We had the good fortune of connecting with Suyoung Jang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Suyoung, how do you think about risk?
I am not a risk taker. I always try to have a plan B, C… maybe E. But I can’t deny how dangerously temping risk taking is, because the fruit of risk taking is too sweet to ignore. I came to the US when I was 25. It was not an ordinary age to be an international student as a Korean woman, especially as an undergraduate, not a graduate student. If I fail, I would be a 29-year-old woman without a career, or financial resources. -Don’t misunderstand! I now know that 29 is not too old at all to challenge yourself or pursue something new! 24 years old me was just young, immature and scared to confront an uncertain future-. My school was notorious for having a low percentage graduate. Even after a successful graduation, I had limited time -90 days- to get a job due to my social status as a foreigner. Once I did land a job, since the working visa is based on a lottery system in the US, I can’t guarantee my qualification as a worker no matter how excellent an artist or employee I am. And I knew almost all of these practical obstacles before I came to this country. It was definitely a decision to take a risk. I still don’t quite understand why I chose this path, but somehow I got through almost all of the obstacles. And started my new career as an animator at one of the most amazing game studios in the world. I am surrounded by inspiring people and live full of excitement. At the same time, I do know I can talk about this only because I didn’t fail. There are tons of people who have worked as hard as or harder than me. People who have also taken great risks, but didn’t get what they pursued. I am aware of this. That’s why even after successful risk taking, I still hate risk taking and can’t be an enthusiastic fan of risk taking. Risk taking does change our life. It does! But I don’t want to push everyone to take a risk. No matter what they choose, there is no wrong answer. I want to encourage risk takers to keep pursuing what they want, and I also want to respect people who choose a safer path. You are not a coward or chicken. Not pursuing risk also requires dedication. As long as we don’t regret our own choices, and did the best where we are, we all are amazing people.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
To talk about my art, we need to begin with the definition of animation. Animation is a cooperative art form like a live theater or filmmaking. Cooperation of at least seven different departments -Story, Design (character, environment, prop, etc.), Modeling, Lighting & Texturing, Animation, Rendering, Effects- is necessary to finish one piece of animation. As an animator, my role is usually part of a team which means it’s rare to have my own animation as an art piece. Animators are the actors behind the characters on the screen. Similar to actors, we can choose different styles of acting or have our own interpretation of characters, but the core message of the film belongs to the director. Luckily, I had a chance to be a director and make my own animation. I was able to create something that reflects my own thoughts and unique voice thanks to the way my college is set up. My first -and so far only- animated film “Shattered” was my thesis film. It’s a two and half minute film. When you hear two and half minute, you might think, ‘hm… That’s short’. Oh, yes, it is short, when you watch. But let me give you a glimpse from a production point of view. You need seven weeks to make a fifteen second animation if you start from scratch. Animating itself would not take this long, but if you need to make a story, design a character, build a character rig by yourself? Seven weeks is not even enough time for fifteen second animation. The production time of my thesis film was three semesters – 48 weeks. It was not enough time for a two and half minute film. Even though two and half minutes was way too long to make, it was too short to tell something. Usually students try to choose their story based on their skill set – if you want to be an animator, then dedicate your story to demonstrate your animation. If you want to be a lighter, lessen the portion of animating, but choose story you can show more environment-. That was one of the wise choices you could make. But I wanted to tell something through my animation. Something related to me, related to this world, something important. I decided to talk about women. The biggest minority in human history, who always become a secondary issue due to ‘more important issues’ like class, race, poverty, etc. even though all those issues are closely related to women. I was a survivor of gendercide in Korea. Due to the unfortunate combination of medical technology development of late 80’s– sex identification of fetus- and superstition based on Chinese zodiac – people believed girls born in year of red tiger (1986), golden dragon (1988), and white horse (1990) would become too strong, so they would defeat all boys born in the same year. A lot of girls were aborted. I was born in 1990. And after almost 30 years, in the crisis of low birth rate in Korea, people have started to blame ‘modern women’s selfishness’ and ‘career oriented characteristics’ as the reason of the crisis. Wow, you killed girls only because they were girls, and now blame us because we aren’t having children of our own? As a survivor of this misogynistic society, I needed to talk about it. So I did. I made a simple story that is a metaphor of this society. Here is a summary: “In a human generating factory, a new woman awakes in a flawed system. But finds she can’t achieve her potential until she gets through a giant glass wall. She is kicked out from her path to the future only because of her form.” The result was amazing. I was very proud of my film. At the time I released my film on YouTube, the “me too” movement was in full swing, and more victims of sexual harassment in many different industries gained the courage to speak out. It felt like the perfect time for my work to be seen by the world, I hoped my work would be a beacon of encouragement to women everywhere. But one more symbolic event happened. Nothing. Many people including professional female animators expected my film could be part of the 2019 Student Academy Awards. With my film in the spotlight, women’s story would be told. But nothing happened. It was not even nominated. My film was officially selected by thirty three film festivals and got eleven awards, which means it was proven as a well-made animation. However, the major film awards leading the trend and the industry may had different opinion. Again, it was not even nominated for the Student Academy Awards. Maybe my film was ‘too political’, even though it describes pretty typical life as a woman in our society. Ironically, this whole meta-story, outside of my film, is the theme of my film. In the film, I was talking about a woman who was deprived of her chance to fulfill her own potential because of a problematic world. In the real world, that woman was me. At the end of senior year, when I didn’t get any jobs, I started to doubt my own decision making. Am I not getting any jobs because I demonstrated my feministic thoughts in my portfolio? Do companies and studios hate feminists? Should I go back home after five years of hard work at school in a foreign country? Did I waste time and resources? Is this happening because I am an Asian woman? It was very discouraging. Swallowed in a sea of negative thoughts, I was thrown a life preserver in the form of an interview request from Sony Santa Monica Studio. I took a test and got the job as a narrative animator. It turns out Sony Santa Monica’s leader was female, and respect for women and minorities is at the core of the studio culture. It’s the perfect environment for me. My film, and my choice to express my own thoughts, led me to the place where my heart belongs. Making an animated film by myself was a huge challenge. I don’t think I can do it again, at least in the near future, since it needs full dedication and focus –sometime I only could sleep eighteen hours for four days-. But through that experience I learned what I was capable of doing as one person. At work now I can cherish working as a team, sharing the burden and vision together. I also learned that if the company didn’t choose me due to my feministic character, I would not be happy working in that toxic environment.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I want to know other people’s answer for this question so I can visit those places later! If my best friend visits, I might just follow the typical tourist route for them. We (international people) have this unwritten rule, once your home country people visit where you are, you need to be a local guide and translator. I have a duty to let them see as many sightseeing areas as possible. I will bring them to Hollywood, Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica Pier, and Disneyland. Hm… Actually, it sounds exciting! I visited all these places already when I visited LA as a tourist, but couldn’t revisit those places even since I had started to live in LA. The first few months I had no energy to explore city since I used all my energy to get used to a new environment and a new lifestyle. Once I finally got some time to explore, quarantine life began so I couldn’t visit small local café or little studios. Maybe I can use this time to explore nature -hiking area and beaches- until this Pandemic ends.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My father and mother who never doubted what their daughter was capable of, and all the women who exist on the earth in history. And my dear partner who was there for me when I was at my lowest point.
Other: Audience Review for “Shattered”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeK5zS_0Ztw&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1Nj0elVAgUPFj3sCVCnTDZml6Gh5jOuS1BVGEG1tnUBkQxlRjTrDkox8c CGMeetup Link for “Shattered” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHPPCOAllMs