Creative Lives — “Believe in yourself – you aren’t nearly as bad as you think you are”: Animator Katy Wang on overcoming self-doubt
While her work carries an illustrative feel, Katy Wang sees herself first and foremost as an animator: “I always imagine how an illustration can move and change.” One of last year’s It’s Nice That Graduates, Katy was fast signed to content creator Partizan and now works from their base in London. Since graduating from Kingston last year, she’s rediscovered the fun in her own process – a welcome change from the personal struggle of making her graduate film for university. Although in Katy’s experience so far, clients don’t always grasp how time-consuming animation can be, it doesn’t make the result any less satisfying: “Watching back what you’ve animated is the most rewarding feeling. That’ll never grow old.” Here, she tells us about how different spaces can affect your well-being, and the advantages of drawing digitally.
Freelance animation director and animator
BA Illustration Animation, Kingston School of Art (2014–2017)
The School of Life, Penguin Random House
How would you describe what you do?
I’m an animator and animation director represented by Partizan, and I work with 2D cel animation. Even though my work is illustrative I think of myself as more of an animator because I always imagine how an illustration can move and change on a timeline.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
Since I got signed by Partizan six months ago, they very kindly offered to let me set up a desk space at their London studio, so I work there almost every day. I get to the studio around 10 or 10:30am and usually try to leave around 7pm, but I stay much later if I have a lot of work going on. It’s a big space that is very quiet with not many people, so it really suits how I work. Last year when I was working on my graduation film at uni, I animated on my laptop a metre away from my bed; it was suffocating being in the exact same spot everyday. I’ve learnt how important it is for my well-being to create two separate physical spaces to work and to not work.
What do you like about working in London?
I love living in London. I always feel so incredibly amazed and grateful to be living in such a diverse place with so many people doing so many different things. I don’t think I could work in the same way if I didn’t live here. I love that I’ll never get bored because there’s always something new to see and learn; it’s such a huge hub full of life. Knowing that I work in the same place as many successful animation studios and animators really motivates me to keep working hard.
Rough sketches for CONTACT
How does your freelance work usually come about?
A lot of people heard about me from the It’s Nice That Graduates article that got posted online last year, which is amazing. At the moment, most of my work is coming through Partizan – I did a music video a few months ago which has been my ‘calling card’ for new jobs.
How collaborative is your work?
Animation is super-collaborative mainly because of how much labour is involved in the process. Lately I’ve been doing some small projects that I’ve animated by myself, but when it comes to doing something longer like a music video I try to find animators to help decrease my workload.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I’m fairly new to the industry but I’ve found that clients usually have no idea what the process of cel animation involves. This means that the deadlines and budgets they propose are almost always extremely tight, which in turn means having to work much longer hours and sometimes weekends. I’m quite good at time management so I can manage the workload when it gets tough like this, but it definitely isn’t sustainable for the industry as a whole. I’m lucky in that I’m young and able to commit that time, but it’s something that I wish wasn’t the case for myself and so many other animators. It’s rewarding to finally finish something after working so long and hard on it, but it definitely makes having a work-life balance almost impossible.
At the moment I’m really enjoying the independence of freelancing full-time as I love managing each day and week on my own terms. The most fulfilling feeling that’ll never grow old in this job is watching back what you’ve animated. Compared to live action, with just a computer and tablet you can make an entire film by yourself. That’s what I love about animation; your own voice and style can shine so much.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I did a music video a few months ago for a small French band called Toto Bona Lokua. The independent record label No Format got in touch with me and wanted to collaborate. They were amazing clients to have because they just let me get on with it and gave me so much freedom.
It was the perfect first project to work on after my graduation film (a sad story about a lonely astronaut) because it was liberating to create imagery that was playful and stylish for the sake of it. Most of the time, it didn’t feel like work because it was so rewarding being able to animate silly things like a dancing elephant. I had so much anxiety and self-doubt making my grad film, that doing the music video made me realise the process can be really fun, without making you feel so bad about yourself.
What skills are essential to your job?
Perseverance, determination, self-discipline. The ability to envision how something is going to move in your head, and work towards that as best as you can. Knowing how to create shortcuts for yourself to make things easier – animating is really hard, if there’s an easier way to animate a shot and have it communicate the same idea, I will always try to find that solution. Being restricted by your own abilities can actually a good thing because you come up with more creative ways to communicate something through problem-solving.
“With just a computer and a tablet, you can make an entire film by yourself. That’s what I love about animation; your own voice and style can shine so much.”
Are you currently working on any side projects?
Not at the moment, unfortunately! I am well aware of the importance of having personal projects, though. I definitely feel like I need to, but it it’s hard finding the energy to draw for myself when I spend all day drawing for other people.
What tools do you use most for your work?
Pretty much just the Adobe suite: Photoshop to animate in, After Effects and Premiere Pro. I have a sketchbook that I like to start projects in by drawing thumbnails and loose drawings. I like to do initial sketches on my tablet as well (Wacom Cintiq 22HD) because drawing on there makes me take it less seriously – I can easily erase and undo, so my drawings evolve and improve a lot quicker than on paper. Also, on the computer I can play around with colour palettes really easily at an early stage, which is key for developing a style for a project.
Rough GIF for the elephant movement
Still from the music video for French Band Toto Bona Lokua, ‘Ma Mama’
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I’m pretty sure I wanted to be an artist since I was little, which sounds really generic and cheesy – but I drew a lot in nursery and always brought home drawings every day. I think I lost hope in this the older I got because art always seemed like an irrelevant, non-academic subject at school. But then an ex-Kingston graduate came to my school to do a workshop and seeing him do all these silly drawings made me realise that illustration and animation was a ‘real thing’.
What influence has your background had on your choice of career?
None of my family work in the creative sector so my desire to pursue art was somewhat resisted against at first. Having Chinese parents who emigrated to the UK a few years before I was born meant they had difficulty understanding the validity of studying a creative subject. We were on two different planes of understanding, so I had to trust my gut, believe in myself, and go after it. But my parents are extremely hard-working people and accomplished a huge amount after they moved here. Their work ethic was passed down to me.
My parents pushed me to excel in everything I did which made me want to always do my best. The flip side of this is that I put a lot of pressure on myself and struggle to totally feel proud of my past achievements.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I found uni an important and pivotal time for me. It taught me to be tougher and more open to criticism; and to think outside the box to look for the best solution to communicate an idea. Kingston has an amazing reputation with super-strong tutors, I’m glad I went there.
What were your first jobs?
This is my first job! I did a few freelance jobs whilst at uni – my first commissioned job was during summer after 2nd year for The School of Life, and then in 3rd year I animated for Anna Ginsburg’s ‘Material World’.
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
Being recognised as an It’s Nice That Graduate helped to get me noticed by Partizan (specifically executive producer Duncan Gaman), who then approached me with representation. I can’t emphasise enough how important this was for me.
“Having Chinese parents who emigrated to the UK meant they had difficulty understanding the validity of studying a creative subject.”
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Learning to believe in myself. Having the self-respect and confidence to speak my mind when I need to. Trusting in myself to do a good job by remembering the previous times I’ve done a good job. Right now my biggest challenge is learning how to manage my expectations with different kinds of projects.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Yes – at the moment, anyway! I’m really happy at this stage in my life. I’m learning so much and feel incredibly privileged to be able to do what I do.
Katy on a panel during the BFI Future Film Festival, 2018
What would you like to do next?
I want to keep growing my confidence and self-esteem. I want to be more honest with myself and others about my work. I want to be more honest through my work.
Could you do this job forever?
Probably. Although I love the idea of opening a cafe or restaurant one day.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Believe in yourself. You aren’t nearly as bad as you think you are. Fake it til you make it – everyone is pretending to be confident, some people are just better at it than others. Keep sending emails and sharing your work – no one is going to know who you are and how good you are if you don’t. Keep drawing. Don’t be afraid to copy other artists (just keep these drawings secret) especially whilst you’re a beginner. As long as you are continuing to create and produce, no matter what it is, or how inauthentic, bad, or amateur it might feel, the most important thing is that you are creating something.