body types doing the same pose. I didn't expect to be able to do anything like that, and those are some of my favorite sequences. If I hadn't had that open access and given myself time to play, I wouldn't have found that look.

I also want to give a shoutout to our Music Supervisor, Suzy Hotrod (, who's a roller derby legend and also a DJ at WFMU ( I asked her if she had any music ideas and she came back to me with this amazing playlist of songs from indie bands that she thought would answer an email from us. I narrowed things down to a handful of choices, tested those songs in the mix, and decided my favorite was "Boom Dynamite" by The Courettes ( Two weeks in, I sent them a waaaaay rough version of my piece and crossed my fingers that they'd be interested in working with me. I'm really grateful to them and to Crunchy Frog for seeing the potential and letting me use their song. I still have a bunch of those songs that Suzy sent me on my everyday playlist. She also gave me her band's song, Skate to Hell by Kissy Kamikaze, which feels so vintage now since the game has changed so much.

5. How long did it take to make?

We mulled over the script at a leisurely pace, but from my first sketches to the finished product took a month. I expected to have time to really dig into visual development, but instead, collecting and editing the photos was the hard part. I was basically building my own footage as I went.

6. How experienced were you with narrative and story-based projects before

making your short?

Because my background was in theater, all of my early training was responding visually to narrative and building emotional worlds through design, but I was always using someone else's stories. In college, I had a ton of storyboards and half-finished projects that were my original stories but the tech and my skills weren't there yet. In my work life, it feels like every year I get fewer and fewer projects that are open brief where I'm able to really open up and use my full spectrum of skills. Someone else has nearly always come to me with the stories pre-planned or they bring me a project where I'm one person on a bigger team. I've only started working on my own pieces again this year.

7. What was the easiest part?

Wanting to do it and roping in Fifi.

8. What was the hardest part?

Seeing photos of so many people who I'd loved working with who'd moved on was bittersweet. The two of us are also talking about aging and loss here too, and admitting that I wanted to talk about that publicly was an emotional jump for me. I'm a dancer and I also didn't want to admit how hard the pandemic hit live events, including community groups like derby and all the dance groups I belong to. Spinning those groups back up and getting the momentum going again has been difficult, but just like in the piece, I'm hopeful things will bounce back while also realizing that it isn't up to me to make sure these groups carry on.

9. What was your favorite part?

Being able to look through all those old photos and really see what we'd built. You rarely get the time to really go back and see your community's success when you're in the thick of things.

10. Do you have words of wisdom for anyone who might want to create an animated short of their own?

Do it! Figure out what type of system will work for you. Do you need a deadline? Will you still love a project if it takes forever or do you need something that gives you quick victories? What can you do to take it more seriously so you reach your goals? This is the second short I made this year, and for the other one, I convinced myself to do it by saying I could stop at any time if I wasn't feeling up to it and whatever I had would be the finished project. It felt like such a big project, I needed to give myself that out to even get started. For both projects, I made a brief and a deck and paperwork for myself, just like it's a work project. Since for my personal projects I'm usually working on them when I have downtime and that's scattered and unpredictable, I might need to be able to climb back into that project weeks later. Putting together boring paperwork helps.

Go Gotham!

Little Mary Switchblade

Follow Mary and Erin:


bottom of page