The beginning of a long voyage — from Princeton to Pixar

July 16, 2013

Dear blog readers:

I am both amazed and touched to see that the blog kept getting traffic long after I stopped using it, hopefully you have found something here interesting or useful. The intension of this post is to announce I decided to start blogging here again. But in a completely different context, to go along with my new life beyond mathematics. Along the way I’d like to give my choice a little explanation (mainly towards my dear mathematical readers) and perhaps give my two cents on life and dreams.

As mentioned in this post 1.5 years ago, I decided to restart my career with the end goal of working at Pixar or Disney as a concept artist.

Definition: Concept art is a form of illustration where the main goal is to convey a visual representation of a design, idea, and/or mood for use in films, video games, animation, or comic books before it is put into the final product.

Roughly speaking, for life action movies one reads the script and selects locations, props and actors; in animation, however, most of the times the world which the story take place doesn’t exist! This means that every single detail needs to be designed from imagination: from a chair, a lamp to whole islands, cities and characters. A concept artist is the person who reads the story and designs the world to stage it!

To illustrate the idea let’s see a couple of examples:

Examples:
As we know cars (2) was a movie that takes place in an imaginary universe with residents being cars instead of people and animals; Here’s some of Pixar’s brilliant designs:

This was one of the paintings hanging in the palace, note the UK coat of arms logo on the floor~

36

All landmark architectures around the world are re-designed to have car elements in them.

CARS 2

And here’s what a busy London street looks like (I just love the way buses and taxis look so… British! Note that London double deck buses actually have that ‘sigle lens glass’ on them =P)

London_Bus_Scene_SimpleNew

Anyways, hopefully I have given some ideas on what animation concept design is about~ Now onto some properties of a concept designer:

Propositions: A concept artist is typically:
– Super creative
– Has childlike imagination
– Thinks and communicates visually
– Draws and paints well

Hmm…I am totally convinced that this is what I am made for more than anything else! In fact, this is what I wanted way before I got into mathematics, but like many people, childhood dreams sometimes get buried and forgotten in the attic. Luckily I found it back that winter in Disney World and will never, ever, lose it again.

Once I figured out what I wanted the rest is very simple: just do everything possible to get there! In this case I am perhaps at the antiportal point to where I wanted to be: there is just no obvious route from mathematics to animation design, which means I get to create my own path! So I started with making some route maps and took some steps to look into how they work–

Route #1:
Hang around the Princeton computer science department and specialize in computer graphics
–> get a PhD in computer science
–> get into the software research group at Pixar
–> try to get to know people in the art and design group
–> go from there

Current status: So I started by taking graduate computer graphics and algorithms course at Princeton in spring 2012, apparently I’m not bad at them (especially algorithms) and that we Princeton CS department actually has good connections to Pixar. However, after chasing down Tony DeRose in Stony Brook when he was giving a public lecture, I found that unfortunately I do need to first have a PhD in CS and that the software group does not really talk to the design group that much…Hence I estimated this route is not the most efficient.

Route #2:
Get my PhD in mathematics
–> leave academia and work in finance for a few years
–> save enough money
–> go to Art Center, major in entertainment design.
–> graduate and get into Pixar

Current status: The major problem with this plan is of course it involved doing relatively uninteresting and unrelated stuff for a few years. Plus although I’m sure I would have love to attend art school, getting another bachelor’s degree is time consuming. Hence after some research on how I might go about getting a job in finance, I decided to move onto the third plan and perhaps come back to this if nothing seem more efficient.

Route #3: (and this is what I am doing right now!)
Move to California
–> take courses from independent studios (such as concept design academy)
–> become technically at least as good as people who went through art school
–> build a portfolio
–> apply to Pixar directly

Current status: Deep down I have always known this is actually the best and fastest way to go, but I didn’t go for it till this summer because in this case the last six years I spent in mathematics is officially absolutely useless. But now I figured that trying to utilize them would only result in making the process taking longer. Looking into this, the choice is actually very simple: I should have no pity in completely starting over and not look back. ‘Being good at something should only work towards one’s advantage’ sounds like a tautology, but in reality it’s striking to see how often abilities and past accomplishments become burdens that prevents people from chasing dreams and, eventually, prevents them from getting to where they wanted to be.

So here I am in Pasadena since June, I’m thrilled to say that I have never felt more alive since I finished undergrad! Not only that I got to draw and paint all the time, seeing improvements on a daily basis but also I have finally found the group I belong to by being around truly creative people! It will take some time, but I know this is what I want to do and I will get there!

In any case, if Mike Wazowski ended up as a scarer, what am I concerned about? Inspired by the ending of Monsters University, current plan: I’ll work on getting as close as I can to Picar till 2015, if it hasn’t worked out by then I’m going back to Shanghai and start by sweeping the floor at the Shanghai Disneyland.

From now on I will record my progress as an concept artist in training here. Hence if you are here to read mathematics, please unsubscribe…and wish me luck! ^^

With hope, onward
-C

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11 Responses to “The beginning of a long voyage — from Princeton to Pixar”

  1. Dong Wang Says:

    you are sooo brave!

  2. Yunting Gao Says:

    You mean you are going to leave academia…

  3. Thomas Sauvaget Says:

    Hello, and good luck on your plan!

    You mention pencils and paint: do you maybe plan on trying at some point Wacom-style pen/tablets too? if so, just in case you had not seen it, there’s an inspiring video showcasing many great artists, including the late Mœbius here:

  4. Dylan Thurston Says:

    Good luck in your journey! You may well find the mathematics more useful than you expect.

  5. Ferran Says:

    ¡Mucha suerte! Good luck Konan with your new project!


  6. Best of luck in your new career move!

  7. Yash Memarian Says:

    I wish you all the best. Life in general is hard and confusing- academic or not! (Maybe an academic life is more confusing!). I hope with the support of your loved ones, with your courage, and luck, the path of your future will be as smooth as you desire.
    Best of luck!

  8. schwarzeralptraum Says:

    Wow, just wow. You might not remember me, but I was one of the students in a few of your math related classes at UT, including that advanced geometry class and a statistics class. I presumed you were living some successful life, doing something mathematics related, and that maybe you already had a PhD in mathematics, and were teaching it somewhere as a professor. Boy was I wrong! Well, only partly. I don’t think I was ever really open about the fact that I also take up drawing as a hobby even while I was at school, but I do a lot of digital drawings, and if you’re ever interested in digital painting, feel free to ask about it.

    I still kind of kept math though, because I found that people were more willing to hire me if they knew I studied mathematics. But I think I had it easier because I was applying for software development related jobs. I was a little surprised though, because I thought nobody would see it that way…


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