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No Tiaras Here: Q&A with Jason Porath & the Rejected Princesses that Won’t Grace the Silver Screen

Written by Bonnie Boglioli...September 17, 2014
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The delightfully insightful, if not deliciously devious, illustrated blog Rejected Princesses is too good to be overlooked by history buffs and aficionados of animation and illustration. Sparked from a casual conversation at DreamWorks, it’s the brainchild of effects animator Jason Porath who was craving a new artistic challenge.

Porath grew tired of seeing the same docile female characters regurgitated over and over again in high budget animated films; he wanted to remedy the dearth of reality by presenting a much more colorful array of heroines straight from the history books. So Porath did what anyone would have done… or not: he left his gig at DreamWorks to pursue the ridiculously well-researched, gorgeously illustrated and flat out amusing representations of bad-ass ladies of history that he titled Rejected Princesses.

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Despite their classic stylized aesthetic that’s so familiar to viewers of animated features the world over, the females that grace Rejected Princesses are hardly the type that Walt would have OK’d for a Disney film. Porath searches high and low for a list that includes female gun-toting, sword-slinging warriors and stumbling, drunk gamblers; over-achieving daughters of chieftans and serial-killing madams of madness. Featuring a new lady every Wednesday, the site is an impressive ode to what Porath describes as “women too awesome, awful or offbeat for kids’ movies.”

We were lucky to reach Porath, and even luckier to hear that he was up for a little Q&A with us. We know you’ll enjoy this one!

ACR:  You’ve said that the idea for Rejected Princesses was born from a casual conversation at DreamWorks. What made you follow through on it?

Jason Porath:  After we'd talked about it at lunch, I posted it on Facebook for my other friends to chime in. The response was incredible - like 200 comments - and some were so inspired I knew I just had to illustrate them. I wanted this to exist.

ACR: How do you identify women in history and mythology that you want to depict on RP? Do you hit the books hard researching these interesting ladies?

JP:  Discovery-wise, most come from suggestions nowadays or people I find while researching other entries. And I do a LOT of research for entries. I've tracked down ancient Roman and Greek historians, read the works of Marco Polo, sought out arguments over translation errors, on and on. I try to bring something new to the table with each one that separates it from write-ups you can find elsewhere.
In terms of who I choose, I try to vary it up across cultures, ethnicities, eras, and even professions; although people love the butt-kicking martial heroines, I try not to do too many in a row.

ACR: These are powerful women in their own respective ways, encapsulating the good, the bad and even the ugly of humanity; seeing them represented in sanitized ‘Disney-esque’ illustrations makes them ironically more compelling. What’s your take on that?

JP:  The animated princess aesthetic is so timeless and iconic that it has a lot of powerful things to say about a wide variety of topics. When it's depicting a woman who's so much more in charge than the protagonist of your average animated movie, it can make you ask "why not?" When it's of someone who's too violent or morally questionable, it can make you examine what your personal line is for what should and shouldn't be shown to kids. I mean, look at the stories in Greek and Norse mythology - those were taught to kids, and they lived. So the line of "suitable for kids" is one that's constantly moved throughout history, and maybe it should keep moving.

I try to display a wide range of people in part because the women displayed to young girls are so limited. Not everyone is a role model. Not everyone is a perfect example. Few of the entries are flat-out good or evil – there are arguments to be made on both sides for a lot of the women I portray. Women can be violent, and weird, and funny, and mischievous, and everything in between. To limit the types of folk I portray to just morally upstanding paragons of virtue would be in some ways a kind of censorship. 

ACR:  One thing ever present in your work is a sense of humor. Where does this attribute rank for you in terms of the ‘soft skills’ you use?

JP:  It's vital. History, for most people, is a boring, ivory tower subject. By grounding it in incongruous slang and irreverent colloquialisms, I'm trying to make it more accessible and more fun. The usage of the animated princess aesthetic is also part of that.

ACR: You recently left your gig at DreamWorks to break out on your own as an indie artist. What was the impetus for this move?

JP:  I loved DreamWorks. I will never work for somewhere that treats me better. But I needed to push myself in areas I couldn't focus on while there. I wanted to be a carpenter, not a tool.

ACR: When did you know that you wanted to develop your artistic talents and how did you go about doing it?

JP:  I don't have a clear cut answer. I got into animation to impress a girl (didn't work). I started to draw mostly to get things out of my head so others could see them. But I never pursued it in a very formal context. I never went to art school - my visual effects skills and my drawing skills, meager as they are, I largely taught myself. I'm sure a majority of people reading this are better illustrators than I am. Doing Rejected Princesses is my art school.

ACR:  Any advice for young and aspiring artists in terms of developing their skills, finding their creative voice and following their passion?

JP:  Just start doing it. The sooner, the better. I don't know how many years I sat there refusing to show anyone my writing or my artwork. I know for a while many of my friends thought I was an engineer or a programmer (which, given the actual job description of TDs isn't far off) and that I had no artistic ambition. I was embarrassed of my art when I started the site and I'm largely embarrassed of it still. Every time a commenter says my work is crap, part of me agrees. But I keep doing it. I just keep showing up. Because I'd never forgive myself if I didn't really give it my all.

ACR:  Jason, it’s been great to catch up with you and follow Rejected Princesses. I can’t wait for Wednesdays, now. Thanks so much for your time.

JP:  You got me just as I was engaged in a long bus ride, so thanks for giving me something to do!

Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.