After graduating from Carolina in 2017 with majors in studio art and communication studies, Mary Thurman moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in professional animation. She recently landed a job at Noggin, Nickelodeon’s children’s network, as a junior writer and producer on the short-form animation team.
When a family welcomes a new baby, relatives typically send clothes or toys.
Mary Thurman, however, is not typical.
“I just became an aunt,” she says excitedly, “and I want to make an animated show for my nephew.”
After graduating from Carolina in 2017 with majors in studio art and communication studies, Thurman moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in professional animation. She recently landed a job at Noggin — Nickelodeon’s children’s network — as a junior writer and producer on the short-form animation team.
When Thurman reflects on her career and successes thus far, she feels a depth of gratitude for her experiences at Carolina.
Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Thurman always knew she wanted to go to UNC-Chapel Hill.
“I was very single-minded about it,” she says. “I only applied to one other school.”
When Thurman came to the University, she spent time exploring different types of classes and majors. She considered majoring in English but then switched to studio art in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I bounced around a bit. I thought maybe I would become an art therapist or a graphic designer,” she recalls. “I was discovering myself. I think that’s the point of college.”
In addition to taking a variety of classes, Thurman decided to try out some extracurricular activities, including joining the women’s rowing team. While she joined the team to get more regular exercise, she quickly learned varsity-level rowing was more than just a workout — it was one of the most physically demanding things she had ever done.
For Thurman, the challenging nature of the activity made it worthwhile.
“It’s very empowering. You feel very strong,” she says. “It’s another way of measuring what you’re capable of.”
Thurman quit the team after a year to be able to focus on other activities, but she still values the experience.
“I figured if I could do that for a year, I can do just about anything,” she says. “It was great for me – but I had other stuff I wanted to do.”
Make the big move
By the time her junior year rolled around, Thurman had started to think more seriously about how to shape her future career. She considered her lifelong love of animation. Maybe she could create cartoons – making the kind of TV shows she has enjoyed since childhood.
At the time, the art department didn’t offer many classes in animation, but the Hussman School of Journalism and Media did. Even though she wasn’t a journalism major, Thurman went to talk to some of the professors.
“I begged them to let me in – I got into those classes through sheer determination,” she says with a laugh.
The first class she took was “3D Modeling” with Spencer Barnes. As soon as she started learning how to make her own animations, Thurman knew she was on the right path. She realized she loved animation and the idea of making TV shows – so much so that she was willing to move across the country to pursue a career in Hollywood.
“Before then, I had thought, ‘I’m in North Carolina. I can’t do this.’ I had to give myself permission to be open to it,” she says. “Thinking I couldn’t do it was nonsense.”
At the end of her junior year, she joined the UNC Hollywood Internship program, which has helped hundreds of Carolina students get their start in the filmmaking industry.
“I was the only one in my year who was singularly focused on animation,” Thurman says. “It’s much more niche than something like writing or acting, but it was all I wanted to do.”
Her first internship involved working with two animation producers at a start-up called Astronomical Entertainment. Because the team was so small, Thurman was given more opportunities to contribute to the project.
“I was probably the third employee,” she says. “It was cool because I got to sit in on meetings that an intern would normally not participate in.”
Pay it forward
Thurman says one of the strongest components of the UNC Hollywood Internship program is the camaraderie, both among current interns and former participants.
“At the end of the internship, there’s a big event with a bunch of UNC alumni,” she says. “You get access to all these people who have moved out to L.A. in the last 30 years and who want to help you.”
Shortly after she arrived in Los Angeles, Thurman connected with Carolina alumnus Jake Goldman ’06 who offered solid advice that has stuck with her. When it comes to finding success in Hollywood, he told Thurman, it’s about simply sticking around.
“You don’t have to be the very best in the business – you just have to be determined,” Thurman says. “People you meet get promoted, then eventually you get promoted. A lot of the success narrative is just time.”
By ML Parker, University Communications