What is your name and your current occupation?
Hi, my name is Dream (mengqian) Chen, I am a freelance illustrator and independent animator .
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I have worked as a librarian and labor worker at school, such as clean up studio, touch up walls.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I really enjoy making On My Planet, a stop-motion animation made in my grad school. it is quite unlikely to have absolute freedom to make animation when you become a freelancer. Therefore, I cherish every opportunity when I am able to do so. School has a good platform to provide everything you need and give you the maximum support. I am always attracted to stop-motion animation because I think it is a very unique technique that give life to a real object. However,it is really time consuming and labor heavy. On My Planet is a seven minutes long animation. I did everything by myself from building up the puppet and set to animate it frame by frame. It took me three semesters to finish all the work. But I tried to experiment with it as much as I could. In the animation I tried hand drawn on watercolor paper frame by frame, I tried making felt puppet and adding digital collage at same time. It was a lot fun and I would want to combine more medium in my future project based on what I learned from this film.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I come from China, My hometown is a tropical island located at the south bottom of China mainland. Both my parents are fine arts teacher in universities. Grew up in
a fine arts family, I began to learn sketching and drawing when I was very young. I never expected to become an animator or illustrator until the final year of my high school, since cartoon is not seen as a formal or high art form comparing to fine arts in my parent’s eyes. But I am always attracted to animation, and chose animation as my major in one of the best school in China which focuses on animation. After I graduated from school, I got accepted in an animation company in Wuhan (China), working as a storyboard artist and character/prop designer. Our company produces 3D animation TV series for kids. However, working in a big company makes me feel like a dispensable part of a giant machine. I want to be an independent animator and have my voice in the world with my unique aesthetic vision.China doesn’t have very complete system or foundation to help individual artist developing their career as independent animator. After careful consideration, I quit my job, and applied to a grad school in USA, seeking more opportunity in abroad. Now, I worked as a freelance illustrator and at same time trying to apply grant from foundation to produce my next animation project.I also worked as freelance motion graphic animator for short commercial.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Being a freelancer gives me much more freedom to arrange my work and life. Usually in the morning, I check email see if there is any new commission from my agent , or any comment and feedback from the project I have worked on. Then, I cook myself a breakfast, go outside for running. After my morning exercise, I go through important mails and write down deadline and make a to do list. Then I start to work on the project. Take a nap at noon, and continue with freelance work. I also leave few hours to brows website, searching for competition/ animation residency and grant information every day.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Best part of my job is I don’t need to get up very early in the morning and hurry to prepare a lunch/breakfast. Also more time on personal project.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The disadvantage of freelance is that you have to wait a long time to get paid. Sometimes I received my pay checks few months later after I finished a project. So I have to make sure there is enough saving in my account pay my bills before next payment arrives.
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 am a 2D animator. I used Premiere, After Effect for motion graphic, animation com-positing. What I found is nowadays, Cinema 4D has become a really big trend widely used in making motion graphic commercials. It is very handy to combine Cinema 4D with After Effect for product rotation. It really saves a lot of time.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Trying to establish oneself as an independent animator is sort of like being a fine art artist. There is no company/organization to provide safety net to secure your monthly payment. One thing you can do is to participate animation festival and gradually build up network. Other sources, as I mentioned before, is to apply grant or artist residency program. More freedom in animation creation, and less money in pocket. To me, the most difficult part is to find a balance between make living and keep pursuing my animation dream.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
Most of animation/film festivals are non-profit organizations, therefore, if your work is selected by any festival. Most of the case is you have to pay for your own airfare and accommodation fee. Independent animator already produce their film under tight budget, it is uneasy to afford the international travel fee just for participating a week long festival. I hope festival could leave a funding to support animator
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I think the best thing about participating festival is that you got chance to meet and talk to some of great masters, in animation and also in film industry. In CTN,there are many top industry greatest artists sharing their work and experience. I met Yorgos Arvanitis, a great Greek cinematographer in a Greece film festival, I didn’t know who he is until later when I searched his work online that I found out so many big name film was shot by him. He is really nice and easy going person. His warm and nice personality is something impressed me most.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I think a tough situation is that sometimes relatives and parents will have a doubt on you. In most of Chinese conventional notion, freelancing is not a job or career. It is hard to not give up what you like to do under the pressure.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Despite of my freelancing career, I also teaches workshop and short session class at organization.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I think I have talents in mimicking people or animal or anything. I like to imitating the voice of my cat and very soon I begin to enjoy a nice short conversation with her. ( Maybe in her eye’s we are just shouting loud to each other )
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I remember once I asked my professor about how difficult it would be to be selected by a big name animation festival. My professor told me” It is very hard” He takes many years to establish himself as a well-known independent animator. However , he told me “ just keep producing work, some people failed first time and second time , and then they just stop, but if you keep producing work that is unique, eventually it will become your own style and be acknowledged by others” So I guess my advise is keep doing what you like but make sure you always have a back up plan to feed yourself.