Monday, September 14, 2015

My Background Story

So tomorrow I'll be doing a 2 hour presentation at Carnegie Mellon. I'm a little bit apprehensive because I didn't really get along with a lot of my classmates during school (socially - yes, but academically - not really). I was a bit of an odd-ball, and one of my reasons of going back is to talk to the other "oddballs" and tell them it's going to be okay. lol

Not the Typical Artist
I've gone to a lot of presentations by really great artists - and typically the presentation is about how 1) how they got bad grades in school. 2) they worked really hard at work and became successful. 3) do what you love. Believe in yourself and follow your dreams.

I Got Good Grades 
My story is a little bit different, because first of all - I got really good grades in school.  I would get mostly all A's - with one B. I was pretty smart, but I wasn't the smartest in class.  By 3rd grade - I developed my strategy. I knew I could get a 92% on a math test, but there was always 2-3 students who got 100%, 97%, 95%. I felt that if I couldn't be the #1 in academic subjects, I could become the #1 in Art. That was my strategy.

Art Competitions
I was really lucky to train in art at a very young age. I started taking art classes when I was 6 years old.  You know how Chinese kids like to compete at everything? I started competing in Art competitions when I was in 1st grade. At first - I didn't do really well because I was so young. But around 5th grade I a 1st place in a X-mas card competition and won $50.

I was very serious about these competitions. There was this one art contest that was pretty hardcore. It was a regional poster art contest for all Chinese Schools in Southern California. It was intense because they give you the theme beforehand. You go into the competition room - and you have 2 hours to execute the poster during that time. You had to be fast and efficient. The first time I did that competition, I didn't finish in time because I was too slow. I remember my parents were outside the competition window telling me to hurry up - but I took my time - thinking I would be okay. The next year, I rehearsed the poster and practiced at home about 2-3 times. Maximizing the efficiency of the artwork.

My Art Teacher Closes down his Studio... how that affected me
Around 10 years old, my first art teacher - Able - shut down his art studio. He wasn't making enough money because he was not keeping track of accounting and couldn't pay the studio rent. His wife used to take care of all of that - but since he had a son - she wasn't able to do accounting for him At that time, I knew that I wanted to be good at art, but also good at math, money, accounting and business.

Why I became aggressive in marketing my art
When I was in 6th grade, the principle announced to the entire school at an assembly, that a girl in my class - Grace - would be drawing the back cover of the yearbook. She was a pretty good artist - we were about the same level. But I was jealous. I remember seeing her work on the drawing, and I was thinking.. I can probably do better than that. From then on, I knew I couldn't just be GOOD at art, but I would need to make an effort to publicize my talent and let people know I was good - aka marketing.

I continued to win art competitions all throughout middle school and high school. Honestly, although my parents supported me, they were very weary on my economic viability as an artist. My father was an engineer, my mom an accountant - you get the gist. I wanted to prove to them that it was a economic viable career by simply winning competitions. I won about $10,000 in scholarships + competition money by high school. And another $70,000 for Carnegie Mellon.  But honestly, winning these art competitions when the age group is 12-18 years old, when you are the oldest in the category. It's easy and not very fair. It got much challenging when I entered college.

High School Years were the toughest
High school years were very very rigorous. AP courses, SAT I & SAT II classes, Track/ Field, Piano, Community Service, Art Club, Chinese School, Art Center Saturday high classes. I was working 14-20 hour days. (This is important, I will explain why later) I would go to sleep around 11pm, and wake up around 4 am to do homework. My weekends were harder than my weekdays because of my Art Center Saturday High, Chinese School, Community service combo. And my summer/ winter breaks, were more rigorous than my school year because of SAT boot camp. In case you are wondering, I scored 2010 on my SATs (which was disappointing because I invested so much time and effort into that shit. My best SAT "practice" score was 2200 or something, guess that was a fluke). I had a 4.0 weighted GPA - which was good, but nothing really special if you are applying to a school like UCLA (I didn't get it).  Again, I wasn't the best at academics, but in terms of art - I was one badass mother-fucker. I was mediocre in  academics and I took out my frustration by dominating art competitions. I would get pissed off when I didn't get 1st place.

$70k Scholarship to Carnegie Mellon
I had a portfolio set for Art Center - arguably one of the best art colleges in the world. It was format designed by my instructors to impress admission counselors and get big scholarship money. All of my friends were getting in WITH scholarship.

I didn't wanted to go to Art Center. Reason #1 - I was already there for 4 years during high school. I got the gist of it - work so hard you almost die. *check*  I wanted something more. Reason #2 - I spent so much time on academics and SAT scores during high school. Art Center didn't care about my academics. I didn't want my high  to go to waste. Reason #3 - Carnegie Mellon seemed really fun and it was a school that seemed to appreciate my skills in leadership, community service, and interdisciplinary activity. They also gave me a lot in scholarships.

Overall, I really enjoyed my years at Carnegie Mellon. I've never had so much fun in my life with friends, girls and parties. Compared to a stereotypical white frat boy - I probably am nothing in terms of parties - but for me - it was 1000x the social life I had during high school!

Bad Grades
In terms of school... I was okay during drawing class during the first year. But I had a hard time with "design class." Most of the time, I didn't understand what the teachers were saying. This one project, I got a D because I didn't understand the assignment at all. But all the other students liked my work.
Bad grades during first semester at Carnegie Mellon. 

I worked hard enough to pass the classes and stuff. But I sought to use my creativity elsewhere. I joined a dance crew and learned popping and I got really good at it. I also did this thing called "Booth" - where I built this carnival installations. It was really dope.

During college, I didn't work AS hard as I did in high school. But it was still very stressful. I occasionally had 14-20 hour days, but I don't think as often. The weather and environment was more  stressful than living at home as a highschooler. After senior year - I had insomnia for an entire year - it was like PTSD!  haha (but I'm sure much less severe) But still.. it was rough.

My Journey as a Freelance Artist in Video Games and Movies
Here are some freelance stuff I did for videos games after college. I thought I was going to be an environment artist, because my friends Kalen and Jason were both environment artists. People said it would be easier to get a job as a environment artist than a character artist. Funny thing is.. most of the jobs I got as a concept artists were for character. Not everything people say will be true for you.

Crime Noir - $15/ illustration
1st freelance job. It was about $150 for these 10 illustrations. Lineart was already made - so just colorist. Super low pay ($5/ hour?) - but I was happy just to get the experience. I didn't really like the art style though.

Army of One - $30/ illustration
2nd freelance job. Much better quality of work.  $120 for 4 illustrations. $30/ illustration (Still like.. maybe $5/ hour or less?) Was working on these pieces in conjunction for a class though. 

Games That Work - $128/ character
My third freelance job was better. Feeling more confident. $128/ character. But many many iterations... I did about 9 iterations per character.  (So my rate was still like less than $10/ hour?) 

Birds of Prey - $30/ character
My 4th freelance job. I billed at $15/ hour - which might seem low - but it was really good for me when you compare the other work I was getting paid for.

Squilty - $300 
Movie poster thing. I felt like I got paid decently for this!

SASE Animatic Commercial -  $500
My friend animated the project. I felt like I made pretty good money on this. The company had a budget of about $1000. My friend and I split it. I kind of feel like she deserved more of the money though - because the animation was probably harder.

No Shame in FREE WORK - for the experience

friend's animated film

friend's movie

another friend's movie
Dance Studio's booth

Another Dance Studio's Booth
Working at Disney for minimum wage + commission ($50-$120/ day)
During this time, I was working at Disneyland as a name painter. It was nice to have a steady job - because freelance is unsteady. And I was using this job to further my education at the time.

Eventually I started working in theme parks after I created a specialized portfolio.
1st theme park job - $1300 
- wow! more than I've ever done. 
12 illustrations. (worked about to about $27/ hour)

2nd theme park job - $2250 wow!
$300/ day rate.. 7.5 days
11 sketches, color, and graphic design. Best so far!

3rd theme park job -  6.5 days. $1950! great!
$300/ day rate. Only did 3 illustrations.
$650/ illustration. Sounds good to me!

4th theme park job - $400/ illustration
(started to charge a flat rate for illustration. Worked out to be $16/ hour)

Did a bunch of flat rate stuff. $100 sketches. $800 -$1200 deluxe color renderings
Now I just do $400 day rate for my company.
Recently doubled my experience, expanded to $500/ day.

I can do a LOT of sketches, and create a lot of good work very fast. So yeah..