Kimberly M Zamlich

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Kimberly M Zamlich and I am an illustrator/artist.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation? 
Nothing too crazy; actually kind of boring…working at McDonald’s, at a book store, the community college. My first professional art job was working at Stormfront Studios in Marin County which was a gaming company. I was a computer artist there and did a lot of production work in the beginning, then later on started to do some visual development. That’s where I learned Photoshop.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
One of the most memorable jobs was at MGA Entertainment. I was new and suddenly had this card game thrown on my lap. No one else was available to do it and because I was new, my Art Director was sweating bullets. Can you draw Chihuahuas and animals, he asked me? What? Does a bear poop in the woods? My response was “And I get paid to do this?” I had about 11 illustrations done in 2 weeks, from start to finish for a card game called Andale! Andale! I gave myself 2 days to come up with a solid look of these characters, one I’d feel great in doing, and never looked back. And still to this day, out of all the things that are in my portfolio; it’s the Chihuahuas that everyone loves.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? 
I am from the Bay Area, (Northern California). I worked 4 years at Stormfront and then it got real political. I had heard Disney Feature Film had been hiring after it’s Lion King success and I put in a figure drawing portfolio after Pocohantas was out. I was lucky. The time was ripe when Disney had it’s phenomenal success and cell animation was king again, Dreamworks was up and coming and there was a hiring fight for clean up people. I got in pretty much after that huge hiring frenzy; was one of the last to get in that way. Then it got really hard to get in. When I got there, many people had known someone at Disney to get in; I got in by the strength of my drawing skills and it did take awhile. I was rejected the first year, swore to have an even better one the next year. I was living near the Berkeley area, driving to Marin for work, then commuting to San Francisco to take a figure drawing class with the late, great Barbara Bradley (Disney came by once a year to recruit from the Art Academy thru Barbara), then going back over the bridge to El Cerrito. It was nuts but that’s how bad I wanted to get back into doing traditional drawing and thus get into Disney.


What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 
I freelance from home. This gives me the opportunity to live a healthier life style. Instead of commuting, I work out in my backyard. I’m up by 7, work out, eat a big breakfast and jump on the computer. Last year, I was trained by Disney Consumer Products to ink fairies and princesses in Illustrator. These are very detailed, complicated inks in which you really and I mean really have to know the program. You can find me obsessively working til about 9 in the evening. Sometimes if it’s a big rush to get it out, I’ll go to 9:30, maybe 10, but after that my brain is fried and I’m no good. And most times I am working 7 days a week, weekends, holidays to get inks out. I don’t mind. Because eventually projects slow down and then I can get rest…My breaks consist of doing the laundry, washing dishes, vaccumming my house, and oh by the way, I’ll sketch too at my computer to keep my hand loose. I never relax and I can multi-task with the best of them!


What part of your job do you like best? Why? 
I love to create. We artists, we are like magicians. We can make fantastic things come to life with a pencil or brush and tell a riveting story. It’s like playing God in a tiny way. Oh man, I love to draw, to paint, to look at and create beauty; it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. And I am always challenging and learning new things. I love a good challenge. I get so lost in the excitement of colors, of projects, of what I can accomplish and what I learn.  I find that people are usually either Illustrator people or Photoshop people. I actually love Photoshop because you can “paint” in this program. Illustrator, I’ve had to learn. And still learning. You can do the same action in Illustrator about 20 times and on the 21st time it’s says I’m not working. And then it’s problem solving for hours after that and I have to figure out how to get it to composite or unite…BUT I am not one to give up and I must admit…I do love the challenge. Many people who have taught themselves to use Illustrator can’t draw. Illustrator is a program that many designers use and those people tend to be left brain thinkers. Drawing is usually a right brain kind of thing; and I have only met a handful of those that can access the left and the right side of the brain in their art jobs. I am lucky. I can both draw the figure and vector. That’s one of the reasons why Disney uses me. I understand and can draw figure. You have to know how to draw an appealing face and human anatomy if you are going to successfully vector a figure. People who vector in Illustrator but can’t draw will mess it up. Everytime. There may be a few exceptions, but if I see a bad pencil given to me to vector I’ll know why it’s wrong. Most people will not know why it looks wrong and will ink it that way. I love working with DCP; they’re friends of mine and incredibly nice and hardworking people. I do come into the office to train occasionally.
What part of your job do you like least? Why? 
I’m uncomfortable when it slows down. I like it slamming busy; it’s a rush and I can always be depended on to do a good job. But when it does slow down it gives me a chance to work on my own projects and I love that! I create my own jobs which hones my skills and I love to paint. Freelance is up and down and you have to have the courage to know that you will keep working. I hate not being busy because I pay the mortgage so it’s stressful. The other part is that most companies are slow to pay you; Disney, it’s 45 days. You can depend on a check not being approved or getting lost in paperwork or something like that; it’s frustrating.


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 use Illustrator and Photoshop. When I learned Photoshop back in the 90’s, it’s basically the same, it just has more bells and whistles. But the thing is jobs have gotten more and more complex and Photoshop has grown with those needs. And there are so many programs to learn! I would love to jump into a 3d program but there’s just not enough time these days!


What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The ups and the downs. But weirdly enough that’s also the best part. You can really appreciate your success when it does come! Also, for freelance, you have to get the job done, no matter what. If you are sick, if it’s a holiday and everyone else around you is drinking or celebrating and you are at your computer, with someone at the other end asking you when can they expect the work, so you really, really have to love what you do!  Also sometimes you can get really difficult people to work with and you have to be a real good communicator. In my experience a job that has been botched was botched because of bad or lack of communication. I will go to any length to help you complete that deadline, just give me good direction and point the way. I’ll go there. It’s scary to get a director who has no idea of what he/she wants!


In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Yes. I’ve been really, really lucky. Some of the films that have my name in the credits: Atlantis, Tarzan, Mulan, Treasure Planet, not to mention the many talented people who have encouraged and inspired me. I met Greg Manchess at Comic Con one year and hung out with him for nearly an hour, bantering and asking him questions about traditional painting. What an amazing, generous soul and a down to earth communicator! Also, while waiting in line for over an hour to get 2 books signed by Pierre Alary, we hung out during the whole time, having a great time! And Feature Film becomes your family when you work those long, long hours to meet the deadlines. I did not get to work with Glen Keane, but met him once and he is as down to earth and encouraging as one can imagine. Most of those seasoned professionals I have met are very nice people, some surprisingly candid and humble and appreciative and this is one of the reasons why they are still in the business.


Describe a tough situation you had in life.
The toughest? I had my daughter at 38. We were illegally pushed out of a apartment in Burbank, Disney was on it’s laying off mode, we bought a house and I suffered a very bad form of post partum in which I did not sleep for nearly 3 years. I would go 7 days without a wink of sleep. On the sixth day I would start to hallucinate, stopped driving because I did not trust myself. I thought I was going to go mad. I would be up all night breast feeding my daughter; (who by the way never slept, never napped and still to this day has a allergy to sleep, a high energy Jack Russell of a kid), then went to work; my line at Disney was crap, my husband got laid off and we had just bought our first house. It would not be until she was three that I finally was able to sleep and found out I had post partum. It was one of the most darkest periods of my life. I had taken 4 months off after having Sienna, came back to work, went to the drawing class during lunch, had no idea in my exhaustion and depression who I was, afraid as all hell to put down a line during figure drawing class. Could not remember how to even hold a pencil, and just by sheer rote instinct, nailed the figure. I was astounded because I thought everything I had ever worked for was wiped out by the insanity of hormones. I still have that drawing to this day.


Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Currently I am trying to do some local work and traditional work and digital work. In the last year, I went back to traditional paints to learn to turn the form with warms and cools. While training at Disney Consumer Products, I got to attend a class taught by artist Sean Cheetham, who is incredible at this. His fine art work is mostly oils, but he does these amazing acrylic demos in class; loose, casual, just brilliant. I like it better then his gallery work. But it was friend Ron Velasco, who taught me outside class how to mix and use the colors in a more relaxed setting…he has taken a lot of painting classes and his work is incredible! It is because of Ron and his encouragement, that the painting exercises come out the way they do. Ron is always way ahead of me in the painting department. I am writing a graphic novel, so to learn more about story, I began taking screen shots of period films to study how the director told the story in lighting, lay out, emotion, warms and cools, was it successful?, was it not? Etc. and painted them in a sketchbook. But now I am going back to digital and plan to have several new ones in a year. I also plan to make some drawing tutorials about animals online to promote my blog.


Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Ok, I’m going to tell you something that not even my really close friends or husband may know about…when I was a kid I could run on all fours really fast. Like an animal. My friends and I would race this way and I would always win. Part of the reason is that I am Japanese and have these short legs. None of my causcasian friends could do it and certainly anyone with long legs could not do it. I think it is why I am so familiar with drawing animals. Also I can write with my right hand and if I concentrate, I can get my left had to mirror what the right hand can do. So if I write my daughter’s name, I can mirror those strokes with my left hand and write her name backwards at the same time writing with my right hand!


Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
This is hard. When I got into the business there was a lot more opportunity in the Animation industry; but the opportunity was dwindling. There was still some need for hand drawn work; and during the lay offs, most work went overseas and then CGI came along. This is how I would do it: Number one: Practice, practice and more practice on your drawing skills. Generations coming up learn to draw without pencil and paper, learn a program and call themselves illustrators. When I look at your blog or your work I can see the lack of drawing skills. Continually take drawing classes from the best instructors and be a sponge. The best of the best out there can really paint and really draw from life using real traditional mediums. This alone will feed you spiritually and give you the umpth to go one whether you get paid or not. Be proud of your earned skills. Number Two: Download a copy of Bobby Chiu’s The Perfect Bait. You can listen to it while you work. I have been searching for ways of more exposure; and so far this is the best advice I have found. I am following that model:  In January, I am organizing a get together with several artist friends to see a museum once a month, sketch togethers at zoos, museums once a month where we can all meet each other and talk art and exchange ideas, concepts, just plain know what’s happening out there in the industry. Number Three: Start a blog. It’s free. Yes, you have to feed that blog every month. That means a new piece every month, or a show of progress and at the end of the year, you will be surprised at how you have grown and learned. Then post everything on FB, as you continually seek out other illustrators on FB and establish relationships (professional) on FB so they can see how you are improving. You will begin to establish an internet presence which nowadays, I think, is one of the best ways to network. Ask questions on how these professionals got their start, what their advice would be; etc. Sometimes they will answer back; I’ve gotten responses from Greg Manchess and James Gurney! How will all of this get you a job? If you have established a credible relationship with those on the internet who have jobs, if they are hiring or know if anyone else is hiring, because you have established a trustworthy reputation with them, guess who will be at the top of the list for hiring, as opposed to an new unknown artist who just sends in a portfolio or resume? This is how Shelly Wan got hired at Pixar. She established a relationship with “Dice” at Pixar by sending him samples of her work in progress, plus she competed in online competitions and exhibited her work at art festivals. She had already established a following on the internet before getting that job at Pixar. She told me this at Comic Con. Continue to make an internet presence by guest blogging and commenting on others work. She is incredibly humble, and sweet and always striving to be a better artist.  So; practice and practice some more; build your internet presence. Okay, so most likely you won’t get that dream job right off the bat, but continue to build incredible skills, I call it “lining up your ducks in a row” so when the opportunity comes to show off your work, it will be no sweat. Even if you are in a minimum wage job, continue to work on your own time as you would if you were a prominent illustrator and tell yourself it’s not if you get the job, it’s just a matter of when. Never give up. Most of us struggle for a few years, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It will make you a better illustrator, more determined, and drive you to monstrous skills. I promise. Then you give it back. That means encourage your artist friends, help to inspire them when they feel like giving up, celebrate when they succeed; you are there to help lift up and encourage. When I was in SJSU, I was getting flack for being so friendly to other artists, even telling them how I did things. Someone growled at me and said, “you’d better stop because that’s who you will be competing with after you graduate!” Can you believe that? Bullhockey! You are as good as you practice and I will help anyone who asks for help and is struggling. I know how that feels and I have been there. So get out there, keep drawing and sharing your skills! Never give up!

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One Comment

  1. Cool. Very interesting interview. Never give up is the way to think. Hopefully I can break in and have big success as well.

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