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Meet Ji Hye Lee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ji Hye Lee.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Ji Hye. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born in Seoul, South Korea. I grew up watching a lot of anime and I remember drawing Pokemon, Dragon Ball, and Sailor Moon for friends when I was in elementary school. When I was in middle school, I started getting table booths with friends at cons and I would make fanzines and laminated key chains of comics/games/bands that I was into. Then a lot of things happened with my family and I ended up moving to the States with my mom and my sister when I was 16. After graduating high school, I went to Otis College of Art and Design. Honestly thinking back, I had a great time at Otis.

I was able to make a lot of friends(sadly, I haven’t kept up with a lot of them because of quarantine) and the fact that I could focus on art instead of other life struggles was probably the best thing I could ask for. I have some fun memories goofing around with friends pulling all-nighters at school labs. At the end of the junior year, I went to the internship fair at school and I had an interview with the AD’s at Treyarch and ended up getting the internship. After three months of the internship, when I was about to go back to school, they offered me a contract position and I ended up working as a professional concept artist since then. I’ve since shipped Call of Duty Black Ops 3 and 4 and worked on a teaser cinematic for Valorant at Blur, as well as mobile/VR game titles and movie pitch work.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
When I was in Korea, my family wasn’t exactly well off–we lived in places that looked like the semi-basement apartment in the movie Parasite. But things didn’t seem as bad because things were comfortable. None of us was stressed about finding the next place to live or being worried about our immigration statuses.

Since moving to the States there have been a lot of struggles.

We weren’t rich enough to live at our own place, so we would move into a room in a stranger’s house and three of us would live in that one room. My life never felt stable because we would keep having to move for one reason or another.

And when I first immigrated, I had huge language barriers. I used to score 100 on my English tests when I was in Korea so I thought I was going to be fine… I was wrong. I couldn’t even form complete sentences. My mom worked as a cashier at Korean Supermarkets and she signed me up for English tutors. I remember being in a pre SAT tutor school with these middle schoolers and broke down crying because I couldn’t understand anything. I later started going to another tutor that was more in my skill set and I was able to adjust better and more quickly.

She also signed me up for an art portfolio prep school in my junior year and that’s where I met all my best friends that I still talk to and hang out regularly to this day. I think that’s when I thought maybe I could still make it in the States because I had finally developed an emotional support system that wasn’t just my family. Being with them helped me improve my English speaking skills immensely too. I’m still very thankful to this day for my family for putting me through these classes because I otherwise would not have made it.

I think what caused most of the struggles for me was that even though I was at a point where I felt fairly stable with my career, my family still was struggling financially. We’ve experienced multiple unfortunate events that we possibly could have avoided had we lived in a safer neighborhood.

When I go see my family, I visit them in a little studio apartment and it still reminds me of the days when we used to live in a cramped room.

I’m planning to buy a house with my family by next year so we can have a comfortable home where we can spend our weekends and holidays together.

In terms of my artistic career, I would say I’ve probably struggled in the same ways how others do. I did what I thought I had to do to get a job, but when I did I felt like I didn’t have my own voice in my art. Everything I did was for someone else to see and enjoy, and it made me think about what I really wanted to do with my artistic career. It led me to quit my full-time job at Treyarch, and after doing a series of personal work, I can safely say that now my work is starting to be more aligned with what I want to represent in the style and subject matter.

I’ve also struggled with self-hate in terms of art. Being in such a competitive industry with social media saturated with tons of great artwork everywhere can make things seem daunting and it can make you feel bad for not being as good as others.

What has helped for me is to focus on my own growth rather than comparing myself to others, and being a little nicer to myself. I also tell myself that I have many years ahead of me to be the best version of myself and that art is a lifelong marathon, not a 30-minute sprint. I’m able to find joy in getting better and ever since I stopped comparing myself to others, I’ve noticed that I enjoy other artists’ works a lot more too.

Speaking of self-hate, perfectionism is another thing that I still need to overcome. I have a lot of personal works that are almost finished, but I avoid posting them because I feel like they aren’t good enough to be shown. I do this to myself a lot and sometimes I feel like it hinders me from achieving my goals. I did some thinking and research on this mindset and recently came to the realization that my desire to do a good job pressures me too much. It leads to a ‘flight’ response–the fear of failure is so strong that I just avoid posting work. And because I keep avoiding it, I lack the encouragement to do more, despite getting a lot of feedback for my works in progress. Realizing this, I know perfectionism can definitely still be helpful, but I’m trying to gear it to help me. I also try to tell myself that done is better than perfect.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am currently a Senior Concept Artist at Unbroken Studios. Nowadays, I specialize more in characters, but I used to do a lot of environmental concepts for some of my previous clients as well. I think what sets me apart from others is that I have a more diverse skill set than others. I know people say that being specialized in one thing is good, but I think having varied skillsets and being able to adapt to multiple different styles is such a good trait to have as a professional. I was able to get a lot of my gigs for this very reason. I can paint stylized/realistic environments and characters. That gives me a lot more job options to choose from.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Both the good and bad choices that I have made with my life resulted in me to be the way I am now, and I like myself the way I am. I can say that I made the best choices that I could with the knowledge that I had at the time and I’m proud of where I am right now.

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Image Credit:

Lee Cruzuee (@Kingpin_productions) for photography

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