Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?
I was born and raised in South Korea. As a kid, I enjoyed drawing and coloring and had a vague dream about becoming an artist. However, it took time for me to feel a sense of dedication. When I was growing up in Korea my surrounding environment pushed me to do academic studies and I wasn’t sure about my future until I entered a university in Korea. I attended ‘Hankuk University of Foreign studies’, which lists top 10 universities in Korea. While I was studying foreign languages there, I figured out this was not a path I want to go. So I started to think about what really makes my heart run and looked back at my life. Then an idea began brewing in my mind. I remembered my childhood: I love art and animation! It was at my age 18. With this in mind, I decided to leave the university and prepare for the art school in U.S.A.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
After leaving the university in Korea I applied for a few art schools in America and ended up going to ‘Art Center College of Design’ in Pasadena majoring ‘Illustration: Entertainment Arts’. From many courses I mainly learned about visual development. I have developed strong skills in background, environment and prop designs based on my drawing and observational abilities. Learning from the teachers who were the masters in the animation field taught me how to work professionally, take directions and manage my time to make deadlines. Art Center is a good school for those who are ready to pull all their efforts and passion to their work and future. And I, who was thirsty to learn art and animation was ready for that.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
It was a big challenge for me to change a path and start all over. As I mentioned a little in the beginning, in South Korea educational fervor and expectations are really high and going to a good university is a big thing. I was fine with that and studied really hard and made into a good university. But I wasn’t happy. Then, I realize people should do what they want to do and decided to change my path. My parents were against it at first because they knew how hard I studied for almost 10 years to come this far and now I want to go to a whole new route which does not guarantee anything. Becoming an successful artist in Korea is hard. However, they want me to be happy by doing what I want to do so they support me to study at United States and pursue my dream. It wasn’t easy decision since this meant taking apart with everything I had and starting all over by myself in a new world. But I didn’t hesitate and now I got close to my dream ‘becoming a world renowned artist who makes amazing animations.’ I feel blessed to have my parents.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Definitely Hollywood animations and their magical theme parks. In fact, my journey started at my age 4 when I lived in Florida for 2 years attending preschool. I lived close to Orlando where all the giant theme parks are located and went to ‘Disney World’ frequently. And it impacted me a lot. For 4 years-old child, Disney World was a magical fantasy world that everything can be possible. In addition to that I began to watch Hollywood animations which totally got my attention. Since then, one of my biggest joy was watching animations and being part of their world. It all started there. These love and passion came all together and got specific at my age of 18 and drove me here where I stand right now.
What is your process in creating your art and what are your favourite tools?
It depends on what work you are creating but for visual development works my process goes like this. First of all, I select the story that I want to work with and think about the key scenes with the mood: what I want to create and express from it because storytelling is important. I sometimes write down some descriptive adjectives that I want to pull out from my works. Then, I start to do some research and collect references. It’s important to take some time to look up references and find the right ones because it will help your pieces to become stronger. Based on research, I do some idea sketches, thumbnails, and rough drawings exploring various designs. This is the fun part because all the creative things come together. I prefer using traditional media like color pencil during my sketches but when it comes to defining and polishing I prefer digital media (mainly Photoshop). Finally, when I end up with great design and storytelling I paint them in Photoshop with the right color and lighting. Putting the right value are important and all those color and lighting should help the storytelling.
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
I think hardest part of the process will be the beginning, when I have to bring up all the ideas and set it up. So in the beginning of the stage I try to do many research, ideation and figure out what will be the best solution. But after that comes the fun part: ‘polishing’. When I get the main design and all problems are solved, I can design them out more by putting details, and finally coloring.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work, collaborate or share your creative time with?
For these days, my typical day starts by going to a work to one of the biggest animation studios in the world. I am currently working in DreamWorks Animation TV as a visual development artist for an upcoming unannounced show. My job is to build up the world for the characters by visualizing the story. I mostly spend my creative time with my art director and other visual development artists who are extraordinarily talented. My art director is both a great leader and a great teacher who leads me to go on a right path by working smart and creative. Also, I learn the importance of teamwork: how to cooperate and communicate with each other.
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
My art director is amazing. Being an art director means you have a lot to take care and manage. Not only being creative and smart but also have to be good at working with other artists and diverse departments. Especially, in TV animation studios the pace is really fast so finishing all on time and still making them look good are hard. But my art director is really good at handling all of these. And the most thankful part is that he cares about other artists and tries his best to help them. From him, I learned the importance of the leader and teamwork.
What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
I can’t really tell about the work I am doing in DreamWorks since it is an announced show. But I will be happy to share my personal project ‘The Nutcracker’ which I enjoyed a lot. The reason I choose ‘The Nutcracker’ was because I wanted to work on the story that makes people feel warm hearted and reminds them of their childhood. The story is about the little girl named Clara who believes in magic and the magical adventure starts when Clara gets ‘The Nutcracker’ as a Christmas present from her godfather. The project was about creating the world for the characters mainly focusing on environments, props and storytelling. I enjoyed a lot and hope to develop the work further and share them in the future.
Do you have a longterm career goal? What would your dream project be?
My dream has been: ‘become an artist who makes warm-hearted animations that move people’s mind and inspire them with meaningful messages’. Just like many great animations impressed me. Since I am a beginning artist, I want to continue my journey as a visual development artist here at DreamWorks and contribute to a great work. Also, I hope to extend my career towards feature animations. Later on when I get more confident with my artworks, maybe I would love to create my own story or a brand with my sister (who is also a designer). Sharing my story through my artworks and inspiring people will be definitely a thing I want to do for lifelong. Moreover, I hope to travel around the world more frequently and bring the world to my works.
Working in-house for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I think both of them have pros but for me ‘in house for a company’ suit better. I like the freedom of the freelance but having a regular working hours and stable time management make me to work more productive. And ‘in house work’ gives opportunity to work with other great talented artist so we can learn from each other.
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?
Art is not a field in which you can see the improvement rapidly. So it is easy to get artist’s block and think why am I not improving much. I totally understand because I went through a lot of blocks and still face them. As I mentioned, I started art late. Compared to those who have been drawing since young it was a big gap for me. In my first two years in Art Center I was a student who was really bad, lower than average. No one paid attention to me. It was hard for me to catch up with all of those courses, I failed and got into blocks so much. But the thing is if you overcome those blocks, eventually you will see your improvement. Risk is a chance to learn and by learning you will overcome the block. And finally see how much you improved after all those hard times. When I graduated, many things changed during those 4 and half years. And people started to pay more attention to my works and myself. You will never know how far you could go unless you overcome those hard times.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, you name it. There are so many careers and when you are very young, sometimes you know only one thing: you simply love to draw. In your opinion, what should a young person take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
For me it took time to figure out my path to an artist. But it was never too late. I think when you are young it is important to find out what makes your heart run. I would suggest to try out and explore more. Don’t hesitate to give it a shot when you are young. You will be narrowing down your path and have specific thoughts as you go on. Another thing is that spend more time on fundamentals. Many students want to go straight into style or coloring right away even though they are not ready. So paying attention to the fundamentals such as perspective, anatomy, layouts, design principles, values will be important and later when you decide your field they will all come to you and make your pieces really strong.
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 develop many different ones?
First of all, having passion and being ready to pull all of your energy into what you want to do is the most important. I came to United States because I needed to ‘pursue my dream’ even though it meant sacrificing a lot of things. I could make it because I believed in my dreams. Secondly, take actions. Don’t just think but show that you can do it. Working hard is the key to everything. And ‘say yes’ to most of the chances you get and you will never know what will be waiting for you after that. Lastly, always ask help for the people around you. No one ever achieved by himself/herself. Let them know what you want to do. Ask teachers, friends people who went to the path that you wanted to go and ask, take directions. The more people that knows about your dream the more people will help you achieve that. And for the style question, I personally think it is secondary and it will come later as you go on. When I was a student I had the same concerns. What style should I go or should I have a bit of everything. But I found out if you can nail down the important and fundamental things in your work you will end up with great portfolio regardless of style. I did have preference of style but didn’t really decide a specific style. I just tried hard to pay attention to storytelling, environmental design, mood, color and light and then the style came a little by a little.
What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
I think the future for animation is bright. It is one of the strongest media that tells a story, attracts people’s eyes, and moves people’s mind. Nothing is impossible in animation. All the magics can happen. And I think that is the most strongest charm that animation has. The magic should go on.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
I have to say all the old classic Hollywood animations. My dream all started because of these. The warm heart message I got from all of those animations inspired me and affected me to become visual development artist. Walt Disney has been my role model for a long time and his famous quote: ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ has been a long motto for me. From 3D animations, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and ‘Polar Express’ are my favorite.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I love hand drawn animation and wish the major studios continue working on them. I grew up seeing many 2D animations and I believe they have some power that 3D can’t show. I miss the magic they brought to the drawings. I hope it comes back.
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 works at my website( soyunparkart.com ). Also in Behance ( behance.net/sodang16fb1c ) and Instagram( @soyunparkart ). You can always contact me through email if you have any question: email@example.com
Thank you Soyun :)