A panda who becomes a kung fu master. A snail who wins the Indianapolis 500. A woman who grows to a height of 49 feet 11 inches and saves the world. These atypical underdog stories have been big hits for Hollywood in recent years. They’ve also helped establish Susan Slagle Rogers ’83 as one of the animation industry’s most talented producers.

Rogers graduated from Southwestern with a B.F.A. in theater and speech communications. She began her career in the theater world, managing 60 productions before transitioning to film. As production manager at PDI/DreamWorks, Rogers oversaw a team that worked on such theatrical blockbusters as Minority Report, Mission Impossible 2, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. After joining DreamWorks Animation, she served as senior production manager, associate producer, and coproducer for a number of popular animated films, including Kung Fu Panda, Turbo, and Monsters vs. Aliens. These three films in particular are known for their inspirational plotlines and positive, uplifting messages.

“Susan’s films, like Southwestern’s core values, promote being true to oneself, respecting the worth and dignity of others, and encouraging activism in the pursuit of justice and the common good—all in a fun and lovable animated package,” says Lynn Parr Mock ’83.

As a film producer, Rogers has to manage budgets, schedules, and staffing—not to mention egos. “Managing strong-willed and sometimes inexperienced directors can be challenging. Finding ways to make sure things kept moving along and on schedule in a way that doesn’t make everyone hate you is really hard. Susan was great at it,” says Sean Phillips, a visual effects supervisor who worked with Rogers on Turbo. “She was a very fair person to work with and mentored a lot of green production people in the course of doing her day-to-day job, something a lot of producers don’t take the time to do. She always had her team’s back.”  

Producer April Lawrence, who considers Rogers a friend and a mentor, concurs. “You can always trust in Susan. She’s able to maintain a sense of integrity. What you see is what you get. That’s not always the case in the entertainment field,” Lawrence says. “If you’re lucky enough to call yourself her friend or part of her inner circle, you can know that she’ll always be there for you, ready to share a glass of wine, defend you to the death, or tell you like it is, whatever the situation requires.”

Phillips notes that like many of the characters in her films, Rogers is tenacious in the face of adversity. “Our team was taking a research trip out to the Indianapolis 500 the weekend of the race in 2011. That time of year in Indianapolis is notorious for bad weather and big storms. Susan’s group was flying through Chicago from Los Angeles, and their flight into Indianapolis was canceled due to thunderstorms,” Phillips says. “They were stuck in Chicago and going to miss the race. Without missing a beat, Susan rented a van and proceeded to drive to Indianapolis from Chicago. Keep in mind that this was Memorial Day weekend and the traffic out of Chicago was horrific. Susan drove the whole way. The team she was with was cranky by the time they got to Indianapolis, but not Susan. They made it for race day.” 

Rogers currently is working on an animated musical titled Back to Me for One Good Man Productions. She’s a strong supporter of Southwestern, hosting a President’s Table Dinner at her home in Glendale, California, for alumni, parents, and high-school counselors in the area in 2018 and an Alumni Home Reception for students accepted to Southwestern in 2019.

For her generous spirit and exceptional contributions to the film industry, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Susan Slagle Rogers with the Distinguished Professional Award.