Newhouse Alumna Honored with Academy Award Nomination for Producing Film “Nimona”

When film producer Karen Ryan ‘06 heard the science fantasy graphic novel “Nimona” was being turned into an animated film in 2018, the Newhouse television, radio and film alumna left Disney Animation, where she had worked for 11 years, and moved across the country to produce the film with Blue Sky Studios.  

a person stands on a red carpet with the word "Oscars" behind their head
Karen Ryan (Photo courtesy of Karen Ryan)

After a series of unforeseen challenges worthy of its own movie—including Blue Sky shuttering its doors in 2021 and the team thrown into a desperate mission to save “Nimona”—the film was finally released last year on Netflix. The hard work paid off: Ryan and her fellow producers earned a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2024 Academy Awards. It’s Ryan’s first nomination.

The Oscars will be awarded Sunday in Los Angeles.

How did it feel to be nominated for an Academy Award for “Nimona”?  

It was pretty wild, because of what it took to get this movie made. This has been, for me personally, a six-year project. This movie has gone through multiple studios-we were shut down and canceled at one point-so the fact that we were able to bring the movie back without compromising any of the things we wanted in it and see it embraced with an Academy Award nomination felt great. It was awesome. 

What were some of the challenges you faced when producing “Nimona,” especially after the closure of Blue Sky Studios in 2021? 

This movie was tricky. It was the hardest project I’ve ever been a part of and the challenges were just getting the film to the screen. So there’s all the typical challenges that come with animation when you want to push the medium. And then [Blue Sky Studios] closing was just heartbreaking. We were all family over there. We had this film “Nimona,” which was such a special project at Blue Sky. And then all of a sudden, in this one phone call, it’s “Everything’s gone, but we have these reels. What are we gonna do?” We just spent every minute after that trying to find a way to save the movie. So we went around Hollywood, we played it for everybody we could, and Megan Ellison at Annapurna Pictures saw it and supported it immediately. We got her to fund it, Netflix wanted to distribute it and everything just kind of changed from there. We got to make the film that we wanted to make. 

How did you get the opportunity to be a producer on the film? 

I was working at Disney Animation where I was for 11 years, and I heard about “Nimona” being made at Blue Sky Studios. A good friend of mine, Patrick Osborne, was the director at the time. So I knew him, I knew of the graphic novel and when the opportunity came up they called me. They needed a producer and I just couldn’t pass it up. So, I left and went over to Blue Sky. 

a group of people stand in front of a screen that says "Nimona" and hold champagne flutes
Ryan (first row, second from left) and the “Nimona” team celebrate a screening of the film. “I also hope it makes people get to know each other a little bit more and not judge people so quickly by what we assume they are,” Ryan said of the film. (Photo courtesy of Karen Ryan)

What does “Nimona” mean to you and what do you hope audiences take away from it? 

I love Nimona. That character is the reason I came to the story. What I think is so special about her and the first thing that really got me is that she knows who she is and she doesn’t want to be somebody else. She just wants people to see her for who she is and to feel loved and accepted that way, and I think that is very relatable and a story we don’t really see much, especially with female characters. So, this movie was our love letter to people who feel like an outsider or like they don’t belong. To people who watch the movie, I hope they’re entertained because I think it’s hilarious and I love this film. I also hope it makes people get to know each other a little bit more and not judge people so quickly by what we assume they are. There’s space for everybody and you shouldn’t have to compromise to be able to find a community.  

What opportunities did you take advantage of as a television, radio and film student at Newhouse? 

I think, for me, I really wanted to work in production. I wanted to make films, and we had a lot of opportunities to do that at [Newhouse]. I took the production track, even though we didn’t have it [at the time]. I took every production class I could. At colleges like Syracuse, try all of it. Do the story you were not sure about because this is your time to experiment. When you get into the workforce, you’re mostly working on other people’s stuff for a long time. So, if you have a crazy idea and you want to make it, do it.  

What advice do you have for current Newhouse students looking to be a film producer? 

I think there’s so many different tracks. There’s no one way to do it, but the more you kind of let your path wander and go towards what excites you in the moment, I think that’s how you build experience that leads you to producing. So, if you want to be a producer, get to know how movies are made, understand the story process and understand the medium in which you’re working. If it’s live action, who’s your creative team? How do you work with the cinematographer? How do you get a director’s vision on screen? In producing, you’re responsible for the entire thing, so it’s not just the money, it’s not just the delivery or selling the movie. So, you really have to understand as much of it as you can and I think that makes the better producers.

Samantha Rodino is a sophomore in the television, radio and film program at the Newhouse School.