Late this summer Lexy Naut was in the backyard of her Key Peninsula home raking leaves. The chore isn’t as luxurious as her normal pencil-to-paper animation job, but it’s a nice break from the stresses of Hollywood.
So, it wasn’t unusual when a Los Angeles phone number popped up on her phone in the middle of the workday — but who was calling and the subject of the conversation were.
The 32-year-old TV and film storyboard artist was told by the Television Academy she had just won a Creative Arts Emmy Award in the category of “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for Storyboarding” for her work on an episode of the Prime Video show, “The Boys Presents: Diabolical.” Though an animated show, it’s set within the superhero universe of the popular live-action show, “The Boys.”
There she stood in her backyard, rake in hand, sweat on her forehead and tears in her eyes.
“I thought it was a joke at first,” said Lexy, who is the first female to win the award. “It was definitely a unique experience to get off the phone and casually tell your husband you just won an Emmy.”
It wasn’t a joke, and according to her husband, Nelio, it wasn’t casual.
“She came in crying,” Nelio, 31, said when she tried to tell him the good news. “It was all confusing at first.”
But after all the emotions and excitement, the young couple were able to celebrate the moment for what it was.
“Seeing her receive recognition for her amazing art was a moving and inspiring moment to share with her,” said Nelio, who himself is a successful Hollywood 3D artist for an advertising and entertainment company called Psyop.
For all the glitz and glamor the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony had to offer, the road for Lexy to get to that point in her career was anything but that.
She’s drawn pretty much her whole life but looked at her art early on as more of a hobby than a career. She envisioned herself being an elementary school teacher or a linguist. But it was during her senior year of high school when she had a very simple “aha” moment: “Academics are a weakness of mine, but drawing isn’t.”
Lexy graduated from Gig Harbor High School’s Running Start Program in 2008 and pursued an animation degree at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Storyboarding as a career wasn’t even a thought in her mind at that point.
“I just wanted to draw a bunch,” she said. “So, I just spent most of my time studying hand-drawn animation.”
It was at the college where she really found her love for animation, and also found the love of her life. Lexy and Nelio met during their sophomore years when both were part of the school’s swing dance club. The two continue to support each other’s careers.
“My ability to draw and his ability to use technology made us a strong team in college,” Lexy said. And the duo continue to be a strong team in life after getting married in 2016.
Lexy earned her degree in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2017 that she landed a job as a storyboard artist. In between there were times the couple lived somewhat of a “starving artist” lifestyle. The two spent the first year after college jobless, living with Nelio’s parents near New York City. Lexy said she thought this meant she wasn’t cut out to be an artist. She started taking unpaid production assistant jobs on sets of live-action movies just to get her foot in the film industry door. Her connections there eventually led to a job at an animation studio.
Around the same time, Nelio was hired on in the apprenticeship program at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, and the two moved to Los Angeles in 2013. A few months later he helped Lexy land a production assistant job at the same studio. It wasn’t art work, but at least she was working for the most recognizable animation studio in the world.
In early 2017 an animator took notice of Lexy’s drawings, which led to her getting mentored by professional Disney storyboard artists. Even with that experience she wasn’t accepted into the Disney apprenticeship program, but she knew she had what it took to do the job.
In 2017 she began working for DreamWorks Animation and was a storyboard artist for the animated musical show, “Trolls: The Beat Goes On,” currently available on Netflix, and in 2018 began storyboarding for “Central Park” on Apple TV.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live-action movies in March 2020, animated content was in high demand, and so were Lexy and Nelio. Like many other professions during that time, they discovered they could do their work from anywhere.
Lexy wanted to be around family and Nelio wanted to be somewhere lush with a skyline of fir trees rather than the tall, dull-looking buildings and LCD screens he was used to. They both decided to come to the Key Peninsula area to “live their creative dreams alongside nature.”
Lexy storyboarded a variety of musical animated films the last two years from the comfort of her home, including “Under the Boardwalk” and “Spellbound.” Both are expected to be released in 2023. She also did her Emmy Award-winning work remotely.
“I was initially afraid the film industry might forget about us when we moved to Washington,” Lexy said. “(Getting an Emmy) made it easier for me to wait for the right job opportunities that I feel fit me best. It also encourages me knowing that the world wants to see stories from female creators, and I hope to encourage more women in that pursuit.”
Lexy also hopes her work can shake the stigma that animated movies and TV shows are only for kids.
“Animation is not a genre, it’s a medium,” she said. “They’re not limited to the brightly-colored talking animal films we all know, and I think there’s so much more potential for animation as a tool to explore adult concepts.”
The natural next step for a storyboard artist in the animation world is directing, and an Emmy should fast track Lexy to that type of role. But no matter the fancy title, Lexy and Nelio will still call themselves what they’ve always have been: artists.
“Don’t let anyone tell you being an artist is an invalid career; it absolutely is valid,” Lexy said. “Our art is our personal lives, and our personal lives are our art.”
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