Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?
I was born and raised in Korea and grew up in New Zealand, Canada, China, and the U.S. As a child I always had an interest in art and I used to get compliments from people around me whenever I drew or painted something. Then, when I was in high school in Shanghai, I started to get into art thanks to my art teacher who noticed my talent and artistic potential. He really pushed me to draw more and do better. When I was transferred to a Korean school during my senior year, I felt the desire to pursue art as a career.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I developed my skills at the Art Center College of Design. I really did not have much skills until I went there, each semester I learned something new regarding art and design. Encountering numerous people with breathtaking talents was also amazing, I was awed but also nervous, I felt like I had no talent at all and I had to work harder to catch up with my classmates. When I finished my 3rd semester at the Art Center, I had to go back to Korea to serve in the army, but that didn't stopped me from improving my artistic skills. After I became a private first class in the army I was finally allowed to draw and study during my free time, so every day I spent 2 hours reviewing anatomy and studying the basics of drawing. I practised drawing so much that after 2 years of service my skill drastically improved. After my time in the army, I went back to the Art Center and I began to watch art related tutorials from many different websites. My art rapidly developed, and I spent countless hours analysing other people’s works on social media and comparing it to mine. Whenever someone’s art inspired me, I got excited and drew and painted until I was satisfied with the end result. Looking back at those days, I can see that inspiration and my passion for art were the keys for my improvement, and it’s still like this today.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
I have always been supported in my artistic journey. I have barely been good at studying when it comes to academic disciplines, and I had a hard time staying focused when I was reading a book or studying those particular subjects. But when I was about drawing or painting, I would be in my own world and I would not notice how much time had passed. My parents thought I was interested in art as a hobby and did not take my interest seriously until one special event occurred. When I went to the International School in Shanghai, my art teacher recommended submitting a short animation piece for the Shanghai Animation Festival. It was the first time for me to work nights and days without much sleep to finish an art piece, and I was overwhelmed by joy when I heard from my art teacher that I made it into the festival, it’s still one of the best days I have ever experienced in my life. But when my parents and I attended the animation festival, we couldn’t find my animation up on the screen. My art teacher later told me that my work was censored out because of the fighting scenes in it. The frustration of that experience made me cried in my bed for an entire day (my younger self thought that my passion wasn't acknowledged, even after I tried my very best). It was back then that my parents knew and saw how much effort I put into my artwork, so since that day, they began to take my passion toward art seriously and support my artistic path.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
I grew up watching a lot of animations, and I can definitely say I got into art mainly because of it. I decided to study entertainment art when I saw for the first time Woon Young Jung’s art. He is an alumnus from Art Center College of Design, and he is currently working at DreamWorks. Until that moment I didn’t really know anything about visual development and people who work on amazing artworks for films. But after seeing Woon’s work, I could feel in my heart that I wanted to become a visual development artist too. There were obviously lots of other influences, but I have to say that his work had the biggest part in pushing me to pursue a career in the art industry.
From the initial client idea to the final work: What goes through your mind and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
It depends on the clients. If they provide me with stories, then I would pick out a few of them that might be interesting. I start with a few thumbnail sketches to depict what I visualise in my head, and in the process I try to plan out all my compositions. After I finish my sketches, I work on colour keys right on top of my sketch. I look for adjectives and contexts to describe the story moment, and I search for colours that can best describe that mood. Value structure depends on contexts and mood. I work on my colour keys until I read values, and I never start rendering until my colour key looks good.
What is your process in creating your art and what are your favourite tools?
When I'm working on my project, I never start it until I refine my stories. I look for the establishing shot, the incidental shot, and the ending. I visualise my key scenes while thinking about stories, and I repeat the same process I mentioned on the previous question. I always use Photoshop to draw and paint. My favourite tools are lasso and pencil tool because they don't just make it easier to create sharp edges, but they also reduce my working time.
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
The most enjoyable part is when I'm painting after the colour keys and I don't have to think much other than play with colours. I love this process because I can experiment with something new and make a story moment appealing. The hardest part is when I am sketching or designing layouts. I still think the composition is the hardest part while I am doing thumbnail sketches.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work, collaborate or share your creative time with?
My typical day is going to work at Titmouse, have a meeting before lunch, eat some delicious food and then continue working until 6 pm. I work with Khang Le, my art director, and Howard, my mentor. I learn a lot about composition knowledge from Khang, and he teaches me Photoshop tips that people in the industry use. It's essential to work with great teammates, and they are my best mentors at Titmouse.
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
Since social media is connecting artists from all over the world, it's easy to interact and learn a lot of things from them. The ones who inspire me the most at the moment are: Woon Young Jung, Tom Gately, Noah Klocek, Carlos Felipe Leon, Khang Le, Bill Perkins, Michael Humphries, Zac Retz, Sai Ping Lok, Dice Tsutsumi, Christopher Sasaki, Claudio Acciari, Aurelien Predal, Remi Salmon, Cory Loftis, John Nevarez, Paul Felix, and Manu Arenas. I would really like to list everyone, but there are simply too many artists that influence me to list them all here. I learned gesture sketches, colour, lighting, composition, and storyboarding from all of them, and even if I didn't actually meet every single one on the list, their works inspires me and teach me something constantly.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
I think the first image of a key scene on my website is so far the most successful piece I worked on. This key scene is about Luigi the gondolier luring rats out of Venice. I think this work was the strongest painting that I submitted for Pixar intern, and I had an amazing opportunity to work for shading. I think storytelling and composition worked well with the mood.
What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
During my internship at Disney Pixar Animation Studio, I have worked on shading and colour keys for Toy Story 4, and on set designs for Onward. I am currently employed at Titmouse as a background layout designer. At the moment I am working on a show that will be screening next year at Cartoon Network.
Do you have a longterm career goal? What would your dream project be?
My long term career goal is to create my own animation studio and help to develop the animation industry in Korea even further. My dream project would be to work on a charming animation film that could represent the finest animations produced in Korea. I hope I can learn more and gain experiences to achieve my goal in the future!
What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an artist’s block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
I did experience a few artist’s blocks while I was attending college. It always appears whenever I see my limits in artistic skills or imagination. When that happens, I try to not draw for a few days until I want to draw again. While I’m not drawing, I look at other people’s art or travel around places to find something to motivate myself to draw and paint again. I heard many people prefer to work more when they experience the block. In my case, I think resting is necessary to recover my creativity. I consider the most important thing is to get inspired by anything that will trigger you to draw again. I think it is necessary to find something that can encourage you.
In your own experience, what would you suggest to someone who is inspired by your work and wants to follows your footsteps: should they work in one consistent style, or work on many different ones?
I think there is no answer to this question, I met a few art directors who asked me both questions. At first, I was working in many styles, and I felt that I could adapt to new styles. However, I think it means that your artworks will be inconsistent, my artworks do because I am still improving and developing my style. I always tried to paint something new to discover my style, but I don't work on my portfolio to show people that I am the jack-of-all-trades, I only focused on my skill level and polished it to make appealing art. I also think it that is unnecessary to think about choosing one specific style. In the end, my advice to other fellow artists is to have fun while drawing and painting. Eventually, it will create your art style in the future.
If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ‘‘how to’’ book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
I would recommend Art of Monster University book if I have to choose only one. This book always makes me inspired to draw and paint. I think this is one of the best art books I have.
When clients contact you for a commission, what essential info should they include in their very first email in order to communicate with you efficiently and effectively?
When clients contact me for commissions, it's particularly helpful that they include detailed information about what they want me to do for their project, and provide any reference material that can give me a better idea about what they are exactly looking for.
Finally, where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
You can check out my work on my website ( skbaek93.com ) or on my Instagram page ( @Baeksimon ).
Thank you Simon :)