What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Mingjue Helen Chen and I’m currently a Visual Development Artist at Disney Feature Animation.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve led a pretty uneventful life I’m afraid, although I did work at a Coldstone Creamery when I was in high school and had to sing for tips.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that every project I’ve worked on has been special to me! On Frankenweenie, I felt a great deal of trust from my art director, and was allowed to do a lot of different things like set design and moment paintings. I didn’t realize until recently how rare it is to have that kind of trust placed in you, let alone on your first production as an art student. Working at Cinderbiter with Henry Selick was super fun and engaging, since I was there very early on. Paperman is dear to me because the people I was working on are still some of my favorite people, ever.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Beijing, China, and moved to the US very young. I mainly grew up in Minnesota. I got into the animation business accidentally, figuring it was out of my league. I went to CTN a few years ago and by chance, Frankenweenie offered me my first animation job.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I always have fun at work, but if there was a camera looking in on me all day, it would be just as boring as any job that requires you to sit in front of a computer all day! The occasional meeting, but really, its just sitting there. Drawing. Sometimes very unsuccessfully.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Of course the creative aspect of my job is the best. I can’t imagine what else I would have done, if not become some sort of artist. I get to draw for cartoons all day, how can I complain!?
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
See above! But really, the bad days only really happen when you feel like you’ve failed at your job. Nothing in art is guaranteed and its all very subjective. The other day I drew the worst table ever.
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?
People still laugh at me, but I use Wacom Intuos 3. I have a Cintiq, but I rarely use it. I don’t find that the technology has impacted me much. I got into digital art very early on, and was comfortable with it all through college, so it was not such transition for me.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The insecurities that come with every artist. There’s certainly a pressure daily to produce useful and meaningful art. A tall order for someone like me, who has always kind of struggled with being an artist, period. Every job I’ve ever done first starts with a huge amount of doubt and I always end up asking myself “Am I cut out for this?”
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I walked past Tim Burton on the way to the bathroom once. I panicked and waved. Seriously though, every day I have to give myself a reality check and go, oh right, I’m working with some of the people who are behind my favorite films growing up. Its surreal.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Moving to LA for Frankenweenie by myself. It was a 4 month gig, and I didn’t know anyone. Even when leaving Minnesota for San Francisco to go to art school I was accompanied by my twin sister (coincidentally also an artist), and never had to venture somewhere on my own before. Between getting the offer and actually starting my first day, it was a span of 2 weeks. I had to find a car, move, find a new place that sublet, and navigate the hell that is LA traffic.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Well, I got a table for CTN along with my boyfriend, Ryan Lang, who is also an artist at Disney. I have NOTHING to sell. But the goal is to get something on the table by November!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I am very good at Super Smash Brothers Melee.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Keep drawing, invest in the foundation skills. Don’t let Photoshop do the complicated stuff for you. Also be nice, people remember.