Posts Tagged ‘personal’

A brief recollection of my 2016

December 10, 2016

When the crisp breeze replaced roast chestnut smell on the streets of Shanghai, I realized another year has slipped away…

So I’ve been in this management consulting gig for approximately 1.5 years now. Apologize that I have not been able to post here, there is a number of reasons for that…

Anyways, since this is likely the only full-year I’ll spend in ‘serious business’, I guess giving a brief summary could be interesting to those in & out of academia. (if not, this would at least be interesting to a future me =P) Note that I have to avoid discussing all client and project work for McKinsey.

Here we go~

January: Did an interesting side project of producing a short video for work

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February: Got excited about LUNAR (an industrial design Firm we McKinsey has acquired), started to review industrial sketching and went to San Francisco to meet LUNAR

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March: My birthday, and through work I somehow got involved in the furniture design scene in Shanghai, made some designer friends and went to various shows

April: Spent the whole month and some more in Korea on a project, but hardly ever got out of the hotel/office (well, except for some shopping at the end)

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May: Got on a random project in a 4th-tier city in the middle of China, decided to reward myself to a weekend in Paris (or shall I say Paris Disneyland? >.<)

June: Short business trip in Copenhagen =)

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Then took a detour to Sweden and bumped into a very, very old friend (from middle school!)

July: On what’s probably my favorite project in McKinsey, confidential stuff aside, went on a team event with some hardcore partying in Macau (infact I got out from the party in a wheelchair, oh well, good crazy times =)

August: Company retreat in Tibet (we shipped over 500 consultants from 4 offices to Lhasa, largest group in Tibet ever; many passed out due to altitude upon arrival XD) Mostly just spent days staying in a fancy hotel with other consultants, I don’t quite get the point of being in Tibet for that, except for getting a room with huge bathroom, and I got bored so experimented with traditional Tibet costume

September: Project in Beijing, stayed in the trendy W hotel with a round bathtub & view from the office is the CCTV building; but in fact had a rather miserable few weeks

Then went to Singapore for a training

October: Went surfing in Indonesia (after all, I still find super basic hostels with an ocean view better than any glamours place)

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Took a week off to go to Australia (completely an impulsive decision, woke up and bought a same-day flight =P) Generally tried various flying (skydiving, hang-gliding, gliding…) during the day and caught shows in the evenings

November: Went to Yangshuo again to enhance my rock climbing skills, finally comfortable with leading some lower grades, rewarded myself with that red quick-draw set I’ve been wanting for years =)

December: I finally visited the Shanghai Disneyland! (ok…I procrastinated for 5 months because I was too afraid it’s not going to live up to expectations…turns out was a good park overall =) Spotted most of my work from 2014! (anyone remember that statue from this 2014 post when I was working in Disney?)

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})

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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;

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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:

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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

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~

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

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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)

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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