Updated: May 18, 2021
Christine, a talented background illustrator who creates immersive worlds for her audience, shares her creative journey from art school to working at one of the biggest animation studios.
She is currently a visual development artist at DreamWorks and has worked on shows such as Archibald's Next Big Thing, Madagascar: A Little Wild, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, and some unannounced works.
Creative Chats are Clubhouse talks where we invite creatives to speak about their creative journey, lessons learned, and industry tips.
This Creative Chat is for you if...
You’re considering art school
You are working on your art portfolio to find a job
You want advice on how to deal with burnout and find creative inspiration
You want to know how she landed her dream job at DreamWorks!
In this Creative Chat, we asked...
When did you begin your journey as an artist?
My parents were always supportive of what I do. I was exposed to art at a young age and I continued to get art lessons and I never stopped drawing.
In a way, my parents “brainwashed” me to pursue art. I know it’s not common with Asian parents but my parents were both creatives. My mom was a piano performer and my dad was a business entrepreneur. They were both supportive of me pursuing my goals and dreams so they were never scared of me pursuing art as a career. However, they did try their best to prepare me for this path.
I enjoyed drawing more than anything else. I know my parents were open to me potentially pursuing nursing. It seemed like a stable job, but I just couldn’t see myself becoming a nurse in the long term. Being an artist is not a common path that my peers took. They were all busy preparing for the SATs while I was preparing an art portfolio.
What was the whole process of creating a portfolio like for you? How did you deal with the stress of balancing art with schoolwork?
My parents had a backup plan for me. They would not let me slack off on any SAT prep or high school studies. As soon as high school ended, I would be in the car eating my lunch/dinner on my way to art school. I would attend art classes until 10 pm. Then I would go home and do my school homework from 10 pm to 1 am. I would barely sleep during my junior and senior years. It was brutal…I barely stayed alive. It paid off.
Back then, I was so sad. When you’re young, you just want to play and enjoy life. Even though my parents were very supportive of my art path, they were very strict with my schedule. They knew I’d have to put all my effort into art just like any other major. I was a little ahead of other students because my parents started me off in art classes a little earlier.
During these stressful times, what sparked creativity for you?
As I was attending art school, I was surrounded by people my age and students who were also interested in art and our creativity just bounced off of each other. This is why I think institutional learning is so important because it exposes you to a network of people like you and of similar interests.
What are your thoughts on institutional learning vs. self-learning?
That’s hard because I see so many smart self-taught artists and they’re geniuses. At the same time, I think it’s safer to be in a structured, institutional learning system because you will be exposed to many artists and mentors. However, if you’re self-taught, you can find a similar community on Instagram these days. Back when I was in school, Instagram wasn’t as popular so I found artists like me at after school art classes and at art college.
Where would you advise finding a sense of community for those struggling to find one?
These days, you could just be posting your art on Instagram and finding people of similar interests. Where I live, there are a lot of after school art programs. USC has film. I went to Art Center College of Design. There’s OTIS. There are so many platforms where you can connect to other creatives these days, it’s crazy. Overall, I’d say college is the best place to connect with others and to find a mentor.
Is there anything that you do for your mental health to help you better focus on your craft? Or is your creativity something that comes naturally?
There are days where it comes naturally and there are days where I struggle to stay productive. On days where I feel unproductive, I just take a walk or plan a vacation. Just taking a walk outside my neighborhood helps a lot. I do a lot of background designs and paintings. When the sun sets, the house that you pass by every day can look so different; I like to take reference pictures of my neighborhood and use that as inspiration.
On my website, there’s a Catalina liquor store drawing. It’s in K-Town. I used to go into this liquor store to buy Hot Cheetos and a can of Coke before art school. This was such a nostalgic place for me so I took photos of this liquor store and changed it to how I’d want it to look in my illustrations during the day and the night. I take real-life photos and mix it in with a certain theme or color scheme. These are some of the tricks I use to stay creative.
Did these creative thoughts come naturally to you? Do you have any resources that you can share with us on how to stay creative?
One of the things I learned from one of my professors is to make a list of who, what, when, where, why, and a synonym and antonym list. Circle the words that really speak to you. Then depending on the words you circled, you develop visual cues. Mixing and matching words helps me come up with new ideas and to stay creative.
I tend to collect a lot of “Art of” books to see how a film was made, what the process was like, what difficulties they ran into, what new technologies they developed, etc. These books really help me. I also go through Instagram and look at other people’s art to stay inspired.
Do you have any tips for students or post-grads who are thinking about applying to art school or creating a portfolio to apply to a job?
Back when I was in art school, I wish someone had told me not to be scared to explore the programs that were being used (e.g., Maya Software for 3D modeling). When you think of an artist, you might think they just draw with a pen and pencil. Nowadays, you need to learn how to 3D model, how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, 3D sculpting software, etc. I recommend learning these programs because this industry is so fast paced and always advancing. It can be scary to learn, but it’s necessary if you want to be an artist. Also, I recommend taking a few classes at a community college before you go into art school. You can save money by taking a writing or foundation class at a community college first and then going into art school.
What is your day in a life at DreamWorks like, in terms of balancing life, creating art, and meeting your role's expectations?
I think it’s great that I’m learning all the time. I have to keep up with the new art standards. At the same time, it’s scary to think that I might not be able to keep up one day, but I think that’s the beauty of this career. Your skills speak for themselves. I don’t mind learning all the time because it’s fun. At DreamWorks, they’re always offering classes on the side and mentors who are willing to teach you. They’re very supportive of our growth.
What was your creative process like during COVID? If it was difficult, how did you pull through to find inspiration?
With a lot of naps, I was able to stay physically motivated. In terms of staying mentally motivated…sometimes I was dragging my feet, and other times, I had to force myself to get the resources online. I would look on ArtStation or Instagram for inspiration. Like I said, taking a walk around my neighborhood helped a lot during COVID.
Was there any experience that felt different because you were Asian in the creative field or at DreamWorks?
I was working on a certain show and they made the Asian character a side character with such a stereotypical Asian role. My other Asian coworker called out the showrunners and they ended up changing the entire script because of this issue. They were very self-critical about what they were doing and as a company, they were willing to change. DreamWorks actually has a lot of Asian artists. We ended up receiving classes about this because this is such a sensitive and relevant topic. We had a speaker talk about how important media is in terms of representation. If my coworker and I hadn’t called out the showrunners, then these stereotypes would’ve just been perpetuated. We have a lot of Asian artists at DreamWorks, but I think we could have more Asian writers.
Would you say DreamWorks was your dream opportunity? How did you come across it?
To be honest, any opportunity was a dream opportunity for me. I got very lucky with DreamWorks because on the day I graduated, we had something called a graduation show where you display all of your best work and recruiters from big companies come and see who they can recruit. Luckily, I was recruited by DreamWorks!
Every company is looking for a good foundational skillset in an artist. There are slight style differences that they might pick on. Some styles could be flat, more graphic, Adult Swim styles. Or they could be looking for more rendered, CGI-like styles. Build your foundational skills.
If there’s one piece of advice that you wish you’d known when you were younger, what would that be?
I would’ve liked to learn 3D modeling sooner! There are so many places that offer it now but back when I was in school, maybe I wasn’t productive enough in finding YouTube videos on it or something. Now, you can find videos about 3D modeling anywhere for a good $600 to $800 per class. Maybe try Brainstorm School, Concept Design Academy, or CGMA. I would recommend taking these classes as a sophomore after you’ve mastered Photoshop. It could be a little difficult learning these as a freshman.
Find inspiration everywhere in your life - go on a walk, take inspiration from your favorite places. Visit your favorite places during different times of the day and see how lighting changes the entire mood. The possibilities are endless.
There’s always sacrifice and it can be difficult to balance school work and art. The art path is not always the easiest.
Art school is helpful if you want to be immersed in a network or community of likeminded individuals who share the same passion as you.
Nowadays, it’s easy to find a community and network through Instagram. Share your work, find artists you admire, and reach out!
Every company is looking for an artist with a good foundational skillset so make sure you’ve got the foundation down!
Don’t be afraid to speak up if you don’t agree with how a certain race is being portrayed in the media. There won’t be change unless you speak your mind.
Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty and exploring new programs. The animation industry is very fast paced so try to learn as much as you can as early as you can!
Follow Christine! @prantagonist
See more of her work here.
Join us on select Tuesdays at 7:30 pm PST for Creative Chats on Clubhouse App. Link in bio of IG: @innerchild.creatives