Monday, January 02, 2006




Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

My life?.... Did you mean what I do when I’m not drawing?
You don’t have a life when you’re working in this industry; so make sure that you live your younger years as full as possible. I like to travel, to pretend that I see the world and live my life.

I graduated from an engineering school for my parents, like a lot of Asian kids do. But then I went to CalArts to pursue what I’m really interested, experimental animation. But in order to have a job, I also took a lot of classes at the Character Animation department: design, animation, layout, storyboard.... Anything related to animation. I also took some night classes on painting at Art Center to get better handle on color and art in general.

What really helps me, I think, is the love of this medium, and the strong desire to be better than what I was.

How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

Designing a character is almost like growing a person, you never know what exactly you’re going to get. That’s why we call it “development” more often than design here at Disney Feature Animation.

Of course, before you start, it’s always a good idea to know the context of the character. In many early development situations, the context does not exit or is blurry, then make up one or two for yourself. Then get some ideas of what had been done, so to avoid them and what can be possibly done, this is the hard part. Research well, if some era-specific costume is required. But get to the first-hand, closest resources as much as possible, as Harald Siepermann had said. Do not just copy from other movies, especially the animated ones, they’re second hand interpretation already.

Picture in mind real personalities that would cast well for this character, especially actors and actress that you think would have worked for this role, and try to put them down on paper, on your drawings. Find pictures of people or whatever that you think would inspire or you could use, to study, caricature and discover the graphic elements you need to synthesize the character. Not saying that you have to make your design looks exactly like the person you have in mind, but to discover some graphic elements that are unique to that person. Those element that you get from real people will somehow give your design a real and unique feel. Doodle and play with archetypes, shapes and any graphic elements that you discovered, and let that energy between your mind and your hands bounces back and forth.

Keep playing and playing till you’re exhausted, or when your production manager tells you that you have to show the designs to the directors in half a hour. Usually during this process, you would find some of your characters feel right and start to talk to you, and if you start to hear what your characters are saying, then.... you’re insane.

What do you think really helps you out in designing a character?

Man watching. It’s as fun as watching birds. Make it a leisure time habit. Of course, in production situation it’s not always convenient to do so, while I find internet an incredible place to see pictures of people.

From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should we put in our portfolio and what should we not?

It really depends on what type of work you’re looking for. Put into the portfolio what you think best showcases what you can do about that specific job. Say, you’re looking for a Character Design job, then don’t put in too many of the amazing plain-air oil paintings you did. It does not hurt, but it dilutes the focus. People in this industry prefer specialist, not generalist. With that said, there’s always exceptions. Also, before you submit your portfolio, get a good sense of what your employers are doing and what they’re looking for.

What are some of the things that you have worked on?

I had done magazine illustrations, newspaper cartoons, and made animated films back in my country. But I guess people here get to know me by my design work and storyboard for animated films. I had worked on WB’s Batman the TV Series, Disney’s Mulan, Tarzan, Atlantis, and Home on the Range... Oh,ya... and a lot of projects that never got made.

Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?

They’re all my dear babies, beautiful or ugly.

What are you working on now? (If you can tell us)

Disney’s American Dog. It’s a film full of characters, emotions and tons and tons of explosive actions. It’s the one worth the wait. Take my words for it.

Where is the place you would like to work if you had a choice?

My own animation studio. Hope it would happen someday.

Who do you think are the top character designers out there?

Let me count.... geeee... I ran out of my fingers and toes. There’re so many of them that inspire and influence me in so many different ways, I might miss some if I tried to name them. My dear top designer friends would hate me forever if I forgot mentioning them. But so you know, there’re more than a dozen of designers out there that really help me grow.

How do you go about coloring the character, what type of tools or media do you use?

Computer is my best tool nowadays. I have tons of options and millions of colors under my fingers, which never run out or run dry. It is awesome, and best of all, you can always “undo”. The only problem is when the system crashes and you have not saved your work for a while. This happens sometimes and you watch yourself suddenly transformed into a devastating beast, pulling your hairs, beating your chest, kicking, growling and cursing and feel like to tear out that stupid box underneath the desk and smash it into pieces. Nevertheless... I always hope for the blackout, so I can get a day off.

What type of things do you love to draw, and why?

Things that move. Why... they happen to be my diet as well.

What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?

Fun and easy.... Never! It’s like giving birth to a child, it’s always painful to me. While designing, I would try this and try that, draw this and draw that, sometimes stare at a piece of blank paper whole day, it can be frustrating. Maybe some other people have better way to do it. Please enlighten me. But for me, after so much labor, when you get it, it should look easy, and fun. When people actually response well to the design, then it’s so satisfying and rewarding. Yes, I guess it’s just like having your own baby.

What are some of your favorite character designs and least favorite, which you have seen?

I always remember those older Disney, WB and Anime characters that I grew up with. They bring so much fond memories. I hope that what we’re doing today has the same impact on people.

What is your most favorite subject to draw?

Okay, this time I will include things that do not move.

What inspired you to become a Character Designer?

I always enjoy watching cartoons and want to make animated films, never thought of myself specifically as a Character Designer. But somehow, people see this part of my talents, and call me that. I don’t know if that’s good or not.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

Never use a round pencil, it would roll away.... Just kidding!

I’ve seen designer spill ink or coffee on drawing to play with, to break the repetitive working routine. Harald Siepermann did that to give the drawing a vintage and nostalgic feel. This would be something you can’t do on a computer. Mike Gabriel would start with a brush loaded with paint to block out the bald shapes. Fascinating... Rumor goes that some would drink to loosen up their imagination. A lot of us learn to use big Sharpies, or pastel sticks to design, so we don’t get caught by details. I found regular pencil too stiff and not good for your hand’s well being. But everybody will pick up whatever works for themselves.

What wisdom could you give us, about being a character designer? Do you have any tips you could give?

”Use your force...“

Wisdom? Wow... It makes me feel old. As to tips, bear with me, I don’t think I have anything new to share, I’m still trying to figure it all out myself. But I would say, do a lot of caricature to broaden your graphic vocabulary, or steal them without getting caught.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?

Yes, they’re always welcome to email me. But please be understanding that I do not have much time to write back, though I’ll try.

Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

Good idea. I have been so busy making art for other people to make money from, and almost forget that I could make the money myself. Brilliant!!! I will start working on that.