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Meet Trailblazer Trilina Mai

Today we’d like to introduce you to Trilina Mai.

Trilina, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved drawing. I grew up watching Disney movies, Looney Toons, Pokemon, Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet. Drawing animals was the greatest joy I had, and as a videogame deprived child –it was the only thing I could do. Throughout my time in school, I had always participated in local art contests and took advantage of every opportunity to showcase my imagination

In high school, this passion for drawing was merely a side hobby as I was more focused on maintaining straight A’s in my AP classes as well as performing my heart out in the school marching band. However, during my senior year, I caught myself constantly drawing characters from my imagination in ALL of my classes! My love for art only grew more when my school offered a digital animation class and I fell in love with the idea of making my characters come to life through ToonBoom Harmony and Storyboard Pro. My new-found determination to focus on art led me to a variety of experiences that I am truly grateful for during my time at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), where I graduated with a B.A. in Illustration/Animation.

My first step into the professional art world was through a summer story intensive program called Pixar@CCA “New Voices in Animation” during my second year. This opportunity gave me crucial insight to the standard required in studios and gave me face to face interaction with recruiters. The following summer, I applied for various summer internships and was selected as an Animation intern for Pixar.

My senior year at Long Beach was intense! I had to direct my senior film and manage the department computer lab. I also helped organize our annual 24 Hours Animation Contest which is an international contest where teams of five from various schools around the world have 24 hours to create a 30 second animated short based on a chosen theme. I totally recommend all animation students to give this event a shot! In addition, I ran my own Kickstarter campaign to financially fund my film, and an Indiegogo campaign to fund the Animation department’s first off-campus student animation showcase, Double Exposure. Upon graduation, I went to Pixar for another summer in 2019 and since then, I have been working as a freelance animator and illustrator.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Real-world obstacles I faced was adjusting my mentality to treat myself and my work professionally. I realized quickly that although school gave me the tools to do my work properly, that alone was not going to secure a job. I learned from my friends who sold at conventions how to price my work. From others with experience in the industry, I learned how to value my time and work efficiently. As a result, this taught me how to avoid being underpaid for my time, effort, and energy.

Networking is another important part of the job that you have to learn, and as a self-proclaimed introvert, I find this incredibly exhausting. However, with practice, I have become more comfortable with communicating with others. I practiced networking through animation organizations like Women in Animation (WIA), ASIFA-Hollywood, or LatinX. I highly recommend young women to join them for networking practice and as a resource for job opportunities. Plus, membership for these groups are either free or come at a low student cost!

We’d love to hear more about your art.
My life now is much less hectic than it ever was during my time at CSULB. Nevertheless, I greatly enjoy the projects I get to work on. I am currently a freelance animator and illustrator. I pride myself on being versatile in the type of projects I work on (will provide more details in a future section) and working with new people, so please do not hesitate to reach out to me! I collaborate with various artists around the world to produce animated films, music videos, and concept development. In addition, I do a lot of commissioned portraits and backgrounds and character designs for pilot shows. I enjoy the range of work that I get to do because every project is a different challenge and I’ll always learn something new.

My work primarily consists of 2D character animation and illustration. I primarily use TVPaint for my work and edit through Adobe Premiere or After Effects for animation. I love telling stories that are “slice of life.” I truly believe there is something lovely about seemingly mundane things that people glance over because we’re so busy with life. My senior thesis, ‘Push,’ is about a grandfather and grandson’s relationship through life. I wanted to capture how a simple relationship can change and evolve through the course of life as a cycle.

As for my illustrations, I have had a lot more time after graduation for experimenting with my drawing style. I play around a lot with color, light, and perspective. As a result, I come out with more dynamic work! My illustrations show a lot more depth in dimension and color, and I see these progressions benefitting future films down the line in my career. Programs that I use are Procreate, Photoshop, and ClipStudioPaint. I don’t find myself being too attached to a particular program because I’m often working on the go, and being versatile with various programs allows me to take advantage of their benefits. I can work on my iPad anytime and anywhere. I find it very useful for brainstorming, sketching, and concept illustrations. Likewise, I can work on my Cintiq for larger projects or video editing.

I am proud of my film Push. I learned a lot about myself as an artist, such as project managing, self fundraising, and understanding my style of storytelling. I found a lot of joy bringing life to my characters, and I enjoy even more how viewers react to seeing my film. I love seeing people emote and relate to the characters I create, especially during the quieter and more emotional scenes. Because of this, I want to continue making films. I hope that by gaining experience through work, I can open my mind to new perspectives and styles of storytelling. By artistically experimenting, I wish to implement strong storytelling in all aspects of my work whether that’d be through drawings, animations, or color. Ultimately, through these self-improvements, I can grow the resources to continue making more films that are visually beautiful and emotionally captivating.

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
As stated in the obstacles question, I highly recommend anyone interested in the animation industry to join groups like WIA, Asifa-Hollywood, or LatinX. In addition, take advantage of networking with recruiters and receiving portfolio reviews at expos such as Lightbox or CTN. It’s a great way to meet people from big and small studios.

Personally, I have found mentorship through professors at school, and fellow friends in the industry. I rely on their opinions and experience to help me make the best artistic and career choices. With their guidance, I was able to successfully produce Push, be successful throughout my internships, and live a prosperous freelance life.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
I would like to answer this by stating what I wish someone told me when I first started. My advice to young women — and truly anyone– would be the following:

1. Be proactive in your journey! Your best advocate is honestly yourself. I often found myself in situations where I wanted more than what the environment could ever offer me. Sometimes I had to learn to make the best of a situation, but more often, I found myself trying harder and staying up much later just to challenge myself artistically. Therefore, talk to people you look up to, learn from everybody, and keep looking for opportunities!

2. Make sure you surround yourself with people who believe in you. Having a strong support system is crucial. Friends can keep you sane for one thing and they will be the first ones to help you out when you’re stuck in a hard place. But more importantly, never forget to take the opportunity to lift others up too. The art journey is not easy and helping others as much as you can healthily manage will help to foster a supportive community. Take time to recognize and support other artists and people in your life.

3. Start building a healthy work-life balance. Your physical and mental strength is equally as important as the artwork you put out. Eat regularly, get out and move (artists tend to live a sedentary lifestyle), and stretch/take breaks as necessary to protect your eyes, wrists, and back!

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Image Credit:
Trilina Mai

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