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Meet Vivian Le

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vivian Le.

Vivian, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
As a kid, I loved reading comics and watching television. I was one of those kids who ritually woke up Saturday mornings to watch WBKids. Any free time my mom had after night classes learning English and working a day job, we would go to the library. I would check out comics and manga and obsess over trying to draw the characters I loved.

But I remember around high school, I was suddenly more aware of world events. This realization and the combination of guilt and responsibility to my immigrant Vietnamese family made me want to study something that would make them proud. I needed to study something practical, something that they understood as “being successful”, which was not art. Growing up in California, kids typically applied to state schools and UC’s (Universities of California). I applied to all of the UC’s except the ones that were in the LA area because I felt they were too far from home. I was rejected from all of them except UC Davis. There I studied Biology.

After having set aside art for years, eventually that art itch from my childhood started to kick in during college. Instead of studying for a chemistry test, I would draw Justice League characters instead. Slowly I ventured into the art department but the only way I could take art classes was to major. I became one of the few students to double major in Biology and Art at my university. Administration discouraged it due to unit caps and rules. Still in my gut, I knew I had to have art in my life somehow. Outside of class, I didn’t have much time to do anything else, so the battle was worth it.

Years after, I strung a series of jobs together. I’ve done a lot of weird jobs. I’ve worked for a laboratory rat colony, Paint Nite, Petco, graffiti artist intern, lab technician for the California Department of Food and Agriculture and more. It took years after straddling science and art jobs for me to finally realize that all along, I wanted to work in animation and comics. While I was working all these other careers, I spent my off time on Tumblr following all the animation and comic artists I could find. Finally, I was fed up with admiring these people from afar and decided to take my shot. I didn’t know anything about art school at the time and applied to CalArts for many years being the only school I had heard about through the grapevine. After being rejected twice, I dug deeper. I discovered a high school friend was attending Art Center. I looked into it and applied there. I got into the Illustration department the following year. That was when I learned how hard it was to build the skills and have what it takes to break into the animation industry (though I still love comics, that industry is still a mystery to me).

In short, it was a long, long, long road. And the road is still going. I found myself in LA eventually. It’s funny because the summer before, I applied to an art residency (I was still dabbling in the fine art world at the time, remember, I’ve held MANY jobs), and talking to one of my teachers and telling him I was considering animation as a career, he told me I should just grab the bull by the horns and move to LA. It was such an impossible thought at the time but after years of paying my way through school and getting a lot of financial aid, my parents surprised me by helping me pay my way through art school. Though they didn’t understand what I was doing they still wanted to support me. Things eventually fell into place. I went to Art Center for a year and transferred to CalArts the next. I’m so grateful for all the encouragement and support I got along the way, despite how long and windy it was. I’m still very self-conscious of it all but I hope in sharing I can inspire other people like me who were lost for a VERY long time finally find their way. The journey ahead is still unknowing but I am determined in making the best of it.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Looking back, yeah sure, it wasn’t a smooth road, and to be honest it still isn’t. I constantly questioned myself. When I was studying Biology, I was thinking “Is this the right path?” “Can I really be a scientist?”. And in answering those questions sometimes I was my own obstacle. I got in the way of seeing the bigger picture and told myself, “Yeah, of course I can be a scientist. I’ll prove it!” When I finally got there, I felt like my life wasn’t leading anywhere.

When I got into art school. I thought, “Wow, finally, my dreams can be begin”. But there were smaller battles. Administrative difficulties, financial aid battles, finding a place to live. I spent half of my time at ArtCenter living in the attic of a Pasadena family’s home, whom I found out about because I had such a hard time finding housing that I resorted to stalking the CalTech Housing page.

And honestly as an artist, I’ll always have questions like “Am I good enough?” Are the years of stringing jobs together worth it? Will my wrists hold up? Most days, I think, yes, this is what I want. I’ve never been more sure in my life. But being in LA at least, being surrounded for the first time by so many artists who love the same things I love and can talk passionately about silly television shows helps. I think even though I made a lot of left turns, in a way every decision led me here.

Please tell us more about your art.
I’m a super new board artist in the animation industry. At my current job, they said they liked the way I drew expression during the interview and the recruiter liked my comics so I guess I’ll talk about that.

I grew up watching Jackie Chan movies with my dad so I am an avid fan of action-comedy. I think those movies were the reason why my taste and love of comedy is what it is today.

In my free time, I make four-panel comics about things I find funny or things I care about. A lot of my closest friends are in the science community, so I still have a foothold in that world. I care a lot about scientific literacy and the environment so sometimes my comics are about that. I just think the world would be a better place if we can learn a little bit more empathy and have a broader understanding of how everything connects.

What role has luck (good luck or bad luck) played in your life and business?
I think at the end of the day, luck always plays some role, be it good or bad. But what stands out to me are the people I’ve met on my journey. I feel lucky that I grew up with parents who value family. Despite them not understanding my career goals, they still found ways to support me. And during the years of me still figuring things out, I had coworkers who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. It’s cheesy to say, but I’m so thankful they took the time to listen to me which gave me the courage to eventually get here. Also shoutout to those kind souls who replied to an email from a complete stranger to talk about their experiences coming out to LA to pursue animation.

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Image Credit:
Sumin Cho (for photo)

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