Never Too Young: An Interview with Animator Dani Bowman
Dani Bowman, an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, is an illustrator, animator, writer, motivational speaker and author. Dani has been able to manage a full workload while pursuing her education and will be graduating from high school this June. One of Dani’s greatest achievements has come in her work as founder of “Power Light Animation Studios.” Today, Dani is a self-advocate for a better day for our autism community.
AA16: My first question for you Dani is when did you first find out you have autism?
DB: At age 11, when I came to live with my aunt, she told me that I have autism. I wish my parents would have explained it to me more and gotten me some speech therapy earlier in life. I had really bad speech as well.
AA16: What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to deal with growing up?
DB: I have sensory problems, my ears hurt with high-pitched noises like girls shrieking, babies crying, and I can’t stand cussing. For my eyes, I’m also sensitive with bright lights, and certain tastes and textures in my mouth. Sometimes I get social overloads; when I was younger I used to wear earplugs and I used to have frequent meltdowns at school. But with a lot of help from my aunt, I’m getting much better.
AA16: What inspired you to start Powerlight Studios?
DB: I’m very competitive and when I was 11 years old, I loved Pokemon. My aunt told me that the co-creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tariji—who also is on the spectrum—created his company Game Freak, Inc. when he was 17. So I set out to beat his record. And I launched my website by age 14.
AA16: Can you tell us more about how it started?
DB: When I first came to live with my aunt, I saw that my uncle had his own company and my aunt just retired from her own company, so I thought everyone must have their own company, so I asked my aunt how do I get my own company? And she told me first of all, I have to come up with a name and register it online, and make sure nobody else has the same name registered. Then after a long day of Internet surfing, I came back with a name “Power Light Animation Studios.“ It’s really from my Nintendo DS username “Power-light” which was previously “Volt Girl” due to an obsession that I used to have with 9-Volt, a videogame character. A week later, I asked what is the next step? And she told me that I needed a five-year plan. I didn’t know what a five-year plan was. So I went back to the Internet for more research on five-year plans for companies. And I found one that fit somewhat of what I wanted to do with Power Light; I just downloaded it and changed the stuff around and registered it all online. This is my company’s five-year anniversary, by the way. So now I’m working on the next five-year plan. I don’t think my aunt thought I was really going to do it. But I did.
AA16: What have you done with the company so far?
DB: First of all, I got a sponsor from an animation software company called Toon Boom that sponsors me with the software that I need. I have an ad on craigslist for animation, illustration and graphic arts that my uncle manages for me. My uncle first helped me with my first computer, but after that I bought all of my hardware … and some software … all of which I’ve acquired on my own with the money I made from the work I get from craigslist and from winning contests.
I started working with Joey Travolta from Inclusion Films when I was 14 years old by teaching animation to children on the spectrum, and animated a music video called “The Cave” as well as my first animated short “Eeya’s Story.” “Eeya’s Story” is about an autistic boy who saves his people from the Weewoos. I also published my first two books, “Danny and Goliath” and “Richie and Goliath.” I’ve mentored people on the spectrum, training them to intern with me because I really need the help. I just sent my first paycheck to my storyboard artist from Montclair, NJ who is on the spectrum, Justin Canha.
AA16: What is Power Light’s business structure?
DB: My company Power Light Animation Studios is a Sole Proprietorship.
AA16: Also, how many people work for Power Light?
DB: I have eight people working with me, but on a volunteer/mentoring/internship basis for now.
AA16: With many business start-ups it’s sometimes a struggle to make money early on. What have been some of your ways of making money so far?
DB: Through the ads on craigslist ... and word of mouth within the autism community, I’m frequently contacted for work like making logos, illustrating books, and so on. I have to turn away some work at this point since I’m still in high school. I don’t have that much time to finish all the work that I get.
AA16: You currently have hired people to help with your group who are on the spectrum. How has that been going?
DB: Group? You mean with my animation? It’s doing great, I just sent out my first paycheck since it’s all interning before that. I love working with people on the spectrum. We can be really focused!
AA16: Have you found it a struggle to balance working on Powerlight and going to school? You must have some great time management skills!
DB: Working and school is always a struggle. But school is most important. (My school is getting in the away of my career, haha!) It’s always a struggle, and I don’t have great management skills, by the way. I’m constantly working on that, but I get a lot of help from my aunt and uncle for the time management part.They are my team!
AA16: Your first Powerlight Series cartoon was when you were 11. What has been your favorite one you’ve done?
DB: My first cartoon series I created was “Gemstar & Friends,” and I wanted to develop my favorite one which is “The Adventures of Captain Yuron”. So far I have eight different original series plus two spin-offs. However, I soon realized that my own series won’t pay the bills. So that’s why I do commercial work, which is great, because they pay the bills. But it does not leave me any time for my own original series.
AA16: A great thing I’ve noticed about many of your cartoons is that they include autism awareness campaigns. Was this something you always were hoping to do with your cartoons?
DB: I always wanted to make an autism awareness series! I think it would really be cool to combine my two passions—animation and autism awareness. That’s why I think it’s really cool about the book I just recently illustrated and published, “Really Really Like Me.” It’s a book about five characters sharing different autism traits, what makes them special, and to show children on the autism spectrum that they’re not the only ones!
AA16: What do you think are some of the struggles young adults with autism have today?
DB: This year alone, 50,000 of us turned 18, and there are limited job opportunities for people on the autism spectrum. So I really want to show all my peers what they can do to help themselves in the job market. We can be very good at arts and technology. And with the right help we can do anything we want!
AA16: You are about to graduate high school. What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?
DB: I’m very proud of my 4.0 [GPA]. I’ve been featured as Student of the Month for Science, which was a surprise to me. I also received a certificate of recognition from the California Legislature Assembly for the La Canada Council reflections program for outstanding Film Production and Visual Art submissions for the 43rd Assembly District and that is for this year alone that I can think of.
AA16: Any tips for high schoolers with autism?
DB: Keep moving forward no matter what and always aim for success. It’s very difficult to do it on your own; it’s best to have a team with you. So don’t ever be too shy to ask for help.
AA16: What’s next for you in terms of education? I know we’ve discussed that you are looking at colleges.
DB: After high school, I’m planning to go to a four-year college that will help me improve my animation skills, as well as the business side of running a company.
AA16: What colleges are you considering and what are some of the things you’ve been doing so far to help you in that process?
DB: I’m considering Woodbury University as my best choice because I’ve been attending there for the past two years. It’s a small campus and it’s close to where I live. I recently applied for financial aid … as well as some scholarships. I’m struggling with my SAT test. I tried to take it with no accommodations—big mistake! I’m going to take the SAT again with the accommodations this time, as well as the ACT. Wish me luck!
AA16: You mention several times both on your website and your videos about wanting to change how the world perceives individuals with autism. Can you explain a bit more what that means to you?
DB: What this means to me is that we want the world to recognize and to bring positive awareness that there is an ability within the disability. We can do anything we want as long we never give up on our dreams. For example, starting an animation business at a young age.
AA16: Who have been some of your influences in your life growing up?
DB: My influences are my uncle, Patrick Eidemiller; Joey Travolta; Temple Grandin; Dori, my animation professor at Woodbury University; Satoshi Tariji; Walt Disney; Hayo Miyazaki; Rich Moore; Bill Gates; Steve Jobs; John Lassetor; Mashrio Sakurai; and last, but not least, Sandra Vielma, my aunt. Just to name a few.
AA16: Any upcoming projects you’d like to share with our readers?
DB: Recently, I’ve been working on a web series called “Oxy and Keke” to promote greeting cards for people with relationship problems, which is something I really know A LOT about!
And I also featured my two animated shorts “Mr. Raindrop” and “The Namazu” at the International Family Film Festival in early May. “Mr. Raindrop” originally premiered at WonderCon, while the “The Namazu” originally premiered at Comic-Con last year. I am the youngest female to ever premiere two shorts at Comic-Con. Cool, right?