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Life & Work with Lola Zhang

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lola Zhang.

Hi Lola, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
My name is Lola Yiting Zhang. I am a concept artist working primarily in the game industry, currently working for Sucker Punch Productions (Sony Interactive Entertainment).

My interest in art was initially sparked by video games way back when I was in elementary school. I’d often go to my childhood best friend’s place to play all kinds of video games with her. And there was one that particularly stuck out to me.

Although back then, I couldn’t fully comprehend the complex mechanics of the game but I marveled at the overall aesthetic and the tone of the game. I had never seen a world like that before, everything in that world is distilled from reality but higher and way more appealing than reality— ancient ruins of labyrinth, floating continent, abandoned white chapel with a beam of light shining through stained glass windows, cursed dark shrine, and an ancient spirit who lives in seclusion in a lake… I indulged myself in that beautifully crafted fantasy world for months and that certainly has sparked something in me.

At that time of my life, all I wanted was to create a world like that. So I attended an art high school and then graduated from an art college feeling lost and uninspired in life. Until one day, I stumbled upon a place called Artcenter College of design by chance.

After scrolling through the curriculum, I was completely sold on the idea of “Back to the grind”. Because I had been looking for the thing since the day I stumbled upon that game, and now it’s the time to find it. So I quit my job in the fasted way possible the next day with tremendous support from my mom.

Life in Artcenter was a certified rollercoaster ride mixed with ups and downs, frustrations, anxiety, euphoria, panic attacks, countless brutal all-nighters with family-size red bull bundle pack that’s always under my bed. I’ve never experienced that much of emotions in such short amount of time. But at the end of the day, what really matters is you bounce back and start it all over again no matter what knocks you down, that’s the biggest takeaway I got from the past four years of hell week.

In the meantime, I was extremely lucky to get to learn from the best in the industry since the very beginning of my Artcenter life. That has enabled me to level up tremendously in many aspects of my professional career and to be a better version of myself.

About a year before graduation, I started to get amazing news from companies that I could only dream of. And eventually, I ended up landing my dream job with my most favorite company. One box was checked, and now onto the next ones.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Life/work balance are one of the top3 things that I’ve been managing to improve on. The nature of my work as a concept artist is that you solve problems visually/functionally and flesh out ideas of things that don’t exist yet. And that involves many rounds of ideation/ iteration/trial and error. If it’s a subject matter that I have never dealt with, that takes even greater amount of dedication/concentration/research, etc. for that specific subject matter.

And when you are in that hyper focus mode, time just flies by like crazy that you won’t even notice. A lot of times, my daily activities end up being like: in front of my computer — at dinner table — at gym (sometimes is non-existent) — in bed — and then repeat.

You can’t help but notice everyday gets repetitive at some point. As an outdoorsy adrenaline junkie, a part of me is constantly screaming for riveting adventures. So to me finding a balance between the adventure-seeking me VS the creative indoorsy me while achieving my career goals is definitely something that I’m working towards.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m a generalist, I like to design all sorts of things including but not limited to character, environment, keyframes, props, etc. But at the very beginning, I was only comfortable doing characters, and that was the reason I started to learn how to do environment concepts a couple of years ago—to kick myself out of my comfort zone. I always have this mentality of giving new things a go at least once. So after trying it out, I’ve gotten hooked by it, not because I nailed it right off the bat but it was only because I failed miserably at my very first environment painting, and that immediately triggered my inner exterminator mode which in a nutshell: “no one can stop me until I get better at it”.

In terms of what inspired me the most, the longer I work in this industry, the less I find myself taking major inspiration from existing concept work in our industry rather from the nature.

At the very beginning of my career, I used to have a huge folder with collected artworks from my favorite artists and I’d get direct inspiration from them or designs from movies, games, etc. But gradually, I’ve paid more and more attention and gotten hooked by bizarre, interesting details that exist in nature but often are overlooked by people. Over time I can’t help but notice my local folders are filled with photos of all sorts of “weird” things, from plankton, details of fungi, insects’ patterns and structures, minerals, snow flakes’ microstructure, mechanical parts, etc. Those things to me are exactly like 93 premium fuel to my artistic fire.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
I have to give props to all the awesome places to eat in Arcadia, as well as great proximity to all kinds of cool spots, gorgeous hiking trails also Arcadia’s not too busy/crowded but has its own lively energy. The only downside would be the housing price (but yea that’s definitely not an exclusive problem to Arcadia…) oh boy where do I even start…

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