Interview with married couple/rival animators/collaborative bookmakers, Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying

A few months ago, I signed up to Imaginism/Schoolism e-newsletter in accordance with advice from a friend from the Digital Film, Games and Animation course at college.  Too often for me, the talks and tutorials they offer are costly, but from time to time a great interview or new program tutorial will come round, free of charge.  I recently watched this interview with Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying, a visual development arts duo.  Yamada works at Dreamworks, while Ying is at Disney.  The interview allows for a very interesting insight into the dynamic of their relationship: as husband and wife; as creative practitioners in the same field; and as artists in rival companies.  I thought the interview did a good job of covering some of the difficulties faced by anybody trying to break into a creative industry, with the added bonus of a glimpse into their curious – and quite heartwarming – relationship, exploring how they have learned from and supported one another in their work.

Firstly they discussed how living with an artist from a rival animation studio allows them to have invaluable insight into how the other company is working.  This, for studios as huge as Disney and Dreamworks, would be such juicy nuggets of info like I can’t even imagine – exchanging stories of the differing work processes allows their work to stay fresh and progressive, ever-evolving, always striving to be better.

More recently they have worked collaboratively to make a children’s book, Curiosities.  The process of securing funding and publishing for the book was the most interesting aspect of this section for me.  They utilised Kickstarter as a platform for securing funds for their project, originally setting a funding goal of $4000.  They used all the social media platforms available to promote their new project (Twitter, Facebook, etc) as well as posting a promotional video complete with finished proposed artwork and ideas for the book on their Kickstarter page.  They were overwhelmed with the reaction they received, and ended up with $49,630.  As well as this, they were sending promotional packs (with added sticker bonus) to potential funders around the globe.  This was an interesting point of discussion too, as before they actually began to post these things off, they hadn’t accounted for just how much sending physical packages halfway round the globe would cost, and made it clear that having a mentor for this kind of project promotion (ideally someone who is well-versed in the process) made the task much less stressful on the whole.  These promotional packages sounded like an absolute treat too: finished pieces of artwork, story treatment, AND a unique set of fun stickers.  A great tip: people love free stuff.  Give them free bits of sparkly tat, and they’re more likely to go nuts for you and your project.

Listening to their overview of regular working routines and habits they have developed together was interesting, too.  A great example of the encouragement in little kicks and pokes they give each other was when Ying explained that after seeing that though Yamada was extremely successful in his professional practice, he hadn’t been attending to keeping personal blogs or diaries for about six years.  She suggested he start this up again, and since that he has been a weekly blog and is never without his trio of notebooks (one for written notes, one for patterns, and one for using only brush pens).  It seems this has helped him greatly to experiment more, and recently he has been focusing more and more on the bare bones of image-making: shapes and textures and marks, etc.  Always a good thing.  So a weekly personal blog and drawing every day is good for visual artists, hm?  Ah, I need be on this.

There is a pleasant discussion on receiving criticism.  This is a skill I think needs to be experienced more often in order to be well-honed.  Taking it as it comes, and not completely hating someone for trying to give helpful advice, even if what they say is the product of  your hours of work have amounted to naught but a midden.  Having someone working in the same area as you may bring the benefit of a shared bank of in-depth knowledge on that particular area, and can be helpful and nerdy and fun.

I enjoyed hearing Ying describing her inability to settle onto one style or medium, as she is always wanting to experiment with something new.  She makes a valid point that this is not always such a good thing: you may waste time on something you find out you just can’t do very well, you may lose out on having that one thing that helps employers (and fans) to define your work, your style.  But on the other hand, having lots of other skills, interests and hobbies can open up many other doors to you in a different area of your work.  For instance, she loves to make tiny clothes.  Putting together tiny garments for tiny dolls is a passion of hers.  In the production stages of Wreck It Ralph, she was asked to put together some costumes for the 3-D models – she could and did.

As well as this, I loved the story that unraveled about how they both got into animation and the visual development side of this.  I can’t remember what Yamada said about his experience after graduating, but Ying explained that she met Yamada while he was already working at Dreamworks, and she was just starting college.  She did not know what exactly she wanted to work as, and was thinking around comics, games or film until her graduation year.  Having the insight into how work at Dreamworks went, Ying became more and more interested in the area of visual development, and progressed from there.  Now she is at Disney.

The final point that struck me as a really wonderful reflection on the success they have both achieved in their work.  Ying talked about the moment when you realise you are actually doing really very well in a very exciting and prolific company, and you start feeling like an absolute fraud, like you’ve tricked someone into giving you a job.  This appears to be a very common, and very scary emotion that has the ability to sneak up on you when you’re at the top of your game, and they both agreed that it is vital when this feeling comes creeping round at your door, you just have to work on through it.  There isn’t time to stop and freak out, you must always be pushing yourself to get better and produce better work.

I thought it all quite wise and relevant advice from a couple of creative professionals who seem to be doing pretty well.  Here’s to them.

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One thought on “Interview with married couple/rival animators/collaborative bookmakers, Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying

  1. Pingback: Final Interview – Feedback and Reflection | Personal and Professional Practice

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