Michelle Lin

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What is your name and your current occupation? 
My name is Michelle Lin, and I am a freelance illustrator/character designer and aspiring vis-dev artist.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I haven’t held that many crazy jobs, but I have worked for some very interesting characters who I probably shouldn’t name…  (My friends can attest to some of the interesting times I had working as an office assistant at Art Center).  I will share, however, during my time at USC, I storyboarded for a live action short and found myself on a late night road trip to a farm, getting in a minor car accident, and staying up all night baking cookies in the shape of chickens.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of? 
I haven’t worked on anything big, but I’ve had some cool opportunities to work on projects with friends and former classmates.  Most of us went on different paths after graduating, so getting to work together was always a treat.  Recently, my friends Dom, Jackie, and I made an animated “Mean Stinks” campaign video for a Tongal competition and won first place!
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? 
I’m from Houston, Texas and moved to LA to pursue animation at USC.  Honestly, I never really considered animation as a career until it came down to choosing colleges.  I had only a vague idea of what I wanted to do –maybe English, maybe art, maybe Industrial Design, and I applied to many schools for different majors.  I eventually decided on USC for the resources of a major university with the potential to explore other disciplines.  Though I studied animation, I found myself more interested in the design aspect of animation and learned for the first time that visual development was an actual career!  After graduating, I spent two terms at Art Center in the illustration program working on my design and painting skills.  Since then, I have freelanced while continuing to take classes, work on my portfolio, and hoping to eventually land a studio job doing character design and visual development.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 
I wake up at 8 refreshed and well rested, eat a healthy breakfast, work-out, stay focused and productive until 6, cook myself a delicious dinner, and spend the evening relaxing with a novel until bedtime.  I then wake up the next day and realize this has never happened to me.  Ever.  In reality, my schedule can be unpredictable.  On one extreme, I’d go for weeks running on no sleep trying to finish multiple projects around the clock, and then afterwards fall into a period of no work with time to go coffee-shop sketching, painting, catch up on shows, and spam my boyfriend with gifs of cats while he is at work. Both sides have their perks and downsides, but I’m hoping to settle in a more balanced routine in the future.
 
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love the challenge of designing new characters and finding ways to make them expressive and appealing.  Moments when people connect with my work in small or major ways always make my day.  I also enjoy collaborating with people who push me to be a better artist and inspire me to try new things.  Also, I like getting paid.
What part of your job do you like least? Why? 
Dealing with difficult clients can be very stressful and often I have to throw out a lot of work.  I constantly have to remind myself not to get too attached to what I’m working on and to always keep moving forward.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I work on my cintiq and PC desktop at home and mainly in Photoshop.  Like many people, I adore my cintiq and find it enormously useful and efficient for my work.  I also recently caught up with the mobile world by getting a smart phone and iPad, which are both wonderful as well as wonderfully distracting.  I generally embrace a lot of the ways technology is changing and helping artists work, but I still believe cintiqs can’t make you a better artist and technology can never replace solid drawing skills.
http://vimeo.com/mlin/moonswept
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Starting out is very daunting, and I feel that random factors such as luck and timing play a large role in how you land your first gig in the industry.  I’m still trying to make sense of this and remain positive, and I know I’m not alone in often feeling overwhelmed by all the talent in such a competitive industry.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Living in Los Angeles, going to a well-connected film school such as USC, and having attended events such as CTNX, I’ve been extremely lucky for all the opportunities to meet and be in the presence of many of my animation heroes.  Whether I was in the audience for a panel or trying to summon the courage to say hello, each encounter has been memorable though not always smooth on my part!  Some highlights I’d say would be getting to have weekly lunches with awesome character designer and story artist Chen-Yi Chang at Dreamworks where he would critique my work and share his knowledge on story and animation.  I was also pretty stunned the day when Chris Sanders dropped by our studios at USC and actually stopped to chat and watch my entire thesis film at my cubicle!
Describe a tough situation you had in life. 
I’m lucky in that I haven’t had to many major setbacks in my life so far.  Recently, I’ve been looking for work and the hardest thing has been just trying to keep my spirits up and remain productive in my personal projects.  I’m still too young and naive to be completely jaded with life anyway, so I believe this “tough” situation will pass.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Along with my own personal work, I’m currently helping one of my buddies Jay with some character designs for a pitch for the Nick shorts program.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
This past year I’ve gotten into West Coast Swing dancing and dabbled in Blues, Salsa, and Bellydancing.  Dancing has been a great way to relieve stress, and if you’re awkward like me, it’s an excellent way to be social with strangers without having to make conversation!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? 
There’s so much to say and so much I’m still trying to put into practice, but here are a couple tips I’ve gathered from my heroes and mentors.  Avoid isolating yourself from the world by focusing only on work.  Be constantly inspired and have a variety of interests besides art.  Always seek new experiences for they will inform your art and who you are as an artist.  Surround yourself with people who share your passions.  Your friends will be the ones who inspire and motivate you to be a better artist.  You may find that you learn more from your classmates/friends than you do from classes.  Go out sketching and make every moment you capture a STORY moment.  For examples, don’t just draw two people sitting at a cafe.  Capture two sisters exchanging gossip over coffee.  Push the poses, expressions, acting and create characters.  Put your work up on a blog and network.  There are so many ways to gain exposure–you have no excuse not to use all of them!  Showcase your passions and your strengths in your portfolio.  People can easily tell from your work where your passions lie so stay true to yourself and showcase what you love to do best.  Don’t try too hard trying to develop a certain style that caters to studios.  Your own style is constantly evolving and so are you.  Eventually you’ll discover what you naturally gravitate to and your style will begin to reflect who you are.  This process continues as you find new things that inspire you.
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