We had the good fortune of connecting with Ke Yang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ke, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born and raised in China. And I had a crush on art making at a very young age! My parents supported me fully by sending me to You Palace where I discovered world class traditional Chinese painting, gouache and even crafting and dancing. And art became my best friend growing up. Like many other artists, manga and Miyazaki’s films are some of my favourite things to spend time with! I even skipped some classes to sneak to manga stores. Animation has definitely played a big part in my childhood.
But I’ve never considered art or animation as a career until senior year in high school. I took a leap of faith and chose the art path! I remember I was the only one in my class doing so. It was not an easy thing trying to manage time to work on art skill while taking regular classes at the same time. But Luckily I came as top fifteen in an art competition called ‘Xiaobaiyang’ and got accepted at one of my favourite universities in China, CUC. I had so much fun learning animation there and later in my junior year, I came to Sheridan College far beyond the ocean. I was blown away by their animation program, it seems to cover everything I love in animation. College years are some of my favourite times looking back. Surrounded by many passionate artists who were absolutely in love with the same things I was crazy about as a kid, that time was irreplaceable for me. It was when I met many talented instructors and like-minded friends. We will watch the latest animation release in the mid of the night and discuss nonstop about which character was our favourite and maybe hoping one day we can make something amazing like that as a team together in the future.
And in my third year, after my internship ended at House of Cool, I discovered a profession called visual development. It covers the design for all visual aspects in animation, from set design, prop to colour scripts. I know I’m always a very design driven person in my heart so I think ‘Okay this is it!’ So in my senior year, I prepared a VisDev portfolio. And luckily, that’s how my journey as a visual development artist started!
After graduation in 2017, I was lucky enough to land a job as Designer at Bron studio for a Netflix feature animation called The Willoughbys. Still can’t believe Kyle and Kris brought me along on this journey. It was such a crazy fun ride. Having zero feature animation experience made me quite nervous but they took me under their wings and generously shared with me about every technique and thinking behind a design. I wouldn’t trade this time for anything! And later in 2019, I came to the United State to work as Visual Development Artist at Laika. Films like Paranorman and Coraline were some of my favourite animations in my list so I was over the moon to work on their next feature. Their delicate thinking and attention to details completely freshen my eyes and I love every second working among these truly talented artists sharing their visions and trying to make something together. I can’t wait to share what we made with the world.
And now, I’ve started a new journey this September as visual development artist at Sony Picture Animation for their upcoming Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse 2! Thinking back, it was a thrilling ride! I’m incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the most talented and generous people in these cool projects. I can’t think of any better places I want to be.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I couldn’t think of what sets me apart since there are just so many talented and hard working artists in this industry. They are just art beasts and inspire me every single day. I can say what made me excited was telling stories from humans, just regular people like us. The life behind every human being is worth celebrating. I LOVE listening to these stories and try to bring them into my art. Observing from life is one of my favourite things to do, and I’ll bring these little moments to sketches! I can never think of myself being where I am without the trust and support from many many incredible people. So I can do what I love every day. It was never an easy ride. Risk taking is part of the game and Visa stuff only makes it more complicated. The most important lesson that I’ve learnt is to work on something you are truly passionate about. The passion you have in your work will shine through and that’s what people are most excited to see. I know it’s hard since there’s not really a correct answer in art. But art is more about you. About what makes you who you are. And if you work on a project that sees these things in you, it will become the most amazing time!
I’m very excited for my new journey with Sony and I’m ready to grow and become a better artist! In the meantime, I’d love to do more personal art like graphic design and ceramic. Working on my personal pieces is equally rewarding and relaxing. It helped me keep my eyes fresh and discover more about myself. In the near future, I want to try to write a personal story and make a short film with some of the amazing artists I met along the way! I’m sure it would be hella fun!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Omg there are millions of things to do in LA! First thing that I would ALWAYS recommend is Universal studios. The activities they have are so much fun and you feel like you are in a movie. After that we can head downtown and enjoy some authentic Asian food! The one thing I love about LA is its diverse cuisines. There’s always options whether you’d love to visit a delicious taco food truck or go fancy for bone marrow! Three places are my absolute favourites and I’ll kidnap my friends to is The Original Farmer’s Market, Joy on York and Chifa. The spicy shrimp wonton at Joy is to die for and I love these seafood tacos and oysters in farmer’s market. And you can’t go wrong with the flavourful braised ribs at Chifa! The next few days we can go to The Getty and Book Soup. The architecture is an absolute beautiful scene to see and be sure to check out their permanent collections. Book Soup on Sunset Strip has many great books and cool records. I’ll probably spend my whole day there haha.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Definitely my parents and my dear friends! Choosing an art path wasn’t easy in China and I remembered hearing many doubting voices. But they shield me from them and always supported me with every decision I had. Even in very uncertain times! They are by my side in bumpy moments and try to figure a way through with me. They are the true diamonds in my life. Visa related complications added so much risk and uncertainty for me as an international student in foreign land. I know I need to work as hard as I can on my side. But at the same time, I was so lucky to have the support of many studios and artists along the way. I felt so loved and I know I couldn’t come this far without them.
First image is from a life drawing session form Zeet Studios Sketch.