Daphne van der Zanden

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What is your name and what is your current occupation?
My name is Daphne van der Zanden. I’m 23 years old and proud Junior Game Artist at GamePoint, which is stationed in The Hague (The Netherlands).  I’m the first female tribute to enter GamePoint’s art department. Such princess, so much sparkles (such an annoying-talky-talktress)!

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation? 

Well, I’ve actually had multiple jobs which seem almost too horrid to be named. I started some of them out of interest, and some of them out of desperation or for financial reasons.  I had a very interesting job at the local theatre when I was 16 years of age. I was having a tough time and didn’t want to wear girly clothes. They managed to put me in a fancy hostess outfit and instructed: “Attend your post near the exit and be pretty, pretend you’re important”.  It was a simple job of repeating “welcome” and “goodnight” to all of the theatre’s guests. However, this job seemed to have a very positive effect on me. When I walked trough those humongous doors, I suddenly transformed from a scruffy tomboy into a true lady.  I  had  several jobs scooping ice cream. I didn’t mind working hard with blisters on my hands, but my boss yelled at me and didn’t treat me very nicely. One day, for example; a little 3-year-old came to the salon with his parents. After checkout the little boy became so excited he dropped his ice-cream. I’ve never seen a kid go from ecstatic to heartbroken so quickly.  I gave him a new ice cream with an extra scoop of strawberry top. “On the house! Because you have such a pretty smile! Can you give me another one of those smiles?” His tears suddenly disappeared and he laughed “Thank you!” My boss was  doing some paperwork in the back and overheard the commotion. He dashed into the saloon and yelled ” You can’t give away free ice cream to ignorant kids! It’s their own fault if they drop it!” He fired me the next day.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

I’ve done an assignment working for Belle-Laide Events in Sydney. They briefed to design & draw stage pieces in digital format. I loved drawing an extensive series of digital background decor pieces of Fairfax media’s Christmas event themed ”Escape to Neverland”. A giant 3D illustrated Peter Pan book set the scene. A four-meter-tall paper pirate ship sailed at the back of the dance floor, while paper mountain ranges loomed over the Lost Boys; even the Pan crocodile appeared on the first floor.  Of the nearly 1300 guests attending, about 98 percent were in costume. People were dressed as Snow White, Smurfs, Mary Poppins, Super Mario Bros, the Hulk, crayons, pirates, 101 Dalmatians, superheroes and fairies.

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

I’m a Dutch girl from a town in the south of the Netherlands. I managed to get involved in the wondrous world of game design even though I wasn’t raised with videogames at all. I was brought up in a woodland environment. I’ve spent a lot of time outside building tree houses and treasure hunting across imaginary seas. I was a very introverted kid armed with a playful imagination. I spend a lot of time drawing during classes on high school, actually… a little bit too much. My math teacher approached me one day “Ok Daphne, I see you drawing all the time. I’m going to rip all the pages out of your math notebook that include your silly drawings!” … These wasn’t a single page left. I guess he had a point.  It wasn’t so difficult to choose a college program; I went to Saint Lucas University and graduated as a graphic designer. Whereas I did learn a lot of things about drawing, it wasn’t quite the working environment I needed. I started freelancing afterwards and practised my conceptual skills out of interest. New people noticed my work and hired me on the spot! It just… happened.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 

My job includes a phenomenon called ‘tickets’. My manager assigns them to me with a description and references. These tickets could be anything; commercial advertisement, in-game design, campaigns, features, upgrades, adaptions, or concepts. Some tickets keep me occupied for weeks, some just a few hours.  I enjoy the fact my executives trust my judgement and don’t interfere with my creative process too much “Daphne, just draw a pretty picture, we’ll see what happens!” Best. Job. Ever.  There’s also the ‘hoover-challenge’ when a manager from another department hoovers inside our territory and he “needs something very quick! NOW! No wait… he needed it YESTERDAY!” I feel appreciated and useful when I’m able to help out in such situations.
I prefer Adobe Photoshop, but we design/develop our characters & landscapes in Adobe Illustrator. There are tickets requiring a lot of creativity and digital painting and less creative tickets which include composing existing images with typography. It seems fair to balance them out and work on two projects at once so you have the opportunity to switch once in a while.

What part of your job do you like best? Why? 

Being a part of a creative community and having a purpose. It feels rewarding that my ideas and artworks are fully appreciated! It’s an amazing thing to be a part of a team and contribute to a project.  When I was selected to visit GamesCom in Köln backstage for 3 days to represent my company, I couldn’t be happier. Representing the company I work for is a thing I see as an incredible honor. My job enables my financial independence and for that it gets my unconditional gratitude, cooperation, loyalty, and creative homemade muffins in return.
A friend of mine didn’t understand what all the exploding excitement was all about “What’s so exciting about that? It’s a short trip and you have to sacrifice your free days for this event”. I couldn’t care less about my holidays, I’m grateful for every small opportunity I’m given to experience new adventures.

What part of your job do you like least? Why? 

I still need to get used working 9 hours a day at an office. Even more difficult: 9 hours on a single chair. I have some difficulty keeping my focus at times – usually caused by working on a monotone, long-term project, extreme temperatures, thunderstorms (panic attack alert!) or extreme lack of sleep.  I was used to a very liberal lifestyle before I got a job at the office. I spent two hours at the gym every morning, started drawing afterwards from noon until night with a lot of walks on the beach in between. Sometimes I just need to take a walk outside or do something more physical instead of laying eggs all day long. I’m an adventurer, not a yuppie!

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?

Working with my Wacom tablet in Photoshop. It’s been a epic battle, but I think I’ve finally defeated my impatience. I also have this funny habit of being too used to the CMD + Z hotkey. When I’m putting on make up and make a mistake “Oh shoot! CMD + Z… oh wait. It doesn’t work in real life”. My fingers make the keyboard motion at those awkward times. It happens when I spill a drink, drop my ATM card at the checkout, or even choose the wrong shampoo bottle in the shower.  On my first day of at the job, I choose to bring my own Wacom Bamboo to the office. “You never know, maybe they don’t have enough equipment”. Boy, was I wrong! My new co-workers noticed my silly little Wacom Bamboo in my backpack “Awh! That’s so adorable, bringing your little Bamboo! Aaaawh, so cute!” They gave me a large Wacom Intuos Pro in return and I’ve never again wanted to switch back to my old ways. NEVAH!

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?  

The difficult part for me is being highly underestimated. Because something’s fresh or innovative doesn’t mean my initiatives should be shot like its turkey-hunting season. It’s a joy to invest my time, energy and unconditional love into a project if I’m being taken seriously.  I’ve witnessed an unhealthy dose of pride and prejudice in the creative field. When operating in team projects my ideas were frequently called ridiculous. When someone else came up with the exact same idea – one week later – it suddenly transformed from “foolish” into “BRILLIANT”. Instead of releasing a giant octopus to consume their souls, I figured it would be smart to choose my battles wisely.

If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?

I would really like to see more detailed 2D animation! I remember the old days, when I was kneeling in front of the TV watching 1940s Donald Duck series with a bowl of cornflakes, getting ready for school.. I’ve noticed that these gorgeous ‘old-fashioned’ animated shorts have a lot of detail and are works of great craftsmanship. I grew up with these cartoons dreaming of being able to draw like that. Nowadays, a lot of animated series are lazily animated and don’t include a lot of detail, especially in the case of backgrounds. I would like to see a revival and modern appreciation of hand-drawn animation. I miss the ‘old’ way of animation and its charm and magic. I sound like an old lady…

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?

I’ve been approached by gaming genius Megan Gaiser, and also by theme park genius Jaap den Bleker – he complimented me on my latest artwork. I was interviewed for internships by a Dutch themepark ‘De Efteling’ and overal themepark-experts ‘Joravision’. I haven’t been that close to the animation giants yet. Perhaps indirectly, though.. I was boarding a plane from Los Angeles to Dusseldorf. I was 15 years old and doodling in my sketchbook when a handsome young man sat down next to me. He looked at me and studied my drawings with curiosity. He was fascinated and asked me a lot of questions about me and my work. He was an actor and just finished a guest performance on the O.C. He was traveling to Germany to be with his family. He was very kind. “Come and sit next to me in the front!”… He told me stories about his Hollywood adventures throughout our journey. “A friend of mine draws marvellous pictures for the Walt Disney Animation Company. You should enter your work! Maybe we’ll meet again in Hollywood when you’re grown up!” I’d never seen such random kindness before. 

Describe a tough situation you had in life.

When I was 13 years old my father was diagnosed with cancer. “If he’s lucky, he’ll live for a couple of months,” the doctors said. I was young and reckless and didn’t know how to manage the fact he wouldn’t be there the rest of my life. He occasionally knocked on my bedroom door in the middle of the night and asked “What will it be like to be dead? Will I ever see you grow up?” He was the savior and also the destruction of my childhood.
My mother worked as a surgeon’s assistant at the time, so she got a lot of medicine and equipment from the hospital to our house. When they installed the hospital bed in our living room, my dad was leaning on my shoulder and stuttered “What do you think is going to happen to me in this bed?” He didn’t want to die in a hospital, he wanted to be near his family. Although it was a nice idea that he never left the house, it was a very painful process to see his body fade away. I’ve never seen someone suffer like that. Witnessing death up close as a kid changed my perspective towards life permanently. I remember my father crawling on the floor in pain, begging me to end his life. I will never forget the sound of his screaming for mercy. My mother needed me to help put him up and to carry him to his deathbed, I felt his skinny body against mine; I didn’t recognize my dad anymore. I lost my best friend that same night.   There isn’t a day he doesn’t cross my mind. I left home shortly after his death and took care of myself from then on.  I started drawing around the clock as a  mental release and developed my creative skills rapidly at a young age.

Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?

Sure! I really want to put my new skills to good use by building an awesome pop-up porfolio to grow within the business. My portfolio includes: an iPad game concept, a card deck, a board game, a children’s book, several storyboards, themepark concepts, an animation reel, all including character studies and landscape studies. I want to innovate; I want to add durable art to the world. I haven’t found my place in the circle of life yet, but I’m determined work incredibly hard to walk amongst the artistic film-making giants of Hollywood one day.

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?

Oh yes! I have a few weird characteristics; I have an unusual habit of answering the phone while I’m asleep. I’ll answer any question you’ll ask with a sleepy reply “…Yes… I love you”, after an intense shift I make drawing reflexes with my right hand while I’m asleep. I also tend to talk to inanimate objects sometimes..  “Goodbye house”… “Go away dirty spoon”. And I also turn my head a little bit to the side when I spot something interesting (it gives away my interest, very treacherous).

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

Try to add your passion to your projects, present them to the world with pride (the world wide web seems to be the most efficient way). Someone will appreciate want you’re doing and will put your awesomeness to great use. Bedazzle your employers with your sparkling personality and let your artwork speak for itself (it’s a subjective thing). Whatever happens, do NOT panic.  I approached my current job with a very “out-of-the-box” letter. Filled with meme-references and nifty comments.  (“Such a pretty princess, such booty! You can’t afford me anyway! HAH”) They were charmed by the unusual/original way of writing.  “We didn’t actually need you, our art-department is fully staffed. We love your work, but after we read your characteristic letter we’re hooked!”   Sing your song of seduction and be a good person with a gentle heart. If you’ll get the chance to work fulltime at an office; take care of your co-workers like family. They will probably spend more time with you than your loved ones do.


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