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- UPPERCASE Magazine
Everyday life become fun and exciting when observed from a different perspective. In animation, Alina Chau finds the perfect language to fulfill her wild imagination, and passion in storytelling.
As a filmmaker and a recipient of the student Emmy Awards, she directed and produced three internationally successful animated short films. Her film, "Frieden – the Tree of Peace" has been showing daily at the United Nations New York headquarters since 1999.
She received her Master in Fine Art degree from UCLA, and currently works for Technicolor Interactive Services as a CG animator. She is also a part time professor at Woodbury University. Her recent production credits include: Metal of Honor Rising Sun, Pacific Assault, and European Assault, Sony PSP game - the Con, and Silent Hill. She lives in Los Angeles.
"Ice-Cream Monster Toon Cafe"
"Ice-Cream Monster Store"
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
Professionally I am actually more of an animator then an illustrator or designer. I always love drawing since I was a kid barely knowing how to hold onto a pencil. To me drawing is always one of my favorite hobbies, but I didn't take art seriously until college. My major is Digital Graphic Communication, in which I was introduced to graphic design, web/interactive design, and animation. After I graduated, I realized animation is my career passion. So I decided to further my study in animation at UCLA Film School as a graduate student. It's hard to pin point a pivotal moment, there are so many events which have guided me to where I've eventually come. But UCLA definitely is the "enlightenment" period, which liberated me to a new horizon in arts and films.
Who or what inspires you?
WOW!! There are so many inspirational and remarkable figures ... let's see ... better give you a short list. First person that comes into mind, is my grandmom. She never received any formal arts education. But she is a creative, masterful draftsman, designer, storyteller, and artist, who always encourages and supports my interests in arts. Her warmth loving and caring personality continues to influence my arts deeper and deeper as I grow older. The second tipping point would be my teachers at Chester College, Liverpool, UK. I went to Chester for a summer exchange program during undergrad. Within a summer, I learned one of the most important lessons in my entire education - "Never be afraid to make mistake and break the rules." This is my "break the pencil" era. I explored all kinds of experimental arts; was encouraged to break all the rules I'd learned; and to never fear to venture into new territory. It taught me how to appreciate everyday surrounding from new perspectives. Later on, two of my professors at UCLA further inspired me to become a life time scholar. Dan McLaughlin, the chair of UCLA Animation ... he made me realize my potential, and inspired me to challenge the seemingly impossible. My drawing teacher, Glenn Vilppu ... Ahh ... Glenn, he is the best drawing teacher I have ever had. He not only teaches me how to draw, but more importantly, he teaches me how drawing and art could be FUN and NEW every time you open the sketchbook. This is very important, especially for an animator or professional artist. After sitting in the studio all day everyday, animating at 24 frames per second, doing couple hundreds frame per day ... one could become exhausted, drained; and lose the joyful spark of creativity. But Glenn's love and passion in drawing inspires his students to enjoy drawing in a playful manner. Drawing become fun and an outlet to explore new ideas!! Oooh!! I can never forget the most important lesson from Glenn, don't use your hands to draw, but your brain.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
Neither of my parents can draw, so they always sent me to kiddy drawing classes. Then I go to college at Hong Kong Baptist University, Chester College, and grad. school at UCLA ... so pretty much I receive most of my formal arts education in college. Growing up, I took all kinds of painting, drawing, sculpting, photography classes etc. But most of these are foundation or introductory level generic arts classes. Serious drawing class though, I have to give that credit to Vilppu.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
Humm ... this may sound silly. OK!! When I get burnt out and run out of ideas or get frustrated, I would leave my desk and go get a scoop of ice-cream. HA ! HA !! Err ... I am not kidding either, ice-cream can solve many problems. OK! It may not solve the problem for good, but good enough to make me stop and think. HA ! HA ! HA !! After a scoop of ice-cream, the weather looks nicer; the temperature feels cooler ... my tummy is happy, and my brain is ready to cook up new ideas. I guess ... to keep "fresh" is to be willing to change, and maintain a good sense of humor. Very often an idea block is caused by one holding on a precious idea too close and too tight ... it's very easy for that to happen. But never fear venturing into unknown territory or receive negative criticism. There is no mistake in arts. OK! There is bad art. But everyone, even the grand masters had art which got fed into the fireplace. One learns from mistakes as much as success. Beside there is one cool thing about art. Unlike math, if you are wrong, you're screwed. In art, sometimes a masterpiece is created by an incidental mistake!!
... Err ... did I go off topic ... sorry ... Let's me try to sum it up ... "be playful and be adventurous!"
What are some of your current projects?
Sorry, due to my contract with the studio, I can't discuss any of the projects. My main position at work is doing 3D character animation. During pre-production, I'm often involved in storyboarding and conceptual design. For fun, I am working on publishing a collection of my travel sketches into a book. Hopefully that will be completed within a year. I may work on a second book at the same time, which will contain mostly illustrations. I will post the books on my web-blog once it is completed. Crossing my fingers, the books will do better then my little nick nack store. HA ! HA !! Which only makes 15 dollars in a year .... Can I shamelessly promote my little on-line store here? The Minty T-shirt is really cute and comforty!! And there are many other goodies in the store too. HA ! HA !! HA ! HA !! HA !!
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
I would say, E=mc2. My thesis film at UCLA, because it got me a student Emmy, and my first job at EA. HA ! HA !! After that, it would be one of the recent projects I did at work. I can't release the title on-line yet ... don't want to get into trouble. It's a cinematic of a popular game. I got to storyboard the whole project. Although things got changed at the end, plenty of the original board ideas remain. I am proud, cause this is the first time I developed a storyboard for an entire project professionally. Then, there is Medal of Honor Pacific Assault. This is a love and hate project. I like it because much time and energy was invested into this project. I worked with many talented and awesome people, and we became very good friends. It's also a great learning experience. But I hate it at the same time, cause this project is pretty much a production in hell - one year of stress, exhaustion and overtime ...
E=mc2 (2001), you can find some concept arts and link to a Quicktime movie file in the September archive of my blog:
Medal of Honor Pacific Assault:
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
Ooooh, there is always new stuff I want to try ... I want to explore more into digital painting, would love to get back into traditional painting, ie oil or acrylic someday. As for projects, someday I would like to work on feature film projects both in fully animated films and SFX live-action films.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
There are many experienced and talented people out there. In comparison, my career is still young. I am not really qualified to give any profound wise advice. I can only speak from my limited experience. No matter what art forms you are interested in, there is one thing most professions shared in common - it's very competitive to get your foot in the door. When one submits a portfolio or resume to places, very often one will receive unhappy amount of rejection letters. You may feel like crying out loud and feel desperate after a while ... but rejection letters don't mean you are not good, or not strong enough for the position. No one can predict how studios or companies pick and choose people, or how they make the decision when and who to hire. The key is to be persistent. If it's the job you want, chase after it. Revise and improve your portfolio and re-apply. If the job requires skills or experience which takes time to gain, don't get disheartened and feel like you can never get to the level. Take a different path, which may be less desirable, but which will allow you to develop the skills. Most important thing in one's career is the room to grow and learn. It may take a long time, even years to achieve your
dream. But as long as you are constantly improving and learning, you will get there. Never get discouraged and give up!
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
Ideas which spark one's imagination; challenge the contemporary; stimulate one's emotion; inspire one to question; and endure through time.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
HA !! HA !! Well ... sleep, yummy food, read, hang out with friends, swim, fun outings, fresh air ... travel helps a lot!! HA ! HA !! Except can't do that too often ... Most of the time for emergency stress release would be a scoop of Minty's cousin and friend - Err ... ice-cream. HA !! HA !! HA ! HA !! HA !! Ooooh ... it helps to curse the computer - "STUPID COMPUTER!" and blame the cartoon characters (those give me headache while animating) out loud ... Or draw silly faces on co-workers food or drink ... HA ! HA !! HA ! HA !! HA !!
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
Hmm ... Does Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends count?! That's my favorite. Bloo ROCKS!! I rarely watch much TV ... My TV "screen saver" mood is usually Cartoon Network or Food Network ... Iron Chief, 40 dollars Day, Unwrapped ... and then there is Discovery and History Channel, when they have good stuffs, like ancient mystery, myth busters ... not into the building muscle car show though. What else ... HBO Rome is cool ... but don't think they have that right now. When there is American Idols ... I watch that too, it's entertaining ...
Jeff, thank you for having me in your design blog.
Dear reader I hope you enjoy my little story, and thank you for appreciating my arts.
Have a lovely coool day!
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