Last page of sketchbook…

January 25, 2016

Recently I got very excited about industrial design, partially due to McKinsey’s acquisition of this absolutely awesome design studio named LUNAR in 2015. Of course I would need to understand our design language better, as a first step, I found some time this weekend and did some quick studies of LUNAR’s work.

Then I realized, it’s the last page of my sketchbook… time to start a new one, to draw more and draw better…But I certainly feel this old friend deserved some sort of farewell, flipping the pages is like looking back into life; Marks, lines, forms contains subtle expressions of the mood when creating them.

So I decided to put the whole book here at once, in reverse order, although some drawings have appeared in earlier posts, some are bad/unfinished/empty, but this is the book as is, representing bits and pieces of life (mostly life spent in various coffee houses in Shanghai).

Last page, words on the right was an experiment I did trying to see if markers can be used for caligraphy…obviously a master copy =P

IMG_0237Got all excited about the Force Awakens a few weeks ago

Bought the LEGO Classic and Mindstorm EV3 (still in the planning stage of my Turing machine project with EV3) I guess one can see traces of my trying to pick up industrial sketching starting here


And I did a study of the types of basic bricks…

 One day I was waiting in Starbucks and saw a new set of coffee things

Some very small auto doodles…love where they are going! Feels like 60s again.

  In Italy obsessed with those red ink drawings from 1500s…and some museum sketching

 Some more museum sketchings…

  And some plaza sketchings

 That day I forgot to bring paper to life drawing session in Florence…

Between Disney and Art Nouveau (I learned they are opening a fancy Remy restaurant in the Disney Wonders cruise)

 On Beauty and Beast

 On Alice in Wonderland

IMG_0226  On Pirates of the Caribbean

And some more pirates from the original (and best) Disneyland when the ride opened in the 70s

IMG_0227An unfinished train

 Master copies: Left-Chris Sanders; Right-Picasso

 More Chris Sanders and ransoms in a certain cafe

Somehow got interested in steampunk for a bit…the character is a copy from the wonderful book ‘walking my octopus’

Read newest ivory poaching reports…

  Some Shanghaiese architectures

  More Shanghai, a little field trip to the acient city of Fenghuang

More from the road

 Temples and hip coffee shops

In the park…

 Some imaginary plants

 More hip coffee shopsTanks form life

Antique cars

Cubes walking over to the horizon (first test page to get used to the material)


Opening spread of the book: hats


Well…that’s the book…cover to cover. Hope you enjoyed it =P

Year of 2015 – life in the strange world of consulting

December 31, 2015

I am surprised and touched after logging into here after more than a year tans found continuously high traffic volume…so much so that I’m thinking of picking this back up…no promises, though. =P

In any case, I have to say that it has been one of the most exciting periods of my life since I last posted (which, I guess, contributed to my not posting here).

Trajectory: t \in (\mbox{Dec 2014},\mbox{July 2015})


During this time, I:

  • left the prop painting job in Disneyland;
  • signed an offer with consulting firm McKinsey & Co.;
  • got my advanced scuba diving license and dived for a month in Thailand and the Philippines;
  • went to study representational painting in Florence;
  • climbed in China’s top rock climbing spot Yangshuo;
  • went to a ‘mini-MBA’ organized by McKinsey in Amsterdam;
  • backpacked from Holland to Poland;
  • got back to Princeton and defended my PhD thesis (yes, I finally did that);
  • volunteered in a wildlife conservation area in Kenya;
  • came back to Shanghai and settled down to start consulting;


The above took us from November 2014 to July 15th, 2015. Since July 15th I have been role-playing as a consultant in the strange corporate world. According to Fortune magazine, I am officially working for  “the most well-known, most secretive, most high-priced, most prestigious, most envied, most trusted, most disliked management consulting firm on earth,” it’s understandable that no client or content related to work can be mentioned here, so I’ll just talk about cool stuff I do outside of work, or life in general = )

Consultant costume:


Let’s pick up where we left off: I was painting props in Disneyland, moving from a sub-contractor to a general contractor, then hopefully to Imagineering (i.e. moving along the path described in ). All looking pretty promising in October 2014, until I hit a brick wall called internal politics >.< (won’t go into details) The result is that I decided to leave and find another way.

By some completely random sequence of events, I learned about this thing called consulting, in which I heard one can move around the world and across industries to solve problems. I decided that it sounds pretty cool and went for an interview, then two more follow-up interviews, then I signed the offer.

McKinsey turns out to be, umm, not much like what I imagined (for example, the ‘traveling around the world’ part have not happened yet; in fact I have been completely stuck in Shanghai since July >.<). But one thing I am very grateful for is that they let me pick when to join, given a window of one year since the contract. I picked July 2015 to have 7 months to complete many things I’ve always wanted to do, planned and budgeted with the aim of using up the whatever small amount of saving I had. You’ve already seen the results above ^_^

A few things I learned from the 7 months pre-consulting:

  • It’s important to make time and systematically complete things one wants to do, so that they don’t accumulate
  • Spending all of one’s money on cool stuff feels great, I’ll aim for doing this periodically
  • Going out and do things often unlocks next levels for pursuing the interest (a lot like video games)

A few things I learned from the 5 months with McKinsey:

  • Unlike in mathematics where I stare at a blank paper for weeks before putting down a stroke, people here start ‘doing’ things immediately; This takes a lot of pressure away and wish I have done things more like this in academia
  • The corporate world is not very creative, but strangely spending time on manual tasks satisfying and increases my urge to be creative during personal time
  • When things are not ideal (e.g. being stuck in China) one should: 1) try as hard as one can to move within the orginazation in the right direction 2) do things outside of work to completement what’s non-ideal

Plans going forward (laundry list, mostly for myself to check back when I get bored and can’t think of things to do) – it goes roughly from shorter term to longer and more involved items which I have less clue about how to proceed:

  • Do interesting side-projects on weekends, such as:
    • Design and build a working Turing machine with my recently obtained LEGO Mindstorm EV3 (I would need some help on this from my mathematical blog readers: Anyone have a good set of turing machine notes? I remember spending lots of time writing the states back in my undergrad days, need to refresh those memories but lost the notes)
    • Re-start improving my digital painting with my new iPad pro and apple pencil (so far I believe it’s going to totally substitute Wacom!)
    • Think about topology – sometimes I feel the need to read/think math in order to verify that I’m not becoming more stupid in this job =P 
  • Climb Kilimajaro in February 2016 – this was originally part of my African trip this June, but due to lost passport in Kenya it didn’t happen. Just booked the flight
  • Oil painting – follow up with connections built in Florence, possible next painting workshop in Rome, Venice, Paris or Sweden
  • Sculpture – would be great to start that at some point, ideally marble, in Florence or London
  • Flying – Go to Arizona and actually complete my pilot license (did’t get very far at all in Princeton due to weather and the fact that Airport is 30 min biking away from school >.<), can be done in a month with good weather and intensive flying
  • Diving – Need to do more boat diving in interesting spots, see whales, sharks and shipwreck
  • Rock climbing – Back to Yangshuo, follow up with connections built there with the rock climbing community, improve ratings, eventually move to large walls and climb El-Captain
  • Wildlife conservation – 1) Follow up with LUMO in Kenya, re-visit, try to fund my cattle program to prevent locals to kill Lions  2) Good NGOs to try connecting with: WildAid in China for stopping Ivory and shark fin demand and Save the Elephant in Kenya  3) explore how might I get McKinsey involved
  • Industrial design – Potentially get a masters in that, either ArtCenter or Europe
  • Disney (Imagineering or PIXAR) – Remains a huge void and question mark I need to figure out… Have to get there at some point in life… Ideally through building a portfolio and reputation in  visual development

Hopefully that would keep me occupied for some time =P

I would aim to write here whenever there is any thing intellectually interesting going on. Let me know if you have any suggestions for bits of things I can think of/write about!

Best regards,

“Dr.” Conan Wu

Recent progress on the Imagineering quest

August 17, 2014

As we all know, I set my life goal of doing this Disney/Pixar stuff 2.5 years ago during that epic vacation in Walt Disney World. So after learning that they are building a park in my hometown Shanghai, I had this idea of coming back and start from there which got realized half a year ago after I had an injure trying to renovate the studio space in LA. (well…that’s another story >.< I one just needs to know that I'm fully recovered and am jumping around again, as you can tell from below)

After arrival I didn't really know how to proceed, so I spent some time catching up on academic drawings:

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and paintings:

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2014-04-12 21.57.35

Then I spent most of the Spring wandering the roads of Shanghai:


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2014-04-15 01.29.17

Hanging out in coffee shops:


and did some domestic traveling:



Finally in May, I was recovered and ready to head to the park (ok…plus start road biking…):

2014-05-12 18.24.33

I started off by finding a random job painting props (such as rocks, wood, and sculptures that are made of fiberglass) with a local sub-sub-subcontractor under Disney. This was quite an adventure, I got to live in the construction worker’s dorm inside the park and worked 6 days a week, it was FUN:

2014-05-22 07.39.27

(Note: everything in the painting shop are top secrets and cannot be taken photos of =P)

So I went to paint items in the Shanghai version of the classical Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

After a few weeks they somehow discovered I’m pretty good at this and decided to make me an art supervisor (oh, and I received a salary multiplier of 2.5). After another few weeks I got an offer from a not-too-sub contractor I dealt with on the site (with another salary multiplier of 2.5, now let’s see, what will happen if one keeps this exponential growth… =P Ok just joking…But I decided to turn them down and went for a job interview with Disney (finally!)

That’s pretty much where I am right now. Hopefully I’ll soon be calling myself an Imagineer, if not I’ll just keep trying until that happens =P. Wish me luck!

A posthumous paper: Random Methods in 3-manifolds

January 29, 2014

Hi all, life has taken some dramatic turns since I last posted: I did not get to teach topology in Art Center, so I took a different approach in job-finding and ended up making pastries in a local bakery overnight (11pm-7am) for two months until some (very complicated) personal affairs arise, due to an irreversible influence from certain individual, I decided that I should forget about applied/digital art and just paint classically instead; So I think I’ll start by become a painter who also works in random jobs (such as dishwashing). Oh, and I’m getting married sometime this year~

Ok, enough random things about me…I’m here to give a little teaser of a posthumous paper of mine in mathematics before it goes on the ArXiv, which I finally received a complete draft from my wonderful co-authors Alex Lubotzky and Joseph Maher. I hope this summary from my point of view could serve as my tribute to this interesting piece of work.


Let’s start with an ‘unrelated’ piece of history: Once upon a time, many standard or number-theoretically significant graphs (such as Ramanujan graphs, as I might have mentioned when talking about expanders before) were not known to exist, then there comes Paul Erdos, after whom they were known to exist and is literally ‘everywhere’, but we still didn’t manage to ‘catch’ any particular one of them, at least not for another twenty something years. So we know that in mathematics it’s sometimes easier to prove ‘most’ objects satisfy some properties than to pick one out, for establishing existence.

While in Israel, Alex presented to me this fascinating idea he had about proving existential results in topology using random methods:

(crush-course for those who don’t know topology)
1. All closed 3-manifolds can be written as two many-holed solid donuts glued together along their surface.


It’s easy to believe all smooth manifolds can be chopped into tiny tetrahedrons.
Take the triangulation -> take it’s 1-skeleton -> take a small neighborhood of the 1-skeleton This is a neighborhood of a graph, hence a handlebody. Now what’s the complement of that 1-skeleton neighborhood?
…also a neighborhood of a graph~! …hence another handlebody…(note that the two donuts must have same number of holes since the gluing is clearly a homeomorphism)

This is called a Heegaard splitting of the 3-manifold.

OK, we now know all 3-manifolds arise from such gluings when we use some (probably large) genus donuts. We can fix a genus and ask what are all possible gluings occurring in that genus.

Now two homotopic homeomorphisms clearly give the same 3-manifold, hence we only need to consider the homotopy classes of surface homeomorphisms, which forms the infamous mapping class group of the surface.

To summarize, we have in hand a discrete group in hand whose elements parametrize (with repetitions) all 3-manifolds given by gluing donuts of that genus.

What can we do on infinite discrete groups? Well, actually many things, but in particular we may put a probability measure on its generators and random walk!

Now we can ask all sorts of things regarding what happens after walking for a long time, such as:

After taking N steps,

How likely are we landing on a gluing map that gives a hyperbolic 3-manifold? (property 1)

How likely is the resulting gluing a Heegaard splitting with minimal genus? (property 2)

Topologists might have the intuition that ‘most’ 3-manifold should be hyperbolic and guess that ‘most’ Heegaard splittings are minimal genus; if so, I’m glad to tell you that…your intuition is correct!

At this point I would like to sidetrack a little bit and point out that, many of those traditional combinatorics/number theory/graph theory random method arguments goes like this: take a smartly chosen class of objects, put a carefully constructed probability distribution on it, and Boom~ ‘most’ (asymptotic probability one) many objects are our desired objects! so they exist!

Now of course we already know that hyperbolic 3-manifolds exist in every Heegaard genus…but we figured that this random implying existence method can be pushed much further than merely most imply exist. After all, it is a group which we are walking on~

First of all, property 1 and 2 are not only generic in the sense of having asymptotic probability 1, but actually the set that does not satisfy property 1 and 2 decreases exponentially, i.e. the exceptional set for both properties have size O(e^{-cN}) for some c>0 after $N$ steps.

The above leads one to think of the possibility of estimating decay rates of various 3-manifold properties under this random walk and thus drew conclusions such as “if property A decays exponentially, property B decays polynomially but not faster, then even if ‘most’ objects satisfy neither A now B, we can still conclude that there exist objects that’s B but not A.

Now this is all very nice but useless unless we can find and prove some manifold properties with interesting, non-exponential decay rates. For that we may take advantage of the group structure: homomorphisms between groups project random walks, hence invariants that take value in a (hopefully simpler) group would have level sets in the mapping class group having decay rates given by return probabilities of the projected Markov processes on the simpler group, which can be polynomial.

In that spirit, we apply our random method to find hyperbolic genus g homology 3-spheres with particular Casson invariants. (I will not get into Casson invariants here, let’s just keep in mind that it’s a classical integer invariant of homology 3-spheres, it is generally pretty hard to construct non-trivial examples with particular Casson invariants) Namely we prove:

Theorem: For any integers g, n with g \leq 2, there exists hyperbolic homology 3-spheres with Heegaard genus g and Casson invariant n.

The subgroup of the mapping class group consisting of all elements that give raise to homology 3-spheres is called the Torelli group. So Casson invariant assigns integers to Torelli group elements. With some work one can show that this is somewhat close to a homomorphism to \mathbb{Z}. More precisely, it’s a homomorphism on what’s called the Johnson kernel, which is a normal subgroup of the Torelli.

Unfortunately little is known about the Johnson kernel, in particular we don’t know if it’s finitely generated. But for our purpose we can pick out three elements from the group and consider the subgroup H generated by them. (two Pseudo Anosov elements with distinct stable and unstable laminations, plus a third element that guarantees Casson homomorphism is surjective.)

Now the two Pseudo Anosov elements makes the argument of exponential decay carry through (i.e. property 1 and 2 still holds outside of an exponentially small set in H); The Casson invariant is a homomorphism hence projects the random walk in H to a Markov process on \mathbb{Z}. Asymptotically such process hits returns to 0 with probability \sim 1/N^2; making all integers achieved with a quadratic asymptotic decay rate. i.e. all level sets of the Casson homomorphism has decays only quadratically in H.

From the above we can conclude there are manifolds with any Casson invariant which falls outside both the exception set of hyperbolic and Heegaard genus g.

Some slightly more recent results =P:

2013-12-02 06.18.47

Progress update: Painting, drawing etc. 11/25/2013

November 25, 2013

A life painting~ (this time I got a longer pose)

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Newest unfinished master copy:
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Rembrandt head, finished (compare to the last version in this post)
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Some plants from the LA Arboretum:

2 (7 of 7)

2 (6 of 7)

2 (4 of 7)

2 (3 of 7)

Turning sphere inside out~ (well…still gotta have some nerdy stuff, right?)

2 (5 of 7)

Composition: Kids found an abandoned boat and stolen stuff from home to decorate it as a pirate ship =P

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Mathematics, with Imagination – a course proposal

November 6, 2013

Since this summer I have been secretly working on pitching a course, in fact, something that has been growing in my mind throughout my time in mathematics. This is a course that presents mathematics, especially geometry and topology, as artistic inspiration rather than a practical tool. I finally decided to write about it in this post. I would be more than happy to hear your response and suggestions on both the course itself and its topic selections!

The current state of this is that I have finally found the perfect home for the course: The Art Center in Pasadena. After a few month of poking around I made it into the administration and attracted quite some interest from various people. Two days ago I was asked to speak about curvature for half an hour in the faculty meeting. So I might start teaching there this spring and will find out soon~ Wish me luck!


`The best mathematics uses the whole mind, embraces human sensibility, and is not at all limited to the small portion of our brains that calculates and manipulates symbols. Through pursuing beauty we find truth, and where we find truth we discover incredible beauty.’ — William Thurston

Much like art, mathematics is all about idealizing and simplifying the real world. I have always believed that, when exposed to the right set of topics, artists in all disciplines can get inspiration from mathematics. The objective of this course is to present a set of visually interesting topics from a wide range of advanced mathematics in a fashion that would be appealing to artistically creative minds.


The first half of the semester will consist of lectures on one topic per week, the topics are typically at advanced undergraduate to graduate level, but presented in a way that’s tailored especially for artists (i.e. lots of imagination required, absolutely no numbers and formulas). Some rigorous proofs will be presented followed by discussions. Every week there will be some interesting homework problems related to the topic in order to solidify student’s understanding, as well as some more creative homework that helps generating ideas for art inspired by the topic. Starting from week 7 we will develop a final project in which students can pick one of the thumbnail ideas from the pervious weeks and develop it into a project. I will present some inspirational projects (such as hyperbolic geometry inspired fashion design, 3D printings, fine art sculptures, digital fractal art, screen prints and film/animation projects).

In the eighth week we will talk about individual projects, make sure they are scientifically sound and meaningful as well as resolving practical difficulties. The remaining part of the semester will consist of lecture and discussion sessions on some more abstract topics which would serve as exposition rather than demanding precise understanding, no problem sets will be given on those. We will touch base on the progress of projects at the end of each class. Many potential in-class activities could be included, for example one could spend a class having students collaborate on building a human sized four-dimensional polytope out of the geometric construction tool `Zome’, or play teamwork games on knots and links. The last class will be a presentation and review of projects.

Weekly plan

Week 1: Surfaces from an ant’s perspective

Week 2: From peeling orange to metric structures

Week 3: Knots and links

Week 4: Fractals, natural and man-made

Week 5: Geometry of paper folding

Week 6: Pathological spaces

Week 7: Inspirations for final project

Week 8: Project planning

Week 9: Cubes and polytopes, in all dimensions

Week 10: Collaborative Zome tool construction

Week 11: Shapes of Universes

Week 12: Real estate in hyperbolic space

Week 13: Infinity and beyond

Week 14: Project presentation and discussion


This course will develop student’s skills in imagining abstract spaces and visual problem-solving as well as giving them a brief tour into the fascinating world of contemporary mathematics. The final project would ideally serve as a demonstration of student’s ability to integrate sophisticated scientific ideas into a piece of beautiful artwork which we will submit to the annual Joint Mathematics Meeting art exhibit, and the International Bridges Conference which links mathematics with Music, Art, Architecture and Culture. A successful project would make an excellent portfolio piece.

Progress in painting: 08/172013-09/17/2013

September 17, 2013

Hi people~ apologies for not updating, I was busy trying to end things with mathematics and Princeton + figuring out how to remain in the country legally + moving to the arts district in downtown LA + went to San Francisco and had a wonderful visit to Pixar (Many thanks to Matthias Goerner who successfully moved from Topology to Pixar, for getting me into their top security campus and showing me around!) + helping some awesome people in marketing their private art classes.

Anyways, I guess all that is taken care of now and I have started a new semester last week! I decided to spend this fall to systematically study traditional drawing and painting before continuing the more hip, animation related stuff, I think so far it’s going pretty well ^^

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(A Rembrandt master copy I’m currently working on, check out ‘Johannes Wtenbogaert’ for original)

This post will be some updates on paintings progress I made over the last month…

So basically I started off dealing only with light and dark:

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After a couple wood blocks we moved on to head casts:

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I moved into my small room with a wonderful view of downtown LA, did a quick black and white study looking out from my window:

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Then instead of completely monotone we added a couple colors (burnt ember, ultramarine blue and white) to establish cool and warm:

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Used the same colors to do a master copy: (this was quite interesting, I was given a black and white photocopy of the painting and was told the color of things and the time of the day, the task is to estimate the color temperature used in the original painting)

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Move on the full color, a thumbnail study of a piece by John Singer Sargent:

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Went to a model session and played with some saturated color:

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Tried a classical technique that lays down the paint and wipe out the highlights:

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OK~ so this bought us to roughly where I am in painting right now~ I’m back into focusing on image-making again and hopefully I’ll be back here soon to talk about drawing and some other classes and projects I’ve been working on. ^^

Weekly updates: Zoo sketches, acrylic, figure eight snake and Alexander horned deer

July 24, 2013

Hi everyone, so I’ll probably be posting my progress in learning how to draw and paint here every week, hope they are at least entertaining to look at~ =P

Some head study from photos, the rest I did live in the zoo~ (well…animals are moving, but I think I’m getting used to that ^^)

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I was not too happy with the rendering of animals, hence I started copying style from some cool people:

2 (3 of 5)


And just a reminder that tigers probably going to extinct soon~



2 (4 of 5)

Then we had to re-design animals as characters =P

2 (1 of 5)


Real va Stylized. (Figure eight knot snake!)

2 (5 of 5)

Then I spent a whole lot of tome figuring out how to put the Alexander horned sphere as horns >.<

2 (2 of 5)


This week I tried using acrylic (for the first time besides that one i high school^^), it was FUN!




An oil again…I tried using less crazy colors to achieve a more classical feeing…doesn’t quite work yet >.<

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Reviewed Bambi for the first time since I was 5 years old! It was AMAZING…did thirty Thumpers~

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Back to the drawing board — Month #1 (and a bit more)

July 17, 2013

So this is the first post after my blog (and life) transition! Just wish to record some progress in my concept art studies after not drawing and painting for 6 years. Feel so good that sometimes I can’t believe this is going to be what I do full-time! (Why didn’t I start this 1.5 years ago?!)

In any case, the goal of this blog is to have bad paintings and drawings at the beginning and hopefully show improvements over time. My ultimate hope is for this to envolve into a log that shows dreams can be achieved no matter how distant it is from where you are.

Anyways, here are some selected pages of what I’ve been doing over the last month or so =P

First, some animal thumbnails~ (went to the zoo last week, but those are mostly from photo as I’m still not very comfortable drawing while standing in the crowd >.<)


Gorillas are super fun to draw!

Bears (and some polar bears)


African collection




This is me trying to figure out how does animal legs bend…


Copied animal poses before the zoo, to get a better idea of how to capture the gesture.

Now onto human figure invention~


Those are given a background and invent a character to put into the scene.


This was super fun to draw~ I am happy to see that now I can draw figures without finding a photo reference ^^


Take a pose and change the character posing. (we actually had a model doing in and was asked to change him into ‘superhero’, ‘sexy women’ etc =P)


I think I really like drawing fat guys…


Hand expressions, roughly a half of them copied from master animators from Disney, the other half drawn according to my own (left) hand =P


Designing a ‘space pirate’.

Okay, below are some absolutely uncategorized random stuff I just decided to throw in:

A little layout. (obviously inspired by Ratatouille)


Some plants (drawn on spot in Caltech)


Balls, painted in Photoshop

Okay…onto…oil painting! I have to say that I have never done oil in my life…(and I only ever painted a couple times back in high school >.<) But it’s so exciting to start!!!

I started off by going to those life model sessions where there is a model posing and everyone drops in and paints:






First-time still life.


Some thumbnail landscapes from my travel photos.

Anyways, painting is something I am most looking forward to improve! Just started to systematically learning it last week, so stay turned!

A sketch of a piece I really wanted to paint once I get better at it:


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:

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~


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


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)


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