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Meet Ke Yang of Yorba Linda

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ke Yang.

Hi Ke, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I was born and raised in Wuhan, China. From a fair young age, I always kinda know I want to do art-related stuff. My dad told me when I was five, I couldn’t stop doodling on my textbook or even on the wall in our house! They never erased what’s on that kitchen wall. I know, parents’ love! I guess that’s when they noticed my interest and brought me to summer art camp. And when I was in middle school, my dad brought home a bunch of DVDs of Miyazaki’s films. I remembered pulling so many all-nighters trying to watch them all. Growing up with Pixar, Gibli films and manga, I know I’m definitely an art nerd! But it wasn’t until high school, when I had to choose a career path, that a thought came to my mind. ‘Yah, maybe I can be an artist’. My dad, knowing I spent way too much time watching animation, brought me some in-depth detail about animation art programs. I was blown away by how fun it looked. Before then, all I could think of was how to survive in math class! I was lucky enough to get into top 10 in an art contest called ‘Little white Tree’. And from there, I got into animation program at CUC. The two years of discovering animation making at CUC was fun. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. And when I was volunteering at Aniwow festival in my second year, I discovered schools like Sheridan, Goblins and Calarts. Like many other artists, Calart for me feels like a dream boat! But education in states is not cheap. Especially when you’re in art program. So after careful consideration, as well as much excitement and curiosity in mind, I applied for Sheridan College.

I was super lucky to get accepted at Sheridan. Those were some of my favourite years when I think back. The program contains everything you need to know about animation. The teachers are incredibly talented and always generously sharing their knowledge and technique. I know when facing a career path ahead, being an aspiring artist can come with self-doubt, especially knowing it could be unstable from time to time. Cuz unlike math, there’s never a ‘correct’ answer in art. But later, I learnt that art should be about expressing who you are and what you are passionate about. I was fortunate enough to meet some of my talented classmates, who later became life-long friends of mine. With them, I can put that doubt behind and enjoy the moments of dreaming what cool characters and sets we could create on that big screen in the future. I knew I was a design-oriented person. So in senior year, without hesitation, I decided to prepare a Design/Visual Development portfolio.

After graduation, I landed my first job in Vancouver at Bron Studios for a Netflix feature animation called ‘The Willoughbys’. I was lucky enough that the production designer, Kyle McQueen, brought me along in this incredible journey. I still can’t believe that he trusted me when I had zero feature experience. And from there, I started my professional career as a visual development artist. The film was directed by Kris Pearn, who was the director of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball 2. Working by their side was a true blessing and I basically tried to absorb all kinds of visual language from the project and poured it out on digital screen. One of my favourite tasks was to help creating colour guide for the look of the film. That’s when things come together and you have a cinematic moment to see what the film might look like in each scene. After the pre-production was almost wrapped up, I got offered by Cinesite and later on DNEG to work on their upcoming features in 2018. Working with larger companies like them brought me more fresh insights on feature animation. And In 2019, I came to United States to work on Laika’s next film as a visual development artist. As a hardcore Coraline fan, I was over the moon to work in this top-notch stop-motion animation studio! However, at the same time, even though I was thrilled to be part of the dream team, being surrounded by some of the industry’s best artists was not easy for me. But the production designer, Nelson and Trevor were always willing to share their knowledge and guide me through each assignment. During that time, I was also incredibly lucky to work on the first look for the characters and settings under Travis Knight’s supervision for his upcoming live action film ‘Uprising’. Everyone at Laika is amazing in ALL aspects of animation making. It was mind-opening and some of the most rewarding times for me. I enjoyed every second there.

Right now, I’m starting a new journey as Visual Development Artist at Sony Picture Animation this September! Thinking back, it has been such a crazy but fun ride. I’m glad to take a leap of faith in myself. And I adore every moment doing things I love for a living.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It was a fun road for sure! But never an easy one. Being an international graduate, there are always some sacrifices to make along the way. There are constantly moments in the past when I had to stop and think twice. Visa-related complications definitely put a lot of pressure on my shoulder when making decisions. And I do feel that as an international artist in the states, I need to work as hard as I can to stay at my job. The talent pool is large and full here, is there anything that makes me stand out? I remember having mild mental breakdown, doubting myself, wondering if I’ll ever be good enough, or if I should’ve chosen a different path. And I’m constantly living with the guilt that I couldn’t visit my dear family in China more often. In the end of the day, the only answer I got is to work harder and hope for the best! But nevertheless, I came across so many generous people who understood these tough situations and offered me so much love and support. I’m incredibly grateful to meet them in my life. I know I’m not alone in this journey and there are just as many talented artists out there struggling. I wanna shout out and give them a big hug. I feel so lucky that I had the opportunities to work on some of my favourite productions. And I hope to pass that on and help many other artists to find their voice and do things they love!

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m mostly working as a visual development artist in feature animation industry. Colour script and set design are some of my favourite things to do! I’ve worked with clients like Laika, Netflix and Sony to create visual art for the film. Hmm, it’s a tricky thing to say what I’m most proud of haha. Sometimes I like one painting and over the next few years it switched to others! But I do really love my time at Laika in the past two years and can’t wait to share what we made to the world!! Working in-house at a stop-motion studio is rewarding since I have the opportunity to sneak peak on what they are making behind the curtain. The dedication and craftsmanship that goes into each piece is breathtaking. The considerate thinking and lived-in feel of each set breath so much life into the film. I’m lucky to be a part of the team to witness the magic. I couldn’t say much about what sets me apart from others since there are so many talented and hardworking artists out there. I’m learning and get inspired from them every single day. I guess my strength is not afraid to break some rules sometimes and trying to stay fresh on art-making. I tried to sit down and make my own art after work from time to time. It was like a treat time for me since that’s when I feel I have no limits! I’m exploring character design and graphic art these days. My inspiration usually comes from literally everywhere. From fashion design, pottery to photography or even bizarre knowledge in history. The world is full of wonder and I hope to reflect them as much as I can in my art. Recently I’m also exhibiting at LightBox Expo. It’s a wonderful chance to meet fellow artists and hear their inspiring stories!

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
Right now, I’m open to concept art and character design commissions. I’m also working on my own script and would love to gather a group of like-minded artists to create a short film together! Pls, feel free to reach out if you’d like to talk further or simply say hi!

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

The first two images are from a fun life drawing session with Zeet studio.

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