From Miquon to Hollywood

By Kristin Sanderson

“I remember finding a turtle in the creek and putting it in my bag and bringing it home on the bus,” says Kara Vallow, who was pushing limits then as she does now. The executive producer of Fox’s popular Family Guy series admits her life in Los Angeles is a world away for the woodsy setting she enjoyed at Miquon in the 70s.

She first became interested in animation in those early years. Her grandfather was an engineer and really into animation and toys.

“I became really interested in the idea of being able to create your own universe using your own hands, like being able to manipulate something completely through drawing.”

After completing high school at Germantown Friends School and a degree at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Kara stayed in New York for another six or seven years working at Broadcasts Arts, one of the biggest commercial animation studios in New York.

Heading west

During work on a pilot for a program on NBC, Kara traveled to LA and realized programming was happening out west. So she relocated and took a number of jobs, including at Hanna Barbera, where she worked on Johnny Bravo with Seth MacFarlane, who would later create Family Guy and tap Kara to be his Executive Producer.

The duo went on to produce American Dad and the now defunct Cleveland Show.

“Creating animated shows is an extremely time consuming operation that involves a lot of people both here and in South Korea where we work with a couple sister studios,” Kara explains. “Shows take a year and half, and everything is still drawn by hand. It’s a lot of management of each individual stage of the process to get to the point where you see the show that’s on TV. I think you’d be amazed at all the work that actually goes into it.”

But perhaps it is telling that Kara Vallow’s favorite project right now is not her irreverent comedy series, but her work on the second season of Cosmos, a revisit of Carl Sagan’s famous show.

“The first season of Cosmos was also a very, very difficult show that I had said no to originally because I didn’t think I could do it justice,” she says. “The original show with Carl Sagan was an event in my house growing up.”

It was Kara’s task to come up with a style of animation and an artistic approach that worked without impeding on the original version and vision. She is delighted that the network ordered another season.

Much of her curiosity about nature and science was born on the sylvan Miquon campus.

“Being in nature, in that setting,” she recalls, “where children learn deeply when all their senses are engaged . . . I played in that creek every day. Just cultivating that sense of discovery that all children have at 5 or 6 instills a lifetime love of learning.”

The opportunity to be given the space

Kara considers herself an avid reader and engaged citizen, something she attributes in part to the active learning taught at Miquon.

“The most important thing is the opportunity to be given the space and the physical environment, to explore, and to question the world around us, past, present, and future. To stay engaged with that world, and have an understanding of different perspectives.”

Kara considers this experience part of her Miquon foundation, along with the critical and contextual thinking skills she learned there.

She also recalls poison ivy and tick checks with a laugh, and says she still covets the collection of rough garnets and she and her friends excavated from the creek at Miquon.

They are among many of the Miquon gems she has carried into a successful Hollywood career. “My most vivid memories of my school days go back to Miquon,” she says.