Today we’d like to introduce you to Yuelin “Jolene” Zhao.
Yuelin, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I came to the United States at the age of 16. I went to high school in Portland, Oregon, and just like all the other international students, I was homesick and very confused about my future. I did not have any motivation to even apply to universities because I have no clue what I wanted to do. The only thing I know is that I enjoyed drawing my first-ever storyboard for my first short film at the end of senior year in high school, but I was not sure if I should consider that as my career.
Everyone in my family, except for me, studied structural engineering, medical science or economics, and my family believes that I should also at least be good at maths. During my first year of undergraduate in UC San Diego, I tried computer science and cognitive science. That was the most boring year I have ever had. I hated them. I started to realize that the only thing I enjoy is to create something out of nothing, and I am eager to express myself through images and sound. As soon as I switched my major to Visual Arts Media, I no longer feel trapped. I became more and more certain that filmmaking is the only thing I could do well, and the only thing I love doing. Luckily, my parents have been very supportive, and thanks to them, I started my MFA program in film production at the University of Southern California in 2017.
I have been exploring myself in film production during the first year of MFA, and I gradually develop interests in production design. The first project I have worked on as the production designer is Where Dreams Rest directed by Elaine Wong. I turned an empty room into a crowded, untidy, and yet “dreamy” living space for a Chinese immigrant. It is a magical feeling when you have the power to make impossible things possible. From selecting the paint to dressing the set, I feel extremely satisfied when I see every visual element works perfectly on the screen. No matter if it is an interior of a spaceship or an old restaurant in a period piece, I am always excited to make them come true.
I have been working on commercials, web series, short film, and recently a feature film since then. There are still a lot for me to learn in the field, and I know it won’t be easy. But I am glad to do what I love to do.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I am a production designer. My job is to visualize the director’s vision through world building. – From an apple on the desk to an antique coffee table – all the details you see in a film are carefully designed by the art department. We aim to make the story believable. My favorite kind of project is when I could not only visualize what the script gives me, but also treat production design as installation art. I want to make a set that could still provide an immersive experience even when we get the story out of the big screen.
We are not only making the adventure of watching a film visually pleasing – production designers are planting all the small details to help push the story forward. For example, when we design the look of a room, we cannot make it look like a sample room from furniture stores. Who is the owner of the room? What hobbies does he or she have? What pattern/color of wall would help elevate the mood of the story? All of these questions will take account when I design the concept. Next time when you watch a film, pay a little more attention to the character’s environment. That’s all from us.
Artists face many challenges, but what do you feel is the most pressing among them?
For me, it is always hard to balance between reality and dream, especially as I just started my career. A lot of people say that the film industry is all about connection and family background. Sometimes being talented might not be enough. I just wanted to make my own art not minding anything else happening in the society, but I have to think about how I could pay my rent and insurance every month. That is the reality I have to face while chasing my dream. It is, indeed, a hard path.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
The films will be screened at different film festivals. Some films will have online access. The commercials, especially the spec commercials or music videos, will have a youtube/ Vimeo link. I do have a portfolio in my work account on Instagram – @joleneyuelinzhao. I welcome all kinds of collaboration if people think we have a matching style or simply just want to share their creative ideas with me.
Several works with online access:
TESLA Model 3 Commercial – “Feel It”
My role: production designer
PARADISE – MV
Mr role: art director
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @joleneyuelinzhao
Xizi Hua, Di Wei, Zhichun Huang