We had the good fortune of connecting with Zoe Pham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zoe, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam in a family where though, math and science is crucial, creativity and day dreaming are also encouraged. Life growing up in the city was interesting, there weren’t much of nature to explore and I wasn’t really allowed to go outside a lot so I was just in the house, drawing and imagining myself traveling the world and going through portals to other worlds. I think the person that has the most influence on my imagination is my dad, he is an amazing storyteller. We watched a lot of movies together and he always told me these bed time stories that was purely created from our imagination combined. We would create this imaginative world together and traveling through it and when I fell asleep I would dream of it. It was so fun. I think that is why I am so fascinated with creating worlds in my film that is a bit odd, a bit strange, a bit dreamy and reflects the psyche of the characters more than the real world.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I would describe my art as hot pink, squishy and up close and personal. I’m interested in making films and illustrations about the worlds in ones head, spaces where no one can visit. I’m fascinated by body languages and the little signals that we send out about our emotions and our inner world that we don’t vocalize. Translating feelings into visuals and color is the most satisfying process.
I explored this realm of the minds in my graduation film “Pick Your Poison”. I made it during my last year at DePaul University. It is an animated film about a break up, miscommunication and the internalization that leads to frustration in the relationship. Most of the film takes place in the characters’ heads or the world they experience is skewed because of their perspectives. It was super fun to try to translate every thoughts and feelings into visuals. I wrote so much, asked myself so many questions and re-visit a lot of my own journal to figure out the closest visual to capture the feelings. This was a very different film when I started making it. I started out with the intension to make an incredibly sad film but then I just couldn’t go on making it. It seemed so boring to me, to see things from one angle, to decide immediately that it needs to be sad. I don’t think you can decide the feeling of your film until after you finish, even now, I still have changing feelings about it. I am happy I trusted my gut to change the film and create something that was joyful for myself to make for 6 months.
Currently, I’m brewing a new film also inspired by personal experience and my need to understand these feelings. My process is always so fluid that I never really know what film I will end up with when I start. I just start with an initial feeling and rough idea then dive in 200% with light speed and let the process naturally leads its way. I’m very excited about it and how this process will unravel and push me to grow. Coming up, I want to continue making more films that stories are close to my heart and I feel resonate with, stories about being femme, being queer and being Asian, As I am navigating my identity, making films is my way of finding my space and learning more about myself and in hope that someone will watch it and feel resonate too.
The road has not always been smooth. As a freelance animator, you can never predict the work load you are going to have. There are times when I have too much work to juggle and then there are times when I have nothing at all. It’s easier for my mental health to have too much to juggle because at least I know I have something to work on at all times or at least I can recommend a fellow animator for the project, always a puzzle to solve. The difficult times are when I have no commissions and I get panic so easily but I try to keep myself creating by drawing, writing new films and asking around for projects to do. I am still learning to use those time effectively, to appreciate when work aren’t pouring in and use the opportunity to recenter my voice as an artist and experiment. Then, there is rating, this is a conversation that needs to be having way more between creatives others who want a piece of animation. Because we love what we do and we want to make the most beautiful things but we also need to eat and stay healthy to create haha as simple as that. Animation takes A LOT of time. This is something I am still working on to figure out a way to balance my health and my work. Until then strategic budgeting and working a lot do the trick of life for me.
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 would take them thrifting at Village Discount, the best place to dig out the most rare gems in the city and to Music Box Theater, my favorite theater in the city. And Berlin Nightclub, a must-visit for a night to remember with all the amazing drag performances and dancing all night long.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people in my creative community that I want to give a shout to, the list is so long but I will name a few. I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded and have the opportunity to collaborate with incredible talents like the sickening fashion designer Eda Birthing, Chicago filmmaker collective Bitchcraft and director and production designer Chris Tuttle. These are the people who really inspire me to work hard, play hard and radiate love in everything I do. Truly the most amazing humans and creatives out there. Another growing filmmakers that are constantly inspiring to me are my bestie Mia Lorentsen and Andreas Brimmer, Mia is a very talented animator, she just finished her first film “I find him in the weather” which is going through some really great film festivals right now and the world needs to watch out for what this girl is making, she will bring you to tears. Andreas is an amazing cinematographer and photographer, everything he does is so personable, and honestly, we share so much aesthetically, there’s no projects that I work on that I don’t talk with him about. I’m incredibly grateful for the community of creatives in my life, I cannot do what I do without them.
Other: My film “Pick Your Poison” (2020): https://vimeo.com/429109620
Personal photo taken by photographer TJ Walker Instagram @tlw.ii