While Lubavitch Hasidim tend to wear black and white, Chana Corna, a lighting artist for TV shows and movies, adds black and white into animations as a member of the lighting design department.
Corna was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved with her family to Sydney when she was four-years-old. “My dad has always loved Australia and always wanted to move here.” Her parents started becoming Orthodox after they moved and became religious through Chabad.
Corna was raised as an artist. “That was just what I would do coming home…I had stacks of notebooks that I was doodling in all the time.” It was just a fun hobby but she heard more and more that people were encouraging her to work in animation. “That sounds so boring,” she thought, of drawing the same thing over and over again. “I didn’t want to be an animator, I didn’t really know what an animator does.” But now as a lighting designer at Marvel, she says, “I didn’t realize there were so many different roles within animation.” It was just something fun that I did. I couldn’t imagine not drawing.”
She enrolled in art classes after school since the age of 7. “For me it was never really an issue growing up at all. My parents are baalei teshuva. So it wasn’t unusual for kids to have extracurricular activities.” She was never raised to think there was any issue with it. “Nobody ever said anything about it at all.” Tzohar, a Lubavitch seminary for that arts, helped Corna realize that she could pursue art as a career. While her ultimate goal is to try to make fantastic animated films for Jewish children, she knows that she is just one of many people needed for such a feat. A teacher showed her the power of writing stories based on the Torah. “I knew I really wanted to be able to follow that and to be able to tell stories and to tell Jewish stories.”
From there, Corna went back to Australia, thinking that she was going to study Psychology for college, but ended up choosing Media Arts. “I didn’t really know what the career would involve and what it would lead to.” Sruli Brooker was the Animation teacher at Tzohar and inspired her. She learned about animation lighting when she was studying initially. “With CGI, you start with a blank slate…someone has to create the lighting and shadows the way a director of photography would when you’re on a film set.” They take what the animators give them and give it form using light and darkness. “Chassidus tells us to ‘be a light,’ to ‘spread light in the darkness,’ I took that literally.”
While gaining an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in animation, Corna was the only Orthodox Jew in both settings. “It was kind of a culture shock, but everybody was just really lovely. If I had to leave early on a Friday, miss classes, everyone was really understanding and everyone was just really curious.”
Afterwards, she was hired by Marvel and worked on three episodes of their new show What If…? For eight months, she did lighting for the show which reimagines alternate realities of the Marvel stories. In terms of Shabbos, they were “really easy to work with. Having to leave early on a Friday during Winter, you just make up the time elsewhere. People were really understanding.” Corna has also worked on Peter Rabbit 2 and a few other projects that are under wraps for now. She is now actively working for a different company on a different project. As a lighting artist, she works project by project for now as she works her way up. “Depending on how many projects a studio has lined up, it could be anywhere from three months to three years…it’s never boring.”
For young Orthodox Jews looking to get into the field, she says, “It takes a little bit of stubbornness.” To work past the black and white, a person has to be passionate. “If you really want to do something, there’s no reason why you can’t do it while still being religious, while still being Orthodox.”
Corna is ultimately encouraging of people reaching beyond their comfort zones to do so if there is something that they are passionate about. “It might look a little bit different to other people, but it’s really something worth doing because it enriches not only your life, but it enriches the people around you as well.”