We’ve interviewed plenty of photographers before, but I never really heard of a man behind the camera who uses Instagram to rise to fame. This week we celebrate episode no. 363 and next in line is key South African Instagrammer, Gareth Pon. Not only that but, half Mauritian, half Chinese, South African born Asian, Gareth, is also an accomplished filmmaker and has expertise in architecture and fashion design. Needless to say, the man is busy. He was kind enough to squeeze in a few moments between excursions and talk to us a bit about his journey. Read below for the full Q&A…
Hey Gareth, how’s Europe treating you? What kind of things have you been getting into?
Hi there! Things are going so well. I am actually typing this reply from Nairobi, Kenya. I am here for a conference that I am speaking at tomorrow. I just met up with some local Instagrammers and we went on a bit of a night excursion. Before this trip I was in Germany for Photokina, amazing event. I also spent some time in NYC for a surprise trip with Grey Goose Vodka & Virgin Galactic! It was really good meeting up with the USA creatives too.
How much of your inspiration comes from filming or photographing other creatives?
I really do love telling the stories of other creatives and I feel that is often the drive behind my passion to create. It works two ways, firstly it inspires me to be more creative by sharpening my own medium and secondly it gives me the opportunity to capture a story that needs to be told. I’ve always been a people’s person & doing documentaries gives me the opportunity to create something that I see as a gift to the person who the story is about.
For instance your incredible video for Lorraine Loots’ 365 Ant postcard project. How did you two come together for that video?
Lorraine and I actually met via Instagram, I sent her a message one day and told her I would love to make a documentary about her. We met up in Cape Town and set a day aside to shoot. I did some basic planning and set out some ideas but I didn’t do too much planning because I wanted Lorraine’s story to be told from her perspective. It was my privilege to be able to tell her story and allow her to share her project.
The Evolution of Instagram evolved from a place to share your life to a place to sell and market yourself. This is quite evident in your ‘single moments’ film which connects many users to make an epic video. In your own words, how has instagram and social media aided you in your own career?
Instagram for me has really become a platform for me to drive my creativity, meet other creatives and also to have a daily output where I can get an instantaneous response to my work. I’ve met so many people through Instagram and it’s also ignited a few passions in my life, travel being one of them. The biggest thing for me is being able to have international exposure through Instagram, I feel as if it’s given me so many opportunities that I would have never had if it weren’t for Instagram. It’s also challenged me to seek out new interests and constantly challenge my perspective and approach to creating.
And what exactly do the Official Instagramers South Africa Community achieve? Could you tell us a bit about where this concept began and what kind of goals you’d like to accomplish?
This community was actually founded in relationship with the International Instagramers community (www.instagramers.com). We have communities all over the world that are constantly planning instameets and pioneering the medium of mobile photography. In a South African sense I feel like it has given South Africans the opportunity to love their city again, because many of the instameets we organize are amazing opportunities to discover the beauty of various cities within South Africa. My simple goal for the community is to just give South Africans a platform to meet people, love their cities again & expose our beautiful country to the world.
Again, stemming off the last question…what attracted you to South Africa?
South Africa is my home. I’ve grown up in South Africa and even though I am of Asian descent I really feel that I am a South African at heart. I also believe that South Africa has a lot of hidden beauty and what better a way to show off that beauty through photography and the perspectives of thousands of South Africans.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
My all time favorite anime is Fooly Cooly or FLCL as many call it. It’s the first anime that I’ve watched more than once & it’s a riveting, crazy, intensely inspiring, perfect mix of randomness that makes my creative brain grow. I also love vespas and the color yellow ;).
As a lover of movie making, do you have any aspirations to make a full length documentary or film?
I do indeed have aspirations to make a full length film. I’m absolutely obsessed with 2 things: Documentaries that engage and challenge the audience & Science Fiction films. However with that said, I do definitely feel like I need to take these challenges in my stride and that when the time is right the dream of making a full length feature will become a reality but for now I know I have a lot to learn before I can one day make my very own Science Fiction feature film. Maybe it’ll be the very first live action Science Fiction to actually be filmed in space.
Oh wow, well let’s talk about that then! Lets say your dream of going to space is achieved. What are three things you would like to do while out there?
- I would take a photo (obviously) & I would make sure that I at least take a few selfies.
- I would take full advantage of zero gravity, I would see how high I could jump and I would pretend was swimming through the air.
- I’d make a little mini documentary about all of the above while up there.
Lastly, any advice for any budding photographers looking to make an impact via instagram?
Engaging on the platform in a genuine way, meeting others and learning as much as you can from those who inspire you. Create unique, beautiful content. We live in a world where there are millions of people who can take photos and we are bombarded every day with huge amounts of visual noise and any visual creative needs to find out what makes them unique. I try capture moments that touch the heart. If you can find that one thing that speaks to your heart, it’ll ultimately speak to the hearts of others.
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The sheer technical skills involved in creating such realistic details is the reason why we invited Johnson Tsang into the Creative Spotlight this week. Primarily working in ceramic and stainless steel, Tsang’s sculpture’s emphasizes a temporality – time as it quickly passes and their memories. We sat down and talked a bit about his love for Robin Williams, his work, and the ancient origins of his preferred choice of medium. Read below for the full Q&A…
I believe you are the first ceramic artist we’ve featured on the site! When did you discover the potential of this medium? Did school have an important role in directing you on this path?
When I was a kid, I always enjoyed drawing and painting. All of my school textbook pages were covered by my sketches. Later on, I found that two dimensional expression could no longer fully express my feelings and ideas. So, I started to look for a medium that could be more expressive. With ceramics, I could model almost everything by bare hand which makes it a perfect medium to work with. Apart from ceramics, I also love to work with stainless steel, wood and bronze.
I was born and brought up in Hong Kong where art education is not taken emphanized in the mainstream education. When I was young, my desire to create was so intense that I found formal art education could not fulfill my urge. After I took a short pottery course and learnt the basic skills, I bought a kiln, a throwing machine, all the required equipment to turn my balcony into a mini pottery workshop. Self-practice is my way to develop skills and it allows me to experiment boldly and freely.
It is an interesting medium because as an artist you need knowledge of art, chemistry, physics, ethnology and philosophy to become successful. For instance, firing at different temperatures and durations for different outcomes, showing how concrete objects can express connotations in an abstract way, etc. How did you go about perfecting your technique?
Yes, indeed. I felt like a scientist every time when I mix different chemicals to form the glazes and try to estimate the physical and chemical changes brought by the firing process in over one thousand degree Celsius. Being bold and creative is the key to make progress. Ceramists need to be creative not only in artistic expressions about also in the problem-solving process. Very often, I create my own tools in order to help me archive some special effects that cannot be archived through available tools.
Will you describe your work for those of us unfamiliar with it? I know a lot of your work is hand made.
Yes, I do love to model my works with bare hands. The touch with the soft clay is magic and wonderful. I love to blend realist sculpting techniques with surrealist imaginations. I also love to convey my messages through the works. Artwork creation is my way to express feelings and convey my messages to the viewers.
What was it about Robin Williams’ death, aside from the fact of his iconic career, that resonated with you enough to pay tribute to him?
Robin Williams was one of my favorite movie stars. He himself was a wise and kind person. He brought a lot of laughs to so many people. So, I portray him as an angel who continues to cheer people up in the heaven.
I would say one of the things I enjoy most about your work is your ability to convey lifelike facial expressions. I’ve seen tranquil faces, from disgusted, to frustrated, so happy. What are some of the tiny details you construct to ensure such strong visual communication?
Human faces is an art in itself. It is so intriguing that there are so many faces in the world but no two are exactly the same. Facial expression is the best way to convey emotions. So, I love observing people and try to capture the essence of human faces.
Do you consider that the theme of your works has a bigger impact on the viewer just because of the connotations? Do you see yourself exploring it throughout your career?
Yes, I often try to convey messages in my work and has explored different ways to communicate with the viewers visually. I hope my work can bring about a visual impact as well as an emotion reaction in the viewers.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
I love the works by Hayao Miyazaki.
During the Ming and the Qing Dynasties, ceramic products were once an important commodity in the trade between East and West. Do you feel the medium you choose to create in has decreased in popularity as the modern age of 3-D printing and digital work expands?
Ceramics is indeed one of the oldest medium that people use to make functional objects and sculptures. It could be dated back the prehistoric time. As a contemporary artist, I love to instill this old medium with a new sense of wonder, trying to turn ordinary things into extraordinary surprises. I hope to change people’s concept that ceramics is just only for utilitarian use. To me, technological advancement will not diminish the charm of this versatile materials. Instead, technology like 3D printing has brought a new dimension to ceramics which helps expand the its possibilities and push the boundaries of contemporary ceramics.
What is ahead for you in the coming months?
I am focusing on works which will be on display in coming exhibitions to be held in Asia, Europe and the US. I am also working on a museum project that combines Chinese ancient art with contemporary art.
Lastly, can you offer up any advice to any young creatives out there?
Be bold and persistent when you are working on what you love. Your passion and talent will be infused into your work and felt by the viewers.
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Run River North is six Korean-American friends who say they’ve found the American dream through music. Guitar-driven at heart, their sound is fleshed out by soft vocal harmonies and a variety of instruments, including violin, melodica, tambo. The band is made up of John Chong, Joe Chun, Alex Hwang, Jennifer Rimm, and two members, Sally Kangand (Voc/Keys) and Daniel Chae (Violin/Elec Gtr) were nice enough before they embark on another leg of there tour and sit down and answer a few questions. In support of their album they hit the road on Oct 4th in CA and play throughout the month which ends in Denver. We speak a bit about preparing for the tour, the meaning of their lyrics, social media, films and more! Read below for the full interview…
You guys are hitting the road next month. What kind of experience can a fan expect attending one of your shows for the first time?
I would say to expect a journey, since we show so many different sides of the band. Our show can share the same description as our band name; it’s like a river where it has it’s bombastic and rushing moments of heavy guitars and drums, yet can slow down to have violins shine through with gang vocals.
I was really stuck by the lyrics ‘digging for worth in a land under a foreign sun.” It was surprising to me to find out that Los Angeles has the largest Korean community in the United States. Even with that fact, does it still feel a bit difficult to adapt as an all Asian band?
I think starting out in Los Angeles has helped us feel comfortable in being an all Asian band. The only thing we’ve noticed as a whole is the number of arms crossed at the beginning of our set, especially when we are an opening band, and how people react in surprise and excitement after our first two songs. It makes us feel like we’re doing something special.
As a new parent myself, I really appreciate ‘Monsters Calling Home’, because it made me think about how my actions and choices will affect my kids in the long run. On the flip side how exactly could I interpret the songs on the album and not view ‘Monsters Calling Home’ in a negative connotation? What themes would that open the door too?
I think the main theme of the song isn’t directed to any one specific audience. We are all the monsters in that story, and we all share in that struggle and heartache of letting others down while struggling with our own demons. It’s funny, my dad mentioned he loved the song too but asked why we couldn’t write happier songs because he felt called out. We laughed, but it made me realize that we are all the monsters mentioned in the song and it is simply serves as a self-reflection.
On tour you guys embrace social media and even opened up a Snapchat account. What was that like opening that portal up to connect with your fans?
I think this idea stemmed from the realization that no bands have really embarked on using Snapchat to reach fans. Instagram and Twitter have been successfully used by bands. I love the Snapchat is very shaky and not great quality, which actually creates an intimacy that other flashy mediums cannot do.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
Oh man, great question. Collectively, they include: One Piece, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Full Metal Alchemist, and Pokemon (pre johto).
Have you guys fully accepted and gotten used to the fact that, yes, perhaps you all will be playing music for a living for the rest of your lives?
We definitely have accepted this fact with more than half of us quitting our part-time/full-time jobs and some of us taking a break from school as well. It’s something that’s become more real to us with more touring opportunities and challenged us to become more proactive in bettering our craft.
I wanted to ask you about the couple of live acoustic sets you guys did. How did it go over and how did the idea actually come up?
As we practiced often and had some rehearsals dedicated to sharpening our vocals, we thought it’d be fun to play different “versions” of our songs, to make it more fun us and the audience to not hear the same performance every time. It’s something that both restricted and pushed us to play on different instruments and let other voices/parts shine in this kind of stripped-down setting.
You guys released the album on vinyl format, and your music seems to be tailored more towards a great audiophile set up. Do you guys have any personal attitudes towards the recent resurgence in vinyl?
A good number of us appreciate and root for the resurgence in vinyl! We love the fact that listening to an album on vinyl really evokes a different listening experience that you can’t get through digital downloads and CDs. And we love the fact that we can add special tracks like “Rain” on our vinyl record, which we stripped down to sound more raw and intimate.
Can you go into any detail on new material? Is there going to be more time focused on another album once the tour wraps up?
I think because this next tour is our last longer run this year, we will definitely have more time to add and play around with the new ideas and songs that have been thrown out during past rehearsals. So far, the new material sounding more groovy and just like each one of us, it’s evolving to sound more confident.
Lastly, any advice on following your dreams and turning them into a reality?
Never stop trying. Practicing only makes you understand and learn your craft better and builds up your confidence for the long run!
Oct 04 The Loft at UCSD — La Jolla, CA
Oct 06 The Fonda Theatre — Los Angeles, CA
Oct 07 Marquee Theatre — Tempe, AZ
Oct 09 Granada Theatre — Dallas, TX
Oct 10 House of Blues New Orleans — New Orleans, LA
Oct 11 The Loft at Center Stage — Atlanta, GA
Oct 12 Southern Ground Festival — Charleston, SC
Oct 13 The 8×10 — Baltimore, MD
Oct 15 Music Hall of Williamsburg — Brooklyn, NY
Oct 16 Royale Boston — Boston, MA
Oct 18 Jammin Java — Vienna, VA
Oct 20 Rumba Cafe — Columbus, OH
Oct 21 Beachland Tavern — Cleveland, OH
Oct 22 Blind Pig — Ann Arbor, MI
Oct 23 Calvin College @ Ladies Literary Club — Grand Rapids, MI
Oct 24 Deluxe at Old National Centre — Indianapolis, IN
Oct 25 Gabe’s — Iowa City, IA
Oct 27 Larimer Lounge — Denver, CO
Kenny is a sound composer who has a lot of interesting works in the pipeline. Aside from his usual plate of to-do’s, he has an ongoing Kickstart campaign (already successful after a few days) to showcase his EP. The original intent of “Faker” was to cover the darker end of his first impressions of moving to Los Angeles. Classically trained in piano from age 5, Zhao won a string of statewide competitions before studying composition and music production at Northwestern University. As a creative wearing so many hats, we decided to take the opportunity to pick his brain. Read below for the full Q&A…
You’re composing a soundtrack for a video game. Could you tell us a bit about that? Do you need to see a rough build of the game before you can determine what kind of mood you want to evoke or what music complements a particular stage or area?
The game’s called Dark Storm, and it was actually recently greenlit on Steam. It’s a first person stealth shooter, and it takes a lot of cues from the Metal Gear Solid series. This particular project is kind of a special case because I’m working with composer Chase Bethea and he’s writing all the in-game music. I’m primarily in charge of the cinematics, and that allows me to be much more movie-like in my approach – timing accents and other musical cues with the story being told on-screen. But that approach is fairly standard, I think. Game design is a long process – often much longer than film production – and inevitably designers and programmers become inspired by one another throughout the process. So it’s fairly necessary that I get the closest thing to the final product, before I can be sure my music will deliver the right tone. Hit all the right notes. So to speak.
What is it about the soundtracks to games like Skyrim, Soul Calibur, Halo, Mass Effect, Oblivion, that you just think, ‘Yeah, these guys got it right!’.
Massive titles like Skyrim and Mass Effect – those soundtracks hit hard with me because they are 100% aware of their responsibility. There’s a level of service in those games that I admire. More so than films, game soundtracks have an added responsibility of familiarity, of nostalgia. I have friends who have played Skyrim for over a hundred hours, and for them the music is like coming home.
And then you have something like Mass Effect – that music sneaks up on you. I played the whole trilogy at the beginning of this year and I still think about that score. The basic in-game tracks are so minimal, but then something will happen in the story where the music takes over. It’s really rewarding to sense that balance, that intimacy in the design of a game.
How do you approach composing for a video game differently than you would for a film or just a video?
I like to think of game composing as similar to designing a sound installation. You have an audience that’s creating their own unique experience from a carefully constructed environment, and that opens so much possibility in terms of surprising people. One of the fundamental qualities of a sound installation is that it offers one experience to the person who’s just passing through, and it provides another to the person who wants to linger for an hour or two. Another is that it welcomes interaction, it welcomes incidental happenings in the space. So to me a game’s soundtrack has the opportunity to have the same conversation.
Grand Theft Auto is a prime example of this. You can ask anyone who’s played over 10 hours what their favorite in-game radio station is, and most of them will have an answer. This is the music blaring out their window when they’re on the run from the cops. This is their go-to station after forcing a civilian out of a car at gunpoint. I like to think some players even feel a spark of something when they get in a freshly-stolen car and it’s already tuned to their station. Now, GTA made $1 billion in three days, and players are having unique experiences like this all over the world. That right there is a pop sound installation.
You’ve worked for some high profile clients and respectable studios. We understand what does and doesn’t work when it comes to applying Hollywood talent and methodologies to game productions. But for those that don’t, could you elaborate on the evolution of this notion and how it’s evolved over the years?
It’s funny, pretty much everyone agrees that the game industry is booming, people love talking about how huge it’s become. Ten years ago actors wouldn’t touch video games – it was like doing television after doing film. Flash forward to 2014, and I was at E3 when they announced that Kevin Spacey is the face of the next Call of Duty. Not to mention, television for actors has become a very reputable transition – or even alternative – to film. Games have simply gotten to a level where they can’t be ignored anymore. And now the two sides are attempting to speak each others’ language.
The culture of the two worlds is something I find very amusing. You have all these game people – fundamentally passionate, under-appreciated and occasionally outcast – getting attention from glamorous Hollywood. And on one level game people are flattered by the chance to be noticed. But they’re are also very defensive of their craft, and understandably wary of anyone who isn’t as passionate as they are. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen conversations lose energy because an excited Hollywood-type accidentally reveals that the last game they played was on an N64 or, god forbid, a smartphone.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
My brother and I recently watched Snowpiercer, and it completely blew me away. It’s a perfect blend of Eastern and Western pop culture, and as an Asian-American I feel it’s one of those movies made specially for me. All of Bong Joon-ho’s films have that quality on some level, but Snowpiercer is the first one I’ve seen that takes so many western influences and has them work in service of a fundamentally Eastern approach to storytelling. Growing up I also loved Stephen Chow’s films, but he seems a little less interested in building bridges. I’m a huge fan of animation in general, particularly when it pushes the boundaries of reality. For that reason my favorite anime are the visually stunning ones like Red Line and Paprika. But my favorite anime hands down has to go to Cowboy Bebop. The visual style, the title sequence, the music, the characters – it’s all perfect.
Let’s talk a bit about your Faker EP. First off, congrats on hitting the goal. Secondly, how important is it that additional tiers are reached so that it encompasses your overall vision for your EP?
Thanks! This is the first Kickstarter I’ve ever launched, so naturally I was very cautious about setting the bar too high. For that reason my budget goal only included the essentials – enough to have CD’s printed, to pay my artist, and to get my film friends set up with locations and casting for the music video. Everything else we spend will either come out of our own pockets, or hopefully from our reach goals
For one, I’m hoping to enlist some help on the mixing end of things. The Faker EP is about addiction to routine – to the natural highs and lows of daily life – and how that mirrors drug addiction as an escape from ambition and real progress. I want my tracks to reflect that musically by being immediately appealing on the surface. To me that means high-end pop production, and it’s absolutely essential to the aesthetic of the EP. My film team also has a huge laundry list of items. The script for the video is a narrative taking place in LA, and depends heavily on getting the viewer invested in its problems. So we’re hoping to hire a makeup artist, gather some high-end equipment, and potentially hire union actors for certain hard-to-fill roles. Music video production gets so expensive, it’s unbelievable.
LA strikes me a bit like NYC where no days are dull. Yet you coped with the madness that comes from working and living out of a single room. Do you view this experience as inspiration for the project or regret as to not have been more free during that time period?
Isolation is a huge theme in The Faker EP, but it did take me a while to find something constructive to say about it. Big cities like LA have a tendency to convince you not only that you are alone, but you are the only one who is alone. Luckily, I found out the truth fairly quickly. When I first moved to LA I became friends with a number of recovering addicts, and it became apparent that isolation and insecurity are common feelings, even in a city known for its social butterflies. I’m definitely working to communicate those feelings in the EP, and have even been embracing the lifestyle a little bit. I hear about these romanticized album backstories like Bon Iver, who kept himself secluded in a cabin in the wilderness to record For Emma, Forever Ago. And to be honest sometimes feel I can relate to that. There’s just as much loneliness in a crowded city, and it’s all the more unsettling because instead of silence, it’s the bustle of people you don’t know.
You collected an amazing group of people who are attached to this project. How did you acquire people like Nicholas Napoletano?
Nick Napoletano is actually dating one of my good friends from high school who is also an artist, Kathryn Goshorn. I met with Kathryn after graduating a couple years back, and I hung out with the two of them a few times before moving out to LA. They are both immensely talented, and I’ve taken to bouncing my experiments and ideas off them. My other friends working on the project (Alec Ziff, Sarah Jane Inwards, Sam Hazlett) are people I’ve been collaborating with since college. These are all people whose ability I trust wholeheartedly; people I hope to still be working with twenty years down the road.
You said you can’t rap. If you were to have a hip-hop feature on one of your songs, who would be a dream collaboration for you?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. I think Earl Sweatshirt would be fantastic to work with, especially in the spirit of capturing some of LA’s essence for The Faker EP. There’s another rapper Nick and I are obsessed with – Blu – who balances casual with personal in a way I think would fit really nicely.
Lastly, any advice for any struggling composers or musical producers out there?
I’d say one of the most important things is to not be shy. Composing and producing are both highly collaborative, and making music on your own is such a different experience from the cooperation and compromise that takes place in a shared musical space. The other thing would be to find value in all opportunities, especially where music is concerned. I can’t say I’ve ever worked on a project that didn’t make me a better musician in some way or another.
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Hosuk Chang is a person I really wanted to feature in the Creative Spotlight as his resume proves he is one of the most accomplished creatives we have had the honor to speak with. He studied Graphic Design in University of Seoul in Korea and Visual Effects in Savannah Collage of Art and Design. He worked at Blizzard Cinematic Department as a Senior FX Artist 2, to which you might be playing his latest game Diablo III. Currently he is keeping hush-hush on big projects over at Pixar Animation Studio. I decided now would be a great time to pick his brain on both sides of the fence — films and video games, and how each one sizes up for him. Read below for the full Q&A…
You initially started out studying graphic design. Why did you eventually transfer your focus to Visual Effects?
The official name of my major in Korea is Visual Communication Design which covers mostly graphic design area. However, in 1996 when I was freshman, it also covered web design, multi media design and little bit of animation since there weren’t many schools that offered courses about those new types of arts (game and animation etc…), so there were few senior students who were interested in 3D computer graphics and animation in my major, and they used to work on their projects in the school lab where I was also hanging out and gradually introduced to softwares like Electric Image, Strata Studio and After Effects in 1996. What fascinated me the most was the fact that I could make moving image on my desktop.
Since that, my main focus had always been computer graphics, but I had to graduate and had to take graphic design related classes which, I think, is the best part of my early education. What I learned in graphic design classes was nothing but problem solving which is exactly what I do today with different tools. In the graphic design world, there are a lot going on even before start to draw a single line. The design process requires multiple level of problem identifying, solving and strategic planning. There is always specific goal, and I was trained not to forget what I design for. In visual effects, there is also specific goal in every shot and effects. I have to identify problems for the goal and break them down into smaller tasks. Once the problems are identified, now it’s the fun part. I can try all different styles, methods and techniques. I like going extreme because I can always come back if I don’t like it which is one of the reasons I like working on a computer. I think I was fortunate to start as a graphic design student and moved on to visual effects.
Is there a different methodology of teaching practices between Seoul and the U.S. where you obtained your Masters?
It is difficult for me to talk about the difference because I was in different kind of programs in U.S. and Seoul. From my limited point of view, the course in SCAD(Savannah College of Art and Design) were more about practical skills that students can utilize even right after they graduate whereas the courses in Seoul were more like fundamental and academic. I guess I’m comparing apples and oranges. I was BFA in Seoul and MA in U.S. I’m glad that I experienced both. I like them both.
What initially attracted me to this interview was your work on Diablo III – Reaper of Souls, especially with the new reissue expansion hitting next-gen consoles. Was that your last project for Blizzard before moving onto Pixar?
Yes, it is my last project at Blizzard. I worked on the soul-sucking effects and mummification effects for the intro cinematic. The mummification effects was fun because it was not like traditional effects work such as smoke, fire or destruction. It was volume based blend shape between two polygon models that have different topology. I also got to develop a couple of plug-ins and shader during the production. It was also really good cooperation with the modeling department.
What is the biggest difference between the two work environments — Blizzard and Pixar? Can you comment on which one is a more organic, nurturing atmosphere for creating?
They are actually pretty similar. The people in both places have passion and love their own product and also have great attention to detail, and even the effects pipelines are similar. The effects team use Houdini and RenderMan. To me, the notable difference could be engineering support. Again, I’m comparing apples and orange. I can only talk about the cinematic department at Blizzard and Pixar as a company. Pixar is large and has relatively long history, so there are more in-house tools and resources which makes me focus on what I do. Blizzard cinematic department had quickly grown in last few years from 2x to 150, and I was lucky to be in the transition. I had a chance to contribute their effects pipeline which was the fun parts and why I have few development projects in my portfolio. I learned and grew a lot at Blizzard.
There is one thing I can say I like better at Pixar. Pixar University. There are a lot of classes that are directly related to work such as art, computer and business. There are also the other types of lectures and events that are not directly related to work. Literally every week, there are events at Pixar in lunch time. They are similar to the “Talks at Google” but more about art, culture and technology. Sometimes a famous director comes and talk about his or her new movie, sometimes a graduate student comes and talk about his experimental project, and sometimes fisherman comes and talk about fish in Bay Area. I’m not sure how those events can help our productivity, but I just love to hear their inspirational stories.
How important is it to know other scripting or programming languages, like Python or C++?
For effects technical director, I would say it’s not required but definitely a plus. I don’t usually have a development project as my main task. They usually start as a side project during production as needed, and I sometimes spend some time improving it in down time. I like this approach because I can always start from a problem.
Programming language is a powerful tool. More and more softwares offer some kind of programming environment. Python became almost universal scripting language for a lot of graphic applications. C++ is the language that you can write plug-in with for most software. You don’t have to be an expert of language. Even if you know little, I think it still can make your life much better.
Your area of expertise seems to be particles, water, smoke, debris, etc. Little tiny details. How is the process to make things life-like?
Reference is critical, and choosing what to steal from the reference is more important. When I see a beautiful image, I try to find why I feel this image is beautiful. There must be something that makes this image different from the other images, and I try to identify and duplicate it in my work. That initial direction is more than half of work. There are cases where you can’t find a reference like magic or something that nobody has seen. They also need to be believable. You can’t just ignore the force of gravity and basic law of physics even if they don’t exist in real life. I try to find a closest reference in those cases.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
I like Korean director Lee Chang-dong and Hong Sang-su. The Secret Sunshine by Lee Chang-dong was especially great.
Are you able to talk about Finding Dory? As the Technical Director, what kind of effects are you and your team doing to progress realistic water simulations? Any stand out scenes you’re excited about?
Sorry, I can’t talk about it. It is confidential. – I love to say this actually. This is one of the parts that I like about working at a well known place. I feel like I’m hiding something amazing. Yes, it is going to be amazing.
[Laughs] Fair enough. How important is it to be familiar with compositing software? Does knowing how your effects will be composited into a shot change the way you set up simulations?
It depends on artist’s working style. If you are asking me about my working style, it is absolutely important. Compositing is the backbone of my work. I always create my own effects comp as complete as I can. I use the comp to make a decision on what kind of pass I need to create. I usually have no idea how many passes I’m going to create in the beginning of the process. I change my simulation set up a lot based on the comp. At Pixar, effects technical directors are not expected to make a comp for the final image, but I still use my own comp for my own preview and give lighting artist my comp as starting point for my elements.
What’s the most common mistake you see young effects artists making and what advice do you have for them?
First pretty image, and then creative process. I see few people who can do really interesting and complicated things in their process, but unfortunately, their works are not getting enough attention just because the final images look boring. Audiences including computer graphic experts see pretty image and then wonder how it’s made. If they fail to get attention in the beginning, there is no chance to show off the process. In another word, getting attention as an image is the most basic goal of the process which many young artists often forget.
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This week we feature Nobumichi Asai who is a Japanese digital artist and leader in projection mapping technology. What exactly is Project OMOTE? Well, projecting computer graphics onto buildings to make them digitally come alive isn’t new, but how about if your canvas is a living, moving, human face? OMOTE does just that, a combination of real-time face tracking and projection mapping that takes a model’s face and turns it into something far more mesmerizing, even as it moves around. Asai is staging a live demonstration of his technology in Tokyo on August 28, 2014. The event is free but space is limited. You need to sign up for the raffle to win a spot. In the meantime he answers a series of questions about the project. Read the Q&A below…
What is the purpose of the work?
I am always thinking how we can use high-technology to invent new entertainment. The theme of this work is our root of Japanese traditional mind. I wanted to express the mixture of Japanese sense of beauty, spirit of samurai, the environment of high-tech, and subdividing Otaku-culture. And when I have seen the face mapping from samsung before, I thought I could be able to make it more interesting. The reason that I chosen “face” as the screen was that I’ve been very interested in face as media. Faces are the most sensitive and powerful media. With a difference of lip colors or eye lines, faces completely changes. I’ve been very curious to see new type of expression when we can control the impression of faces.
What is “OMOTE”?
We use projection mapping to put CGI onto a real face. For real-time face tracking, we use the IR sensor, called Opti track. It is similar to kinect, but it can react to movement faster and more accurate. Opti track is the best when we need the accuracy of movement and details like face. The all programming was written in C++, and it reduced the latency very well. Paul, French member of our team, showed his exclusive skills on programming.
From where did you get the inspiration?
I am inspired of the artists that I watched in my childhood. Bjork or Steven Spielberg in particular.
Do you have any plans for the next work?
I want to make some work which can be received in general. I am believing that technology has a possibility to bring us to express universal beauty.
Now your work is getting popular through the world. How do you feel about that?
I am very happy and excited. I didn’t make this not only for commercial, but I wanted to pursuit the way of art. And now, I am very happy to share it.
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Hye Jin Chung is a New York based Korean illustrator. She was born in Singapore and has lived in several countries before settling down in New York. She received her MFA degree in the Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2013! We sit and chat about how to deal with clients, education, films, food and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
Moving and living in various countries before settling down in New York; was that to find a place that suited you or were those decisions out of your control?
I lived in different countries because of my father’s business.
Would you say formal education in Korea is beneficial to your career? Is there a big difference in how people approach graphic design in Korea compared to the U.S.?
I studied graphic design in Korea and I’d been getting design and illustration jobs since my graduation. My interest toward illustration had grown more and more but i realized that the illustration market in Korea was small and also history of illustration was not that long compare to some other countries so I decided to study abroad to learn more about illustration and its field. And because the illustration history in America is longer and the market is bigger than Korea so it seems people in general appreciate illustration more. I would say that the basic ideas of graphic design I learned in Korea somehow help create images. For example, I learned how to make images strong and well to convey the idea with using simple graphics and that idea still works when I create illustrations.
New York must be a stressful place to be a creative. What was it like when you first arrived?
People are very competitive and everything moves quickly. But it’s the same as Korea so I had less hard time to fit myself into the life of new york. In a career wise it is stressful but also very motivated at the same time because there are so many talented people who dedicate themselves to their jobs.
Do you experience any bounding boxes of creativity when doing illustration work for major publications? Is it sometimes a restrictive environment?
Yes I do. For instance, some magazines prefer bright colors with cheerful images and newspapers don’t want to express races. These conditions don’t help create images freely but sometimes I can get unexpected results which I like from these restrictions.
I love the ‘My Job’ series where you can effective illustrate someones profession from the neck up. What is the creative process like coming up with themes for work such as this?
That series of illustrations were part of my thesis project. The theme of my thesis was obsession and i created four series of images about OCD. I had a various(some of them were ridiculous) ideas about obsession. These ideas moved to another new ideas and this process eventually led me think about people’s occupations like experts in their jobs. There are so many different jobs and i picked/created unique/weird jobs which would be good for creating images.
You’re also well versed in adapting multiple mediums. When you were approached to doodle on umbrellas, what was your initial reaction?
Those umbrellas are for editors who visited Converse office for Fall 2014 Press Preview, so I tried to make patterns that doesn’t look too common but also considered people’s preferences. And I had a few tools to use (a few brushes, sponges, and a Converse shoe sole), so tried to make various patterns or images in a limited materials.
What is your favorite kimbap recipe?
Tuna kimbap and cheese kimbap! Don’t forget to roll them with sesame leaves.
Favorite Asian films?
There are many. Some of Korean movies I like are Memories of Murder, The Host, Snowpiercer, Nameless Gangster: Rules of The Time, The Chaser, King and the Clown and the list goes on and on. Some Japanese movies I like are Between Calm and Passion, Bayside Shakedown, Josee, The Tiger And The Fish, Honokaa Boy, Love Letter, etc.
What steps have you taken as a creative to effective evolve you way of conveying the idea or story well, visually through your art? Is it frustrating when your work is misinterpreted?
First I spend time for getting references. And then I do really quick thumbnail sketches when ideas come up. If I spend a lot of time for doing sketches, then I usually get lost what I initially wanted to draw. My sketches are super loose but when I do sketches for my clients, I try to make them neat. And then I scan my sketches and paint colors on photoshop and if I think I pick the right colors then I start to make the colors and apply on paper. I also make textures (because I don’t like just using flat color) and start to do collage.
When I work for clients I usually explain my ideas. It is sometimes bit frustrating when clients pick the sketch I don’t like but eventually I follow their opinions. And it is interesting to know when people interpret my work in their own ways. I feel like sometimes they understand my work more that I do.
Lastly, any advice for any creatives out there?
Keep making images you like and keep doing your personal work.
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Personal Website: hyejinchung.com
Eric Chow, a London-based illustrator from Hong Kong. After graduating from London College of Communication in 2012, he has been working as a graphic designer in London and building up his illustration collection at the same time. Recently, his illustration entry, The Lady Bridge, won the Bronze prize at Serco Prize 2014. He now marks the second employee working at I Love Dust in Portsmouth. Read below for the full Q&A…
Let’s go back a few years. What was your portfolio review like at London College of Communication? Were you a bit anxious about showcasing your work for the interview?
My portfolio was a bit messy at that time, i got different style of works and I didn’t know what I was looking for until few months after my graduation. Here are a few of my previous works that you cannot seen my website anymore.
A few years ago we interviewed I Love Dust’s first hire, cross-media creative Shan Jiang. What kind of creative presence do you bring to the environment there? What kind of project are you working on?
In I Love Dust, they know that I am pretty good at drawing and with good sense of perspective. They give me a lot of freedom on the way i work, and this really help me pushing my skills forward. I just finished an illustration for WWE magazine at I Love Dust.
Do you have strong ties to Hong Kong? Now that you’re away from there, can you see more clearly how it influenced the way you think?
Although i have a strong ties to Hong Kong, it’s hard to say how do my background influence my thinking. I may come up with more reference from asian culture when i am doing research, but i can’t think of anything else.
Alot of your work has negative space and you really know how to make a strong image without filling up all the space. What is your creative process for communicating a message through your art in the most impactful, yet accessible way?
I love using metaphor and surrealistic idea to communicate a message, mind-mapping and doodling will help when i can’t think about any idea. If i have a strong idea for a message, i prefer using limited amount of colours and less distractive elements to keep the picture clean.
You work as a designer but you excel in illustration. How are you balancing the two worlds while still improving as an artist?
I am trying not to define myself as a graphic designer anymore, because i feel much confident and comfortable just to be an illustrator. Narrowing down my portfolio can give me a better positioning in the industry, it’s also helpful for people to expect what kind of works i can deliver.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Edmond Pang is my favourite Hong Kong director in recent years, you can see lot of bizarre ideas and jokes from his works. I would recommend You Shoot I Shoot, Trivial Matters, Love In A Puff and Vulgaria. For anime, I am a big fans Hayao Miyazaki, i would say my favourite are Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.Neon Genesis Evangelion is also one of the best in my mind, i am looking forward to the final movie of the remake series.
What would a piece of yours look like if you opted out of sketching, mind-mapping and the quick brainstorming processes?
Sketching is quite important for me, I can’t imagine how my works will looks like if I opted it out.
What plans do you have for 2015?
I don’t have a very specific plan for next year, but I think i will stay at i love dust. Also, I will keep up on my self-initiated works and try some more animated Gif illustration in the future.
Lastly, any advice for any creative out there that could help them in their art?
Just work something out before planning or thinking too much. Work harder, keep sending out your works and be patient for the opportunities.
Intervewing Cun Shi couldn’t have came at a better time. He is literally at the cusp of stardom, in our opinions. He is a freelance illustrator currently based in New York City but was born in Beijing and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. This year, Cun received his MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts so we thought we’d pick his brain on what the journey was like, executing screen prints, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
Freelancing in NYC. Is that as hectic as it sounds?
Things can definitely get hectic when there are multiple assignments on the table. When I’m not working on commercial projects, I try to experiment and work on personal pieces instead. There is always work to be done.
How has the aid of formal education, in specific, your MFA, aided you (or how will it aid you in the future)?
It was absolutely tremendous. My background was primarily in painting and graphic design – pretty much two opposite ends of the spectrum. I was trying to figure out ways to combine the two and before the MFA program, my personal work was all over the place. I felt confused as to the kind of works I wanted to do and when I discovered illustration things started to change. The MFA program at The School of Visual Arts was structured in a way that encouraged exploration and experimentation through both short & long-term projects to help students produce a cohesive body of work. The courses themselves were quite open-ended and allowed me to really experiment and find a balance between different skill sets amongst a group of like-minded peers.
Based on your illustrations you seem to have a love for hip hop. What is one West Coast rapper you’d like to illustrate but haven’t had the opportunity to yet?
Tyler, The Creator would be a really fun rapper to illustrate. His personality combined with his lyrics presented in some kind of wacky, surreal visual narrative would make a great full-page editorial piece.
How does the sketching process help in your final pieces? Do you use them as jump off points, or just daily practice?
The sketching process acts as a place for dialogue, where I try to figure things out before they’re finalized. I also did quite a bit of figure drawing back in the days, but I feel like it’s never enough – and in that regard part of it becomes a daily practice in order to keep the limbs flexible so hopefully I won’t break an ankle on stage.
Really love your screen prints. Could you tell us a bit about your selection process how you choose screen printing over giclee’s, the unorthodox sizing of 13×24 and the small run sizes?
The series of prints that I recently did was a collaborative effort done with my buddy Dave Toto, who owns a small print studio right here in Brooklyn. The size of the image was dictated by the content from the start but I eventually decided to keep the edition small as it was an experiment at the time. Overall it was still a very time-consuming process but the finish was something that’s very difficult to achieve even with high-end digital prints. I’m not an expert by any means, but one of the big differences I noticed during test runs was that with giclee prints, the colors were very saturated but appeared flat even on the best photo rag paper. With screen prints, even though the pigments were mixed down and not as saturated, it had a wonderful density and texture, almost as if you could pick it up and eat it.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
One of my favorite anime is Blue Submarine No. 6, which I saw when it came out in ‘98. The story made quite an impression on me at the time and the overall color palette was really beautiful. I also really enjoy old films by Zhang Yimou, who directed Hero. There is always a very complex, yet subtle level of interaction going on between the characters in his work that can get fairly heavy at times, but never dull. Much of his early work (pre-2000) are about desperate people struggling on the edge and some were banned in China when they first came out.
Some of your work even addresses current event such as Alibaba’s dominance of online retail in China, which faces its biggest-ever challenge. They lost market share last year while its nearest rivals all grew! How do you go about tailoring your style to do unique editorial illustrations?
It depends mainly on the article I’m illustrating and also the client. Sometimes the art director is very specific about what he/she wants, and in that case it’s more about bringing the idea to fruition visually. But on the other hand, if I’m asked for me to present ideas, I try and figure out a way to connect with the article on a personal level – even if the subject at hand is not something I’m interested in. I haven’t been in the industry long enough to be considered a true veteran, but from my experiences so far, a big part of editorial illustration is about problem solving and there are always multiple solutions to a problem. However, the most unique ideas often stem from something that is personal, and ultimately, the goal is to create a beautiful image that will hopefully evoke some kind of emotional response from the audience and make you want to look at it.
Do you ever feel a restriction in content or creativity doing work for such large companies where thousands and thousands of eyes will see it?
There are restrictions to every assignment, and some assignments certainly have restrictions that are slightly more conservative towards the results than others. I’d still hope to be expressive and push the envelope visually within acceptable limitations, but it’s always great to receive a job that allows plenty of creative freedom.
What lies ahead for you this year and in the coming new year?
For now, I’ve been working to expand the previous series of screen prints, as there are still quite a few ideas tucked away that needs to be brought out on paper.
Lastly, any advice for any bumbling creative out there?
One of the most important thing I learned during the MFA program is that there is a big difference between the work I thought I should do versus the kind of work I actually wanted to do. I suppose it’s a bit of a paradox… but doing the work I thought I should got me absolutely nowhere as a creative individual.
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