Stasia Burrington (born Stasia Kato) is a freelance illustrator, sequential and fine artist who is currently living in Seattle, WA. Her passions lie in the visual arts – in all forms, experimental cooking, camping, theology and science fiction, among others. Washy drawings covered in flowers… flowers that happen to be hand-cut from quilt fabric, which are then glued on, resembling tattoos, gardens, or scars. Needless to say, her work is gorgeous. I had a chance to catch up with her to discuss a variety of topics. Read below for the full Q&A…
How does theology translate in your art and vice versa? Are their religious undertones in your work?
If anything, I lean towards Zen Buddhism. I can’t remember where I read it, but I stumbled across the words: “Love and Curiosity are enough,” and that sounds good to me. I believe in personal religion, in seeking out your own truth, and for me, creating work and seeing the work of others is a way of exploring, recognizing our patterns and shedding our skins.
Taking it one step further, some of your pieces contain hand-cut quilt fabric which is then placed over an illustration. Will there be eventual branching out or will you stick to a feminine look and feel?
On a recent trip to the fabric store, I was feeling adventurous and bought some swatches covered in bacon and hotdogs. I cut some out and arranged them on a drawing, and – wow. It was really bad. But I love both bacon and hot dogs, and am going to find a way to incorporate them!
Now, I know there’s a way to make work less feminine without going whole hog [laughs], so I’ll take it slowly. I am starting to incorporate more male models into my work, but I still love the delicate feel of the fabric and the flowers.
What brought upon using multiple mediums in one piece?
Originally, my frustration with paint, and my desire for more color and texture. Now, because it’s an interesting constraint with which to work, and lets me focus on composition.
Your store front provides a rich assortment of goodies. As a creative how do you achieve balance tackling so many projects? Shirts, cards, art, etc! How do you find the time?!
Besides creating, I don’t many hobbies [laughs], so my work is my life, and making things is what I do for fun. Also, I get special requests all the time, and I live to please.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Oh, it’s a long list: Films: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. OldBoy (and Lady Vengeance, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), Dolls, A Tale of Two Sisters, Lust Caution, Grave of the Fireflies, Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind.
As for anime, I did love Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z growing up. I don’t watch a ton anymore but Mushishi is pretty good, and pretty pretty. I also have a sweet spot for these TV series: Nodame Cantabile and Suika. So romantic and bittersweet!
In 2014, you came out the gate strong! What was is like participating in so many group shows so early into the year?
Crazy, really. Though I can’t complain! Deadlines are very motivating for creating new work. That’s why I wait till the last minute! Early January 2014 sucked, actually – as busy as I was, I came down with the first flu I’ve had in over… 20 years? Yikes! So for a few days I was really crabby and miserable but still really psyched about the amazing shows in which I got to take part.
As an artist how do you evoke a viewer to feel inspired by curiosity and allow themselves to reflect on themselves by looking upon your work?
Most of my work figures a single figure, either with her face obscured or very simplified. The figure is an invitation for the viewer to step inside and inhabit the space for a moment. I mimic childrens book illustration, though don’t include a complete story, encouraging you to put the pieces together, or make up part of the story yourself. That way, you are also the author.
As a freelancer, is this lifestyle what you prefer over the stability of a full time illustrator? What luxuries does this afford you?
I love being my own boss! I enjoy not having to run things by anyone else before making decisions. I can take the day off if I feel like it, and choose which projects I want to take on. I sleep in and stay up late, and meet and get to talk to and work with the most interesting, creative and passionate people.
Your floral tattoo patterns are quite amazing. Any tattoos yourself?
Ah, thank you. No, not yet. I’m saving up for a full bodysuit – and those are expensive [laughs]!
I really love your Double Amputee piece. Has there ever been a piece that you started that was so emotionally hard hitting and draining that you weren’t able to complete it? Or perhaps you had to go back and revisit it at a later date?
Those usually don’t make it out of my sketchbook. One of my more recent pieces, “Twice” – I created specifically for a group show about love and heartbreak. All pieces were meant to be titled after a song, and the song I chose is by Little Dragon and is a sad, lonely one. I put off even starting on the piece for a long time. When I did, I painted the back of a woman’s body, and left an empty gap behind her. I hung the piece up on the wall and stared at the absence for a long time. My habit is to fill up the space with flowers or pattern, but for this piece that didn’t feel right – I really wanted to show how bad it feels to miss someone. I was running out of time and could have stared at the emptiness for ages, but I finally grabbed my Xacto and started cutting strips out of the space, and into her body. I was pretty emotional and felt like this decision might ruin the piece, but so what. While cutting I realized how missing someone is deeper than a merely them being gone, it’s like a vacuum – it’s more active than passive.
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Junko Fujiyama is a Japanese singer/songwriter, who lives in NC and performs all over the United States. She has worked with several local bands (Fujiyama Roll etc.) as the lead singer and has also become a solo performer. JUNKO’s original songs can be described as J-rock and J-pop blended together. They are powerful, delicate, intricate and intriguing. She also covers J-pop/rock and anime themed songs, adding some American pop flavor and makes them even sweeter! Shaine got a chance to catch up with her and ask her a variety of questions. Read below for the full Q&A…
You are an amazing piano player. Can you describe the first time you perfected a song on piano?
Thank you for the kind words, but I’ve never thought I was able to play perfectly. There’s always room for improvement!
What was it about the piano that made you want to learn to play the instrument?
My parents forced me to take piano lesson, but I really liked the sound of piano and you can play deep notes and high notes at the same time so I wanted to keep on learning the piano.
You’ve been in a few bands and of course play solo as well. What’s the biggest difference between playing solo and playing in a band?
Actually, I really love to play in a band, because band can sound more full and you can rock out to the band’s performance. On top of that, when I play in a band I can sing and dance! (When I play solo I have to play piano and sing at the same time!) BUT, finding the right band members is really hard. There are lots of great musicians, but finding someone who lives close to you and has the same taste in music and has the same level of enthusiasm is really hard. If I find the right person, I’d love to play in a band anytime! My former band members moved to Japan a few years ago…..I still miss them.
What’s your reasoning on covering a certain song? Is it because you love it or are there more factors at play?
I usually try to cover the songs that are popular in the US and go well with my voice. Of course, I choose songs that I love!
Tell us about your inspirations for your original compositions? What do you like to sing about?
I usually sing about what I feel at that time. Like…When I am sad I write a sad song, when I’m determined I write an inspirational song.
You are a popular guest at anime conventions. Any crazy convention stories you’d like to share with us?
I don’t drink before/during the performance, but after the performance, I feel relieved and usually drink with other guests and staff and go to the rave with them. At IKKiCON, which is one of my favorite cons, I was so excited at the rave and danced on the stage then fell off and hit my tail bone really hard!! I’m trying not to drink too much after that!
What are some of your favorite Asian films and anime?
Naruto (My most favorite right now), Spirited Away, Attack on Titan, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, etc. etc…… there are many of them!
Everyone has their reasons for playing music. What are your personal goals for playing music to a crowd?
I always try to express myself through my music/performance so if everyone who sees me perform can feel my emotion, I will be very happy.
The music scene is different anywhere you go around the world. How different is the music scene in America as compared to your native Japan?
In Japan, the music genres are more distinct and very different from each other. For example, visual kei is very different from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and music artists usually stick to one type of genre. In America, music artists sometimes experiment in a different genre and try new concepts as well.
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Kaiji Tang is a man of many voices who has done voiceover work for some of your favorite video games like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Fire Emblem: Awakening and Dynasty Warriors to name a few. Kaiji talks to us about his theatrical background, the challenges he’s faced doing voiceover and why he loves going to conventions. Read below for the full interview.
How did your acting career get started? Any embarrassing experiences that you would like to share?
I came from eight years worth of theatrical training before I even moved to Los Angeles! Acting was something I knew I wanted to do since the beginning of highschool, so I bunkered down and studied as much as I could about it before I ever made the transition into career-mode. For the first year or so I did on screen commercial acting. I think you can still find one of my old Garmin GPS commercials on Youtube. After that I got a call to do this podcast for a dubbing company. Some time later I got a call from said studio inviting me in to do some voices for a show! Now here’s where the embarrassing story comes in…when I went to do the thing, I had no idea I was recording for an actual show. I thought I was auditioning for something. So I came out and was like, “Oh, was that an audition for (soandsoshow)?” and they were like, “Uhh…dude we just recorded an episode or two.” So yeah, at that point I had little to no idea how voice over even worked.
How would you describe your creative process for each role you take?
Everyone has their own acting methods! Like in MMA, you steal the parts from various techniques and styles that work best for you. Personally I believe you’ve gotta be in touch with who you are before you step into anyone else’s shoes. Once you’re comfortable enough and true enough to you, you’ll have a much easier time trying on someone else’s life. And I use the costume metaphor a lot when I talk about acting. To me, I’m sliding a costume on. Now this costume can look more or less like what I wear every day, or it can be outlandish and alien looking. But underneath it all, I’m still there. The costume and I become one thing, we do what we do and I hang it up when I’m finished. Creating characters for me is like a weaver creating a series of these costumes. The best part? You never have to get rid of any of them. You just hang them up until you need them again.
What was your biggest challenge while in the booth?
The biggest challenges usually don’t come from the acting itself, but the physical parts where you have to scream for four hours straight. That’s killer on the body. You’d think getting beat up by Batman over and over again would be fun! And it is! …For the first hour. And then when you’re on your third hour you’re just thinking to yourself, “Please God, don’t let me pitch over and collapse on the mic. Please, please God…don’t let me soil myself…or vomit on the director…”
There are a lot of so-called tips and tricks into becoming an actor. Do you think acting is something that can be taught or is it something that comes naturally?
There are a few golden people who are just naturally gifted with talent who never have to take an acting class in their lives. That being said, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll ever work either. You can be super naturally endowed with talent and still not know the technical bits of acting we need to succeed. Where do you put your body, how do you find your light, where can you be on a mic, where and how do you cross the stage in this scene to make the blocking not a nightmare on your director, how much you can actually move when you’re on camera, what to do to get rid of all those disgusting mouth noises you never knew you had but that’s now being picked up by the super powerful mic in front of you, etc. These are all things an education can teach you. So even if acting comes as naturally to you as breathing, I’d still recommend you take some classes.
The video game landscape has changed dramatically over the course of 20+ years. For you personally, how has it changed for you from the time you started as an active participant to the present day?
Being an avid gamer, I couldn’t be happier with where video games are headed. I always believed and continue to believe video games are amazing story telling devices. When I started doing voice work, gaming had already entered the era where people recognized it could be something different and ground breaking. The writing has gotten better and better ( in most cases anyway ) which is an absolute treat for us actors bringing the characters to life. Yes there will always be the “GET DOWN!” and “GRENADE!” lines, but there are also fully fleshed out lives and experiences we can play with now. It’s awesome. And I hope it continues to evolve into something even more special.
You said in a recent Facebook post that people aren’t any “easier” to offend these days. With social media being the forefront of today’s communication, why do you think that is?
This came from a discussion about offensive humor and if people were more sensitive now than before. And, no, I don’t think they are! The difference between being offended today and being offended, let’s say 10 years ago, is the absolute and near anonymous ease at which you can call someone out for being a jerk. News flash! People have ALWAYS been offended as much as they are today. But they didn’t have these smart phones and the ease of Wifi and Twitter and Tumblr and all these other forms of social media. If anything, people feel more entitled to SHARE their opinions when 10 years ago they might have not. Like it or not, people are held far more accountable these days for their words and actions. Because people will know about it! Share one opinion on the net and everyone knows! Now expecting people to just accept what you said without sharing their own opinion is a little naive. If someone’s offended, they don’t have to write you a letter, call you on the phone, etc. All they have to do is whip out Twitter and type in, “ur a dick“. Easy.
What’s your take on video games being blamed for acts of real life violence? Is it just an easy target for blame or is there something more to the story?
It’s absolute garbage. It’s ridiculous. Why not get rid of all media, all books, all movies? There’s been violence in fiction since we told stories around a campfire. There were wars fought over what was written in a book but you don’t see us banning religion.
What are some of your favorite Asian films and anime?
I’ll list some recent stuff I’m really into. For films, the Ip Man series is wonderful. And if you dig more Donnie Yen stuff, there’s also Dragon! And if you’re a fan of horror check out Dumplings too. These are all on Netflix. As for anime, a recent favorite is Sword Art Online! As a huge gamer, I thought it was a really creative take on MMO’s.
You go to a lot of conventions. Can you tell us about some crazy encounters with fans?
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ve had nothing but amazing experiences with fans at conventions! Usually people are super cool to talk to. Also they’ll always know where to point you if you’re looking for merchandise related to characters you’ve played. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to fans and, half way through, asked them “Oh hey! I’m looking for a tiny key chain thing of (insertcharacter), do you know where I can get one?” And 100% of the time so far they’ve answered “YEAH! Let me show you!” So that’s super helpful and I bow to their superior con knowledge.
What are some words of wisdom you want to share for those who want to experience a successful and fruitful life?
Chase your dreams. Do the very best you can to achieve them. Life is short and we don’t know what happens after that. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should live your life. Do what you love.
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Pat Lok is a man (producer) of great taste but he is also a musical wizard. His tunes are right up my alley and I just had to feature him on the website today. He has unveiled the accompanying video to his track ‘Move Slow’, which we talk in-depth about and also we get his take on the new Oldboy (but we end up just talking about the classic), and the types of women he likes. Yup, it gets feelsy up in here. Read below for the full Q&A…
Ok let’s talk production. What is your mindset when collaborating, making sure your style and another artists style blends together?
When working with others creatively the first thing you need is a large bottle of Jameson. If no whiskey is available, a pot of tea will do, just steal the good stuff from your roommate. It’s important to get on the same vibe, give and take a bit, and be open to whatever happens. Kind of like your first time at an orgy I guess. After I record the vocals, such as on Move Slow and Same Hearts then I just screw around with various effects and chop the samples up to make them fit more cohesively.
Could you tell us a bit about the ‘Move Slow’ video and how the topic of superstitutions interested you enough to surround the basis of the video around it?
The visual concept behind Move Slow was suggested by this amazing dancer/choreographer/director named Jen Oleksiuk. I’m totally butchering this story, but she was involved in a theatre production that had some unlucky mishaps on the first night of performance. To cleanse the theatre of bad vibage (or whatever the technical term), the cast members sat in a circle and conducted a seance-type interpretive ritual with roses and suddenly the idea came to her, like a thunderbolt or the apple dropping on Sir Isaac Newton’s head I imagine… I’m very happy with how the video turned out, everyone involved in the production was so talented and professional.
A standout point for me was listening to your song with Bear Mountain where in the middle of the song you change up the tempo and introduce a breakdown. It sounds like a simple beat but I hear complex sounds and instrumentals in the background. How do you achieve such a balance?
You could say I like my music like I like my women, a little weird, quirky… and loud. Kind of like experimental film scores minus the wanky artsy aesthetic. Anyway, Ian (Bear Mountain) has such a unique and bright vocal tone I wanted to offset that with something distinct that still made sense musically. The instruments I used in the breakdown are actually fairly commonplace (hint: think 90s) so maybe what you’re describing is how the sounds were processed and layered with pitched claps.
Producers like Will.I.Am, Pharrell and others are using their success to create clothing lines and other things. Do you see the BIG picture in the same vein or are you just focused on your music?
It’s a shame but I am myopic and can’t see past finishing a tune and choosing what snacks to stuff in my face. My goal is just to write music that doesn’t make me want to jump off a bridge. But it is interesting that you mentioned one of my heroes and one of most loathed people in music in the same sentence! Did you know that Pharrell has a songwriting (or producer) credit on everyone’s favorite booty track Wreckx-N-Effect – Rumpshaker? I think he was in high school at the time when Teddy Riley (of Blackstreet) discovered him.
What did you think of the Oldboy remake versus the original South Korean version?
I knew you were going to ask about this! I haven’t seen the Hollywood version. Strangely I re-watched the original a couple days ago for the first time in years, and it was still so fresh and hilarious. My friend hadn’t seen it before and she thought it was the greatest movie she’d ever seen. I don’t have high expectations for the remake. That reminds me I need to rewatch Lady Vengeance from that trilogy too.
You had some birthday woes a few months ago about getting older and still people proclaim you to be an ‘up and comer’. What struggles do you face with that notion and do you feel you are behind the curve?
Woah, it’s getting all feelsy up in here. Put it this way, James Murphy is 87,000 years old and still pretty much on top of the game, and he released his first album LCD Soundsystem at the young age of 59. #neverforget
Your original tracks have been awesome, but you’ve gained so many fans and media attention based on your remixes…. What is your process in deciding what song you want to remix & why?
Thanks for supporting the originals! That means a lot to me, because for original stuff there’s no famous celebrity like a Beyonce or a Katy Perry or a Lance Bass to piggyback off. Those bootlegs were the fastest tracks I have ever written, maybe because they were just fun DJ versions of songs that I already loved. I guess that’s my criteria when picking something to remix, a song that I listen to on repeat anyway. The positive feedback you mention was totally surprising and I’m very grateful, but I’m not going to sit down and try to replicate that.
Who would you love to remix one of your own original songs?
This one changes year to year but right now I’d say Cashmere Cat. Him or C+C Music Factory. Those guys were awesome and made a lot of great house records outside of the songs most people know.
Do you have any advice for aspiring producers?
Make shit every day. Other than that, figure out what you’re good at and how you like to work… don’t worry what other people are using, hardware vs software, that’s a waste of time. Creatively, listen to all kinds of music and figure out what you like or why it works. It can be very helpful to have a couple people to give you critical feedback (not “this shit is amazing”) although others will disagree. Don’t be scared to Google how to do things you don’t understand. Make friends with people smarter than you and put your ego away. These are kind of overarching life lessons, I guess, maybe I should become a life coach?! Do you know anyone that needs one?
[Laughs] OK, to wrap things up, do you feel there is a bias in EDM music today where people favor vocals over straight production tunes? Do you have a particular stance on that?
I read that vocals are the most relatable instrument, maybe your listener never played the violin or guitar but everyone has hummed their favorite song. So it is definitely easier to make something memorable with lyrics or at least a vocal hook. That said, all respect to producers and musicians who can write killer instrumentals. My track “Remember” was kind of an attempt in that regard.
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Naomi Okubo is painter from Tokyo, Japan who is heavily influenced by fashion. Her paintings have a sense of decoration, where patterns camouflage in lush and bizarre beautiful combinations. The subject matter is also presented in a very peculiar, non-traditional aspect where composition is portrayed in a rather unexpected tasteful approach. We sat down and talked with her about a variety of topics. Read the full interview below…
When viewing your work, my eyes immediately gravitate towards your pattern work. Whether it be curtains or a shirt or a bedspread. Could you tell me how this element plays an important part in your work?
I always use lot of pattern. Pattern can camouflage with person and background of my painting. I wish, when someone looks my painting, they want to look at every corner of my painting by the pattern.
How do you yourself view fashion? Is it significant to you or do you just use your art as a means to express yourself?
Fashion is very important for me. I created my image by fashion. I think, a lot of people did the same things when they were in adolescent time. Fashion has two conflicted aspects; one side is to assert oneself: the other side is to harmonize oneself to the society. In Japan, harmonization is more important than assertion.
How do you achieve a balance of having such detailed work but making sure it doesn’t become too cluttered or over-crowded?
Frequently, someone said the same thing, but I don’t know what I can do. I naturally did that. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of colorful and decorative clothes, and always choose various combinations when I dress.
Do you purposely go for that camouflage and/or ‘flat’ painting look?
Yes, I do.
What should other people learn by looking at your work? Should they open up their eyes to how society was and is currently by giving them a new perspective?
I express problems of society, so yes, If I could give people a new perspective, I’m so happy. On the other side, I express that through some small desire or uneasiness of girls. I want to pick up such small emotions at the huge world of art.
If I asked you to create art based on society in the West, how would it differ then your works currently. What is your view/opinion of society East vs West?
I was influenced by Western culture naturally, so I don’t think East vs West. But I’m not Western. Japanese have big complex for Western and European. That is important for my creating.
What are your favorite Asian films?
I wasn’t influenced directly from studio GHIBLI’s animation, but I love these movies so much. Other favorite film is ”Oasis” (Korean directer: Lee Chang-dong) and ”Still Walking” (Japanese directer: Hirokazu Kore-eda).
If we focus on the very subjects of your work, you paint faceless females. Could you tell us a bit about that aspect and the significance of it?
I don’t want, people know who are they (the character of my painting), what they are thinking. They are all me, but I think they are every people in my painting. Because If I talk with you, I talk with your image that is inside me at same time. It means, I think, I talk with you and myself. That is why I depict a faceless person at my paintings. It is reality for me.
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Nobuhiro Yamashita is one of the biggest names in Japan’s indie movie scene. He rose to fame with his ‘slacker’ films in the mid-90s and ever since has gotten involved with bigger and bigger productions, while always maintaining the heart of his earlier indie films. He is probably best known for 2005’s Linda Linda Linda, some of his other notable films being Ramblers (2003), A Gentle Breeze in the Village (2007), My Back Page (2011), and Drudgery Train (2012). His most recent work is Tamako in Moratorium, centered around AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda. We met up with him in Rotterdam to ask him about his new film and his career in general.
First of all, for those who haven’t seen the film yet, could you give a short introduction in your own words?
It’s difficult [laughs]. It’s basically a film that expresses the feeling of a daily life where nothing special actually happens.
I actually had to look up the word ‘moratorium’ from the title, why did you choose this phrasing?
It’s a word that is somewhat regular in Japan, especially among the older generation. It used to have a bit of negative association like ‘not doing anything’. But when the youth uses it it’s often less negative. There is actually an idol who used it in a song title recently.
You have been making films for an impressive 15 years now, what have been the main changes for you in this period?
This must be about the 11th circle. The way of making this film was a lot like my very first. In my student age I would make films like “Oh that person is interesting, let’s do something with that”, but after that most films followed a more standard production process. But now, as my official assignment was actually “Do something with Maeda Atsuko”, I unconsciously got back to my older ways.
My Back Page was a very heavy and serious film, but it seems like you are back to making more light-hearted films again. What have been your main motivations for choosing your projects recently?
I’m looking back at my individual career as a director. My Back Page film was actually kind of hurtful to make for me. I usually want to make ‘my’ movies, movies which make you laugh, so My Back Page truly required a different skill set. It was a real challenge.
After making ‘A Gentle Breeze in the Village’ in 2007, you started getting involved with television projects, and then returned to film making with My Back Page and Kueki Ressha. Could you say something about the difference between working on a TV project and a film?
I consider myself more of a film director. But I did do TV shows, commercials, and music videos just to try out new things and challenge myself. I then take these experiences with me when I return to filmmaking. Plus it brings in money [laughs].
And this film was initially supposed to be a television project too right?
Yes it started out as an assignment to use Maeda Atsuko for a TV project. We came up with the idea of seasons so then we shot her essentially doing nothing for the autumn and winter seasons, these two were already broadcast right away so when we saw these we realize talk about money.
Is this film perhaps also a kind of commentary on youth problems of unemployment like NEET and hikikomori?
No that wasn´t the purpose at all. The main idea behind the film was just showing this pop idol as a very normal person, also by showing some bad sides. And since my own wife has a similar lifestyle I don´t view it as a problem but more as a bit cute. I can imagine some people might perceive the movie to be about such societal problems but that wasn´t the focus of this project. In my previous films I also had similar characters, women just lying around being lazy. It´s something I like to see and that´s why I put it in my movies. It might be my fetish [laughs].
This was your second time working with Maeda Atsuko, her acting career really seems to be taking off, there is even another movie of hers playing at this festival. What was it like working with her?
Her career is still starting of course, and that´s kind of what´s attractive about her, that she´s not fully formed yet as an actress. That makes her interesting, and that also makes Tamako as a film in her career very interesting. She changes a lot depending on the director, she is still very flexible, so I think she should try out many different projects. She has a lot of people around her to help her, which is important.
After the initial credits there is a quick omake of her sleeping on set, which was pretty funny, didn’t she mind that you left this in?
Actually her agency was doubting this for a bit, thinking about her image, but thanks to our convincing producer they allowed it.
What’s in store for the future, are there any projects you a currently working on?
I´m working on two movies. One is another project with an idol. The other is a movie about singing. So with a bit of luck I´ll have two movies coming out next year. Also in between I will work on a TV show.
Andy Hau is an Architect exploring the unexpected results created from the interface between Architecture and Graphic Design. His ambition has led him to open up A.H.A. Design Ltd was established with the intention of creating a more tailored design experience that offers a closer collaboration with his clients, who are involved from concept stage through to delivery. In a short time since the companies inception, he has already worked with some high profile clients including Imogen Heap, Photoshop Creative, Bottleneck Gallery and Hero Complex Gallery, which he showed work this past weekend. We talk about a variety of topics! Read the full Q&A below…
Growing up in a small town you told me you had some insecurities about who you were. Did that bleed over into becoming a designer in your early years? Was it a struggle to branch out?
I think growing up in a small town in England is difficult for most people of Asian descent, certainly for people of my generation, not because of any deep-seated prejudices (which I certainly didn’t experience whilst I was growing up) but because you are almost caught in a cultural limbo – a participant in both societies yet belonging to neither. It always makes me laugh when I’m asked “Where are you from?” because when I respond “England”, the response is always, “No, but where are you REALLY from?” – as though being born and raised in England isn’t quite enough to give you the cachet of calling yourself English. On the other side of the coin, despite appearances, it is sometimes difficult for people of your own heritage to relate to you because your cultural ideals are so at odds with their own. Rejected on both sides, you end up forging your own culture – a set of ideals pieced together from the fragments created on the battlefield between both societies. As a creative person, I have an almost masochistic propensity to over-think but despite this, I have never had a crisis of identity – I always knew who I was and what I stood for – it was more of a conflict between how both cultures could be redistributed to sit harmoniously with each other.
Has your ethnicity played a role in your work over these years?
My ethnicity has certainly helped to shape my work ethic. When my parents came over to England in the 1980’s, there were many prejudices (both real and self-perceived) against people of different ethnicities. As a result, I was always taught to believe that in order to get the same opportunities as everyone else, I had to work twice as hard. My parents never entertained the concept of “entitlement” or “that’s not fair” and we were always told that trying your hardest in something didn’t necessarily get you what you deserved. We live in a very different world now but it is this strange oxymoron of migrant self-pity empowerment that still motivates me to action. Being exposed to two different cultures has also given me a very different sensibility on aesthetics and has helped me to question what good design really is. However, I have never made a point of marketing myself as a designer of a different ethnicity because I really don’t feel it’s necessary. A designer should be chosen because they are the best person for the project, not because their nationality happens to fulfill a certain quota.
What did your late mother think about your career as a designer and how do you think she would feel about your progression 10 years later?
My mother was a very creative person and picked up new things impossibly quickly. She famously learnt how to knit just by watching a woman for a few minutes whilst she was waiting for the number 73 bus. As children, we were always encouraged to be creative and to make things around the house and so she was always very supportive about my desire to become an Architect. 10 years on, if she were still alive, I have no doubts that she’d be beside herself with worry about me starting my own design company (as all parents invariably are) but also – I hope – extremely happy to see that all her hard work paid off.
Looking at what you’ve learned in your 20s it seems it mostly dealt with growth, maturity, and a stronger mindset. As someone who has grown as an individual do you look to migrate away from group shows and collaborations and start showcasing your work solo?
One of my favorite things to do as a designer is to collaborate with other designers. I find the whole design process and culmination of different design visions incredibly exhilarating and rewarding. I have been very lucky to have been able to collaborate with a whole host of designers, from illustrators to animators, and I love the fact that the end product is always something truly unexpected which neither party could have produced on their own. It’s true to say that I have also had collaborations that have ended in complete disaster but that hasn’t put me off the process of collaborating – just to collaborate with better people!
As much as I love collaborating and group shows, there is something undeniably gratifying about showcasing your own work too. I think all designers have an ego – you have to have one, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to design and advise clients. It’s a case of keeping your ego in check, whether it designing on your own or with other people. Ego is not necessarily always a bad thing, it gives you the power of conviction and a belief that you can do anything – which good design requires. The creative industry is often seen as being somewhat frivolous but actually, inside every designer beats the heart of a soldier. When you design, you expose a part of your soul and you reveal your core beliefs. To willingly open yourself up to a baying arena to be judged and criticised takes an incredible amount of guts and the courage of cavalry charge.
You are a creative with multiple disciplines. It seems independence is an objective of all accessibility and inclusion design strategies. Do you think architecture knowledge can help a designer with his form and function?
I think a creative vision transcends the media and the discipline that it is created in. In many cases, there is also a very practical synergy that exists between different creative disciplines. For example, Architecture and Product Design relies on the designer being able to be understood through visual representation even when they are not there to explain the idea and this is where the Graphic Design element is crucial. In my mind, these design disciplines are not mutually exclusive and I chase Architecture, Product Design and Graphic Design with the same amount of passion and vigour. Architecture has provided me with much of the technical knowledge that I have needed to become a multidisciplinary designer but has also no doubt informed many of my life choices, from the way I dress to the core values that I have as a designer.
Homeowners remodel their houses for a myriad of reasons. Andy, in your opinion, what is the meaningful force beyond a substantial renovation?
The mistake that most people make when remodelling their house is that they do not understand why they are doing it. Remodelling a house to live in personally and remodelling a house to rent out or sell are very different prospects and affect the design decisions that are made. Too often, people who are trying to make a profit from their properties treat their renovation project as almost a showcase of their own personal style and tastes when in fact the property should be trying to appeal to a wide demographic. Equally, I have also seen people who are building a life home who try to cut corners and compromise on critical design decisions, which heavily impact on the way that they use the space. Each type of renovation brings about its own challenges but you need to recognize the reason behind the renovation in the first place in order to resolve those challenges appropriately and successfully.
What has proved to be a defining watershed moment for yourself which was a direct result from your artwork?
I think the most pivotal moment in my career so far must be when the Financial Times called our design for Gabby Young and Other Animals’ album packaging “this year’s most beautifully designed CD packaging”. As designers, we are often doomed to a life dominated by doubt (is this the correct design solution for the brief, will my client like what I have proposed, will this colour pallette work?) but there are rare fleeting moments in our career when all the uncertainty is temporarily anaesthetised – this was definitely one of them.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
I know this might be an old subject but I was quite fascinated with the whole Imogen Heap fiasco. As a designer, did you feel stuck in the middle, or was the whole eBay reselling out of your hands? Did this experience sour yourself working in the entertainment industry?
I was 25 when it happened and at the time, I remember feeling strangely honored that this promo CD that I had designed was being sold on eBay for £10,000,000. I think if it had happened now, I would have reacted very differently. Fortunately, every promo album had been specifically numbered so they managed to pinpoint the responsible party very quickly and the item was taken down. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Imogen, someone who I admire profoundly and I enjoyed the experience immensely.
Lastly, you planning on going back to Japan soon? And if so how will this next trip be different (also, take me with you!)?
[Laughs] I seem to suffer from a strange form of selective memory whenever it comes to Japan. I am a self confessed Japanophile and I absolutely love everything about Japan. Yet if you talk to my friends and family about it, apparently whilst I was in Japan, all I did was moan about the weather! In any case, I definitely hope to go back in the next few years to see what has changed since my last visit and to try and venture away from the more metropolitan areas. I’ll be sure to make some space in my suitcase for you!
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Blessed with perfect pitch and an obvious gift, Okura began her formal musical training at age 5 at the prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music. Her precocious talent and passion for music eventually led to her appointment as concertmaster and soloist for the Asian Youth Orchestra, and, while in her teens, to her United States solo debut with the late Alexander Schneider’s New York String Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. She most recently released a CD entitled ‘Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto’ with the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble! We dive into her creative process, the album, and more. Read below for the full interview…
How has acquiring a masters degree aided you in your career? Did you learn more at Juiliard through upper-level classes that you feel made you a more well-rounded musician?
A little bit. I took composition, arranging, film scoring and music technology courses which help me today. However, as an improviser and the musician who I am today, most of my studying came from learning jazz through recordings, theory books, jazz piano lessons, jazz vocal lessons and such. It all came after I finished my degree program. The degree itself is completely useless in my field. If you want to be inspired and enlightened, I don’t think going to a school is the way today. I have learned so much more on the internet for free than any of the classes I have taken at Juilliard.
Could you give us some insight and updates on Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble and how they’ve matured musically since forming almost 10 years ago?
I think it’s in a constant mode of metamorphosis. It changes and develops, rejects some elements and welcomes another. It will keep changing as I keep changing, while adhering to the basic concept of world chamber jazz, which is some combinations of world music elements with classical compositional techniques and forms, with jazz harmony, grooves, swing, improvisation and performance practices.
For those with an ‘ear’ for music, what is the biggest difference between classical Japanese and Chinese music?
It’s the different combinations of minor pentatonic scales from Japan which makes Japanese music sound more Japanese. Chinese music, as far as I know, uses mainly the major pentatonic scale.
You stated that you embrace the challenges of being Asian American. Could you expand upon that a little bit?
In the U.S., if you are Japanese, you are basically Chinese, meaning that most average American people cannot distinguish Japan from China, culturally, historically, linguistically, and geographically. And white Americans are very protective of their own identity, and therefore, anything Asian people do, if it is slightly “western”, they try to make fun of you, and say that Asian people want to become white. There is a huge pressure to embrace your own culture and stick with your own people, and stay within the stereotypes, which are not always positive. Socially, there is a divide, mostly due to the resistance from the white mainstream American culture. So that is a challenge. Trying to present myself in a positive light without being though as me trying to be “white”.
Why did you choose to showcase Ryuichi Sakamoto with your new album? What about him made him the focus? Was it his ambition in film scoring?
I used to be a big fan of him when I was a little girl, starting at 5 years of age. So I always wanted to play his music with my own group. In 2011, I was one of the violinists considered for Mr. Sakamoto’s trio for his European tour. Though I didn’t get the gig at the end, I arranged some tunes for the second round of the audition, and the arrangements came out really great. So I felt that it was the right time to do a whole album of Mr. Sakamoto’s music. I had so many ideas for different arrangements and I really wanted to put them down.
How much work goes into arranging an existing piece of work? Any arranging techniques that you learned that you could share?
How much work depends on the style of arranging. As I mentioned in the liner notes, I have used many different techniques. Reverse remix, and re-composition, re-harmonization, re-orchestration, transposition, changing meters, feels and genres (grooves). I made up some of these terms. For example, reverse remix is an acoustic version of an electronic piece, the reverse of remix. Re-composition is deconstructing the original piece into many different smaller elements, and then re-orchestrate and notate the music the best way possible for the current ensemble, using 20th century classical music notation as well as jazz notations to get the desired effects, not necessarily the exact musical notes. Re-harmonization is a jazz term for putting a more complex harmony over the same melody, and improvising on that new harmonic progression. So the most time consuming process was the re-composing. The process ended up feeling as though it was my own composition.
Lastly, any advice for any struggling young musicians?
When I was young, I wanted to be “successful”. When you are older, like myself, you want to be good, really good, the best. You also want to be authentic to yourself, and find something that only you can do very well, instead of imitating someone else’s career who became successful and try to be better than that person. I think people are much more moved by your dignity and your own story. Do not waste your time trying to be commercially successful because you have very little control over such fate. If you do what you believe in, you probably don’t mind a little bit of struggling. But it is a sacrifice because most good musicians are extremely smart people, and had they chosen another path, they’d be doing really well. You are willing to struggle now because you are young. But in 20 years, you will hate being broke. I have turned down opportunities that would have made me very comfortable today, and I still wonder whether I made the right choice or not.
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This week we had the pleasure of speaking with illustrator and designer Jono Yuen who is one of the most talented and all-around nice guys I’ve interviewed. He has contributed to huge projects but also stops to smell the roses and illustrates Pharrell’s crazy hat and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (I am a big UFC nut!). I asked him about this creative process, fatherhood, and his love for Asian films, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
I’ve worked at design agencies before so I know how strenuous is can be coming up with concepts and executing ideas. As someone who handles Creative Direction / Concept / Design / Animation, what is the secret to handling so many roles effectively?
I don’t think there’s any real secret, it all comes from experience and continually learning. Probably the best thing you can do is to learn from the people around you. Being observant and wanting to better yourself is important. I’m lucky to have worked with a lot of talented people, and I’ve really learnt a lot from the guys that have come before me just by working with them.
Besides from that, working on solo projects has helped me personally. In that situation you do everything yourself, so after years of seeing projects from start to finish you end up developing skills in a lot of different areas. When it comes to bigger projects in my professional work however, often I work with a team and I get to concentrate on only one or two of those roles at a time. Mostly I work at a top level to establish a creative direction and work with the team to see it through. So sure, I handle different roles but it’s not so often that it’s all those roles at once.
Looking through your illustration work it looks like not just one person has executed them. You seem to have a looser drawing style in some pieces and a tighter, more expansive color palette in others. Could you tell us a bit about your creative process?
Sure, firstly I guess the reason for that is because I enjoy exploring different styles and techniques. There’s so much to learn and each style teaches you different things. Also I think because of my design background, I tend to think that some styles are better suited than others in achieving certain things. So my goal is really to create a style of my own that can vary slightly from project to project, and use techniques from other styles to best bring to life what I’m trying to achieve.
In terms of process, I always try to plan out what I want to achieve at the very beginning. I’ve learnt that I get the best results this way. From there I’m still experimenting with different methods but I’ve recently learnt the benefits of sketching digitally, so I’m excited to try that on my next project. The idea of using different layers while sketching and being able to skew, flip and transform elements of a sketch really turns my idea of sketching on it’s head. I’ve tried jumping straight in and skipping the sketching phase but I feel like it’s jumping the gun. You could spend hours rendering before realizing your composition sucks. So working all those things out from the beginning is vital to make sure you’ve got a skeleton that holds all the meat in place.
Do you think fatherhood and/or entering your 30′s will change your creative way of thinking? Do you think it will affect your work positively?
I think both fatherhood and entering your 30’s makes you appreciate time a lot more. I don’t know if it’s related but I’ve just recently felt an urge to really start sharpening my style. I think previously I was very free and open to widening my range but now I’m very interested in being more focused and tightening things up. Perhaps, I feel more an ease with what I do now and finally have what I need to put into practice all that I’ve learnt up to this point. So I’d say it’s a positive thing, I feel like I have more direction and confidence than I ever had.
I’ve ALWAYS been fascinated with Graphical User Interfaces in fictional films. The first that really blew my mind was Minority Report when Tom Cruise was navigating the holographic computer interface. How in the world do people come up with the designs and functionality of these designs? Can you offer any insight from your personal experiences or encounters?
Well for Minority Report from what I understand, Spielberg had organised an ‘idea summit’ in which visionaries and futurists were invited to help imagine the world described by Philip K. Dick, who wrote the short story. Amongst them were scientists, MIT alumni, a researcher from DARPA, a pioneer of virtual reality, and also a bunch of designers who would draw all the things they discussed. So everything from transportation, food, advertising and GUIs were thought out in detail.
The best fictional user interfaces go beyond mere eye candy, and are well thought out and backed by research. You have to consider what technologies are around at the time, who’s using it, for what purpose, does it read well to the audience, is it believable, does it help drive the plot and so on. Spike Jonze’s Her is a good example of this. I think the most successful GUI in films are ones that feel believable, and in order to achieve that you have to know what’s possible.
I am a big fan of your Jeanswest iPad app. The crazy thing about it, is the initial interface can be used not just for jeans, but for any product essentially; cars, dogs, hats, etc. Was this model already established and you just had to fill in the gaps or was it created from the ground up?
Thanks, that was a fun one! The app actually had a lot of unique requirements so it was built entirely from the ground up. Working out the technical challenges was actually one of the funnest parts of the project. But we had a lot of them. One major issue was that the iPad couldn’t handle the processing power required to zoom so many hi-res photos, so it just kept crashing. The work around was to split the images into tiles to alleviate the strain, but manually that would take a person over 200 hours of mind numbing work, so we ended up building some more custom software to automate it.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
What a fun question, I grew up watching Asian films with my grandparents when my brother and I were kids, so this is really bringing back some good memories! I loved all the kung fu movies like Once upon a time in China, Iron monkey, and all the Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films. God of gamblers was great too, silly films like Future Cops, and any movie starring Stephen Chow. As an adult, I absolutely love films like Musa. It is simply incredible, one of my favourite films. In terms of anime, I grew up loving shows like Dragonball Z, Dr.Slump and Mazinger Z. In terms of anime films, I am definitely a Yoshiaki Kawajiri fan. Ninja scroll is the best, Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust are also amazing!
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
No kidding, the intro had an awesome animation of a horseman that exploded into a winged sabertooth tiger [laughs]! At least I thought it was awesome back then. Looking back now, I really just used the site a vehicle to showcase my animation skills. How funny to think websites had intros back then, that’s how old it was. Unfortunately, no it’s no longer online. What a shame!
Why has your interest in motion graphics waned?
I still love it but I just decided one day that I was done investing so much time into it. The nature of motion graphics is that it demands so much of your time. Honestly, I was fed up with constantly waiting for things to render. I will always have a soft spot for it, and I still really love seeing things animated properly, but it’s not for me. I’m sure I’ll still play around with it in the future, hopefully by then things will render instantly
What challenges did you face attempting 3D sculpting for the first time?
My biggest challenge was wrapping my head around Zbrush’s notoriously unfamiliar interface. I’ve had to learn so many new programs before like most of the Adobe suite, 3ds Max, Cinema4D, Maya, but none of them were as alien to me as Zbrush. Once I got started though, it was a lot of fun. It’s amazing what people can accomplish with it.
On a wider scope, what challenges do you face as a human being, tackling something new for the first time or perhaps forcing yourself to learn a new technique?
It’s always daunting doing things for the first time, but most of the time you realise it’s never as hard as you expected. The newest things I’ve had to deal with was buying my first home and having my first baby, both of which were extremely challenging, but now that the dust has settled it doesn’t seem as bad. I imagine it would be easier the next time, and that’s just the nature of new experiences, I guess.
What are you working on in 2014? Anything you could showcase for us?
Illustration will be a big focus for me this year, it’s where I started out and I feel like I’ve been on this long journey exploring other things and now I’ve come full circle back to my roots. I’m also planning to share more of my sketches and work in progress on places like Facebook, which I haven’t really done before.
Lastly, any advice for a struggling creative fresh out of college looking to land their first gig? How should they prepare?
I’ve realised now how important it is to spend time figuring out what it is that you really love doing. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t but if you discover that early you’ll be happier for it. Then spend time working at becoming good at it. If your work is good, it’s not hard to get it in front of the right people especially these days with what we have available like social media and basically anything at your fingertips. Most importantly though, be prepared to work hard, everyone has to earn their stripes. All the successful artists I know have been the people who have worked the hardest. Good luck to all the up and coming artists out there!
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