Sarah Marschman Draws on Skills Gained in Air Force to Succeed in Animation

A self-described know-it-all, Sarah Marschman thrived in her role as an analyst for the Air Force. She was responsible for sifting through, and making sense of, mounds of data. After determining which information was important and relevant, she presented her findings to large groups of military personnel.

Now an Academy of Art University senior, majoring in animation and visual effects, Marschman relies on the skills she honed in the Air Force to help her succeed as a student. “A big part of my job in the Air Force was public speaking,” she explained. “I really had to know my focus and get that across. In class, we have to pitch and defend our work and explain why we’re doing some things the way we are, so it’s very similar.”


Academy of Art University School of Animation & Visual Effects student Sarah Marschman. Photo courtesy of Sarah Marschman.

Since she was a little girl, Marschman fantasized about being a starving artist. But the reality of needing to make a living caught up with her in high school.

“Right before graduation, I realized I wasn’t prepared at all for a career, so I decided to enlist in the Air Force and figure things out,” said Marschman, who grew up in a military family. “The GI Bill [which provides veterans with funds for their education and other benefits] was also a huge incentive.”

Before completing her four-year stint in the Air Force in 2013, Marschman was named Airman of the Year in 2011 and received an Air Force Achievement medal. After leaving the military, she chose the Academy to pursue a career as an animation artist specializing in 2-D layout design and background painting for several reasons: It was one of the few schools that offered a 2-D animation program. And when she delved a little deeper, she was impressed by the strength of students’ demo reels. She also liked knowing that she’d be taught by professionals who still work in animation.

“I knew I’d be getting the latest information instead of material from someone who hadn’t worked in the industry for a couple of decades,” Marschman remarked.

In addition to immersing herself in her studies, Marschman got involved in the Academy’s Veterans Club. She was vice president in 2014 and president from 2015–16. 

Membership had dipped at the time and Marschman helped breathe new life into the club.  

“My job was to bring people back together and get them talking, and to give veterans who were interested in reviving the club the opportunity to take it further,” she explained.

Marschman’s website,, brims with vibrant illustrations, sketches and animation she’s created while attending the Academy. When asked if she had a favorite among the different art forms she’s mastered, she responded that it was a toss-up between background art and storyboarding. 

“I like storyboarding because it’s like guiding the audience through a tunnel,” she said. “It’s really fun being able to control what they see and how they react to it. Background art is more cathartic. I enjoy painting and making pretty pictures that also tell a story. I can paint one background and tell you everything you need to know about a scene or character. You can pack a lot of information into that refined work, which I really like.”


An image from the 2-D animated short Kupala Night, which Marschman has been recognized for her work as Layout Lead. Images courtesy of Sarah Marschman.

Her talent and drive have helped Marschman achieve a goal she set for herself when she started at the Academy: Have her work selected for the Spring Show every year. In 2017, she took home first place prizes in Layout Design and 2-D Effects Animation for her contributions as layout lead on the animated short Kupala Night, an Academy StudioX project. 

“It’s probably my biggest accomplishment,” she said. “It was the first 2-D animated film done at the Academy in the past five years.”

Kupala Night won second place in the Student Film category for 2-D computer animation at this year’s The World Animation Celebration hosted by Sony Pictures. The film is also being considered for nominations by a number of other festivals. Marschman’s success with Kupala Night helped her move up to the role of art director on a current StudioX film, “The Ribbon.” This is an especially exciting opportunity for her since she’s gaining hands-on-experience that will put her that much closer to fulfilling one of her ultimate career goals.

“Right after school, I want to be a background painter,” said Marschman, who will graduate in December. “Long-term, I want to be an art director or direct animated films.”  

Armed with the diverse skill set she built in the Air Force and continues to expand at the Academy, we’re confident that whatever Marschman puts her mind to is within her grasp.