Alina Chau

What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Alina Chau.  Currently I work for Lucas Film Animation as a 3D story artist on Star Wars: Clone Wars animated TV series.  We just released Season 4 trailer:

This is my first season on Clone Wars.  I am very excited about it!!

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I don’t have any crazy job experience really.  I am pretty luck, and never need to work hard as a kid … usually I just work for the schools as a librarians, teaching assistant, research assistant or school newspaper artist … pretty normal kiddy jobs … nothing to crazy or exciting.  LOL

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I enjoying working on Clone Wars.  It’s a different story development process.  Traditionally, most production start from script to storyboard then animatic or for 3D production, it’s previz.  Some 3D studios, they do both 2D animatic and then 3D previz … But at Lucas, we start from script then straight to 3D Previz.  There is no storyboarding in-between.  So as a 3D story artist, we get to work closely with our episode director and develop rough character animation/acting, cinematography/camera, 3D layout and editing of the whole show.  It’s challenging and fun.  There are many super talented artists, filmmakers and storytellers here, I learn a lot from all the talented people around. When I was at Technicolor Interactive, I worked on various fun projects.  I love the Spyro cinematic.  I worked on two of the Spyro projects – New beginning and Eternal Darkness.  Spyro is one of the projects, I get to develop storyboard as well as 3D previz, and also involve in the animation process as an animator and a lead.  The production experience opened up my career horizon, and make me realized – HEY!!  I Iike story development very much!!
Spyro 2007 -Eternal Darkness

Spyro storyboard:

God of Wars 2 cinematic is also another fun project.  The characters are fun to animated, especially I rarely get to animate female character in game production.  So when I get assign to animated Lakhesis, I was very excited … finally get to animate a non male warrior for once!!  LOL  God of War 2

More clips are available on my film blog.


How did you become interested in animation?
I kind of accidentally stumble into animation.  As a kid, I always loved arts and pretty good at it, but I loved science more.  I always imagined myself grow up to be a rocket scientist … but then I grew up in Hong Kong during the colonial era.  Under the old British educational system, kids didn’t get to choose their major.  The universal public exam system determined a kid’s education and career path.  Long story short, the exam and test put me in the field of arts … there was time I was very disappointed at the system’s decision, cause I dreamed to be a scientist.  But when I discovered computer graphic, I realized – “HEY!! This new computer graphic thingie has huge potential … it could revolutionize our life in future …”  Today, we take Internet, social network, streaming, 3D and email etc.. for granted.   But back then when Internet was still at its infant stage; Yahoo is the only functional web-page on-line; and email looks more like DOS then Window … Discovering the potential of computer technology was quite an enlightenment for a clueless college kid!!   Now we are very used to big CG effect, Mocap and 3D in movies … But at the time Jurassic Park was jaw dropping!!  That is one of the films inspired me to get into animation. Plus I want to learn how to create a realistic pet dinosaur in the computer.  HE! HE!!

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?

I am originally from Hong Kong.  I have a Bachelor of Social Science degree, major in Communication from Hong Kong Baptist University.   Unlike here in the US, film school is put under Communication Department in HK, instead of Arts.  I get to expose to different disciplines in film making, journalism and multi-media design.  After graduation, I realize of all the subjects I learned in school, I love animation most.  At the time, Hong Kong didn’t have any formal animation classes.  I decided to further my study in the US, and went to UCLA Film School major in animation.  From then on, is pretty straight forward … internship then get a job in the industry …Student film – E=mc2 (2001)


What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Humm … usually I start the day at work with a cup of tea.  Then check my work email for meeting and assignments of the day.  Afterwards, I usually meet with our episode director to discuss about my assignment.  Then pretty much spend the rest of the day working on the part of story I get assign to work on. The story development process start with familiar myself with the script.  Once an idea is plan out, we start with staging and blocking the animation.  This process usually takes a few days, depend on the complexity and length of the sequence.  Once the blocking is done and approved by the director, we move forward to “shot” the sequence – adding camera (cinematography) and edit.  Our edit will then be reviewed by the director for approval.  Later on, we do have professional editor to polish our edit, and put everyone’s work together in the final edit to complete the story of an episode.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
It’s fun to get to create a story sequence and get to involve in animation, camera and editing.  When all the story elements fit well together, it’s rewarding!!  And the best part is to see the final rendered footage on the big screen with the team, make you feel very accomplished!

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The challenging fun part of story development … could also be the pain … when the story moments don’t work the way you want, or when you get stuck, but there is big deadline coming up, you don’t know what to do or need more time to think … the stress … and occasional long hour could be very stressful and no fun.  HA! HA!!  But this is fairly common in any creative process of any kind …

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
For me is to maintain a good balance between work and personal life.  Studio work schedule is often demanding, especially during crunch time.  Like many artists, I have personal projects outside of work as well.  The biggest challenge is how to plan my work, while still maintain a healthy quality life style with love ones.  Being an artist, your never really stop creating.  Yet, it’s hard to make good art, when you are mentally burn out.  Learning when and how to pause the “creative processor” in the mind is very important.  It’s very easy for artist to unconsciously over work ourselves, since the line between “work” and “hobby” (love of your work) is often blurry.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I use proprietary 3D software on LINUX at work, which is somewhat similar to Maya.  Other software I use often included Photoshop, AfterEffect etc.. and at the end of the day, my favorite is the good old paper, pencil and my trusty watercolor set.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Yes many many … I always enjoyed the annual Frank and Ollie lecture at the Film Academy … over the years, I get to sit in many wonderful inspiring lectures and meet many legendary masters, such as Marc Davis, Ward Kimball, Frederic Back, Charles Solomon, Brad Bird, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, John Lasseter, Richard Williams, Eric Goldberg, James Baster, Don Hahn, Yuri Norstein, Faith Hubley, David Silverman, Walter Murch … to name a few.   It’s wonderful to get to meet members of the nine old men, when they were around.  One of my most memorable meetings is with Frederic Back, the independent Canadian filmmaker.  I can never forget his wisdom, love and passion towards humanity and arts. Yuri Norstein, the award winning Russian animator, when he visited us at UCLA many years ago.  He brings some of his original artworks from his animated films … it’s amazing to see how he rig the characters.  His works are beautiful on the big screen, but the original is breathtaking!  And I have to confess … secretly I can’t help feeling a bit giddy bumping into George Lucas at work … the culture impact of his films and his influences in contemporary film making technology is simply astounding.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
As a foreign student moving to a new country without any friend and family … eventually established a career and new life is exciting, but not without many tears.  The struggle of being an immigrant constantly has to deal with layer of complicated legal procedure; fight for unfair salary and benefit treatment, are never been easy.  As a female in a male dominated industry, you often have to work harder to prove yourself to gain recognition.  But with an immigration burden on your shoulder, it’s a constant upstream struggle.  Overtime things get easier.  But the tedious legal process is an endless quest … it’s like playing a video game that changes rule spontaneously often.  Every time when you almost win a level, the system changes the rule last minute, and you have to replay the level again before you can move forward. Yet if you asked me knowing what I know now, would I do this all over again?  I would say, “YES!” in a heart beat.  It’s difficult, but the reward is bigger then the scarified.

Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I am working on a series of 6 paintings inspired by traditional Asian culture for potential gallery shows in the near future.  After that I will be working on another series for an on-line watercolor show, and a children picture book … hopefully I can finish the book by next summer. I will post my gallery exhibition date as the event get closer on my site.


Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
No … I wish … I am good at bumping into wall and stuffs right in front of me or trip on a flat surface, when I walk … but I don’t think that’s a talent though.  LOL

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?

Try to learn as much as you can in school, even during those seemingly boring classes you don’t enjoy as much.  You never know some of those lessons may come in handy later on.  Also, Whenever you get a job, take each opportunity seriously.  Some experiences may not feel relevant at the time, but someday you may find the skills you learn from one job could help with your career growth in the future.  Regarding creativity, never afraid to push yourself, try new technique and style and make mistake, you learn as much from mistake as from success.

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