Elyse Kelly is an American film director, producer, and animator. Her passion lies in giving a platform and voice to the untold, unexpected, and sometimes taboo stories.
Elyse has over 15 years of experience in animation and film, working for clients such as Netflix, the ACLU, The Atlantic, Sesame Workshop, Sony Music, the United Nations Foundation, and Disney Research. Her films have won awards and been exhibited in festivals worldwide, including Sundance, Tribeca, Annecy, Zagreb, and OIAF.
Raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Elyse fell in love with animation after seeing the 1990 re-release of The Jungle Book in theaters. From that point on she found every opportunity to make things move, from filming claymations with the family camcorder to designing walking buildings in her architecture undergraduate program to working in the motion capture lab at Carnegie Mellon University (not a bad first job for a teenager). Her drive to work in the field ultimately led her to the University of Southern California (USC) where she earned her Masters in Animation & Digital Arts from the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA).
Not one for the traditional path, a year after graduating Elyse left Los Angeles, and the industry, to live and work in Washington DC. While she stands by the statement that the most delightful job she ever held was as a cheesemonger, her most formative job was working as the production manager at a documentary production company. It was there that she discovered her love of nonfiction content, and honed her unique storytelling approach that combines all the best elements of animation, production and documentary-style filmmaking.
In 2017, Elyse returned to animation full time with the film FIRED UP, which she directed with filmmaker Dan Fipphen. FIRED UP is an animated short that depicts the origins of President Obama’s “fired up, ready to go” chant. Released on the final day of the Obama presidency, the film was featured by The Atlantic and has been viewed more than 10 million times. Its festival run included screenings at the Ottawa Int’l Animation Festival, and New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival, where it was a Jury Award Finalist in 2018. Leading up to the 2020 election, the film had a revival on social media and was shared by Lupita Nyongo, Viola Davis, and Jennifer Aniston, among others.
The success of FIRED UP garnered the interest of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Over the course of three years, Elyse partnered with the ACLU to direct and produce a number of short form animated documentaries, including the Smart Justice series, a three-part docuseries featuring three individuals’ experiences depicting the toll that an abusive and unjust criminal system takes on individuals, families, and communities. Episodes of the series were official selections at the Annecy Int’l Animation Film Festival, Animafest Zagreb, and Tricky Women Tricky Realites. The series was a Tribeca X Awards finalist.
In 2019, Elyse was brought on as animation director for the production of MISS AMERICANA, the documentary film about American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. The film was directed by Lana Wilson, and premiered at the opening night of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival to both audience and critical acclaim. The film marked Elyse’s first feature film credit, and propelled her further into the documentary world.
In 2020, Elyse acted as animation director for the Starz Network series SEDUCED: INSIDE THE NXIVM CULT. She worked alongside Emmy-nominated filmmaker Cecilia Peck and producer Inbal Lessner to craft a style for both the animated and graphics sequences that captured the horror, trauma, and ultimate redemption of the women featured in the series.
The same year, Elyse was animation director on the feature documentary, IN THE DARK OF THE VALLEY. The film won a number of awards in festivals and was released in 2021 by MSNBC Films. In 2022 it received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary.
In 2021, Elyse co-directed THE FORGOTTEN FOUR, a six-episode animated series for Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station, an immersive experience based in Denver, CO. She built and directed a team of over 50 artists from around the world to produce films that both stand-alone, and weave seamlessly into the physical experience in Denver.
In 2022, she founded Neon Zoo, an independent animation studio that creates socially and artistically driven content for film, television, and the web. Since it’s inception, Neon Zoo has worked on critically acclaimed productions (BUBJAN, VICTIM/SUSPECT, THE SMALLEST POWER) and had their work screen at festivals around the world, including the Sundance Int’l Film Festival, DOC NYC, and Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
Elyse lives with her husband and their cat outside of Washington DC, where in addition to her professional practice, she teaches animation at Georgetown University.