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Meet San Gabriel Valley and Westwood Student, Videographer, Freelance Animator, and Designer: Shirley Zhou

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shirley Zhou.

Shirley, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Every kid draws, I’m just one of the stubborn few who never stopped. I grew up drawing comics and making amateur animations whenever I wasn’t buried in the books at school trying to get into a good college, and I eventually enrolled at UCLA for my undergraduate education as an undeclared major. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure if art was a hobby or a career for me, and it took some major rejections, lows, and existential crises to finally understand that writing and drawing were the backbone of my entire person, and I couldn’t possibly be doing anything else with this life. So I applied to the undergraduate film program with a concentration in animation (the closest thing to an animation major my school offered) and was miraculously accepted. I spent 2 years making short films, meeting an amazing gamut of people, and just keeping busy in the best ways. During my final year undergrad, I landed an internship with the ever-awesome animation studio Titmouse, Inc. and was accepted into the MFA animation program at UCLA. Now in grad school, I’m working on my second animated short film, working part time as a videographer for UCLA marketing and sales, and doing freelance design/animation work on the side. Every day is a busy and exciting adventure, all because I never stopped drawing.

Has it been a smooth road?
The pursuit of a creative career is never a road without self-doubt, rejection, failure, and judgment. There’s always someone out there that won’t like your work or what you are doing. There’s always way more people telling you ‘no’ than ‘yes’. It’s easy to compare yourself to the talented and successful people around you and wonder if you can keep up. But the irony is that they too have all faced and felt the same things. If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. I don’t mind the struggle because I know it’s for something worthwhile, and it makes the eventual successes feel that much more sweet.

How would you describe the type of kid you were growing up?
Growing up I was a shy and quiet kid who spent a lot of time on the internet, as I felt more comfortable with myself behind a screen than in front of people. I spent a lot of time on various online communities, thinking up random stories and characters and trying to share those ideas with anyone who would be willing to take a look. Ironically I was somewhat afraid to share my creative work with people I knew in real life, but to random strangers, it came easily. Although I’ve still a long way to go in my growth, past-me would definitely be amazed at how far I have come, both as a person and an artist.

What is your favorite childhood memory?
It’s hard to pick favorites, but one that stands out was when I was a little kid in summer school drawing comics with my friends. Being in school during the summer sucked, but little experiences like this always made it bearable. There was something so pure and blissful about creating art back then, in which I didn’t think about whether or not it was good or feel like I had to meet some standard of quality. It was art purely for the sake of fun and enjoyment, and there’s a charm in those crude little comics that you just can’t recreate when you’re older.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I want to graduate school with two more short films completed, and I hope afterwards to find a steady job in a studio. I find myself drawn to storyboarding and writing the most, but I’m open to all kinds of possibilities because I think there’s something so uniquely fun about each step in the pipeline. Being out of school for the first time in 19 years will be a real big change, and it scares me to think about how the structure of my life and my days will change drastically from what I’ve been living for so long. But I’m excited for what’s to come, and big changes are all part of the journey.

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