Drawing Instructor, Concept Designer, Storyboard Artist, Illustrator
Kevin Chenís roots are from Taipei, Taiwan, but has been a resident of Los Angeles from the age of 10. He spent his adolescence drawing and reading stories and Manga, and by high school discovered animation. He knew instantly he had stumbled on what he wanted to do.
He landed a job as an inbetweener at Disney Feature Animation Studio, to work on Hunchback of Notre Dame. Each day after work, he would sneak up to the Visual Development Department to check out the amazing story sketches. Inspired by what he saw but realizing he needed the education to do it, he enrolled at the Art Center College of Design as an illustration major where he spent the next 4 years studying drawing, painting, and entertainment design.
Though Chen had planned on returning to traditional animation, he realized the field was not growing at the pace of CG, so he established himself as a character designer. He has since worked on a variety of games, animation, theme park and film projects, though his passion for storytelling has not diminished. He intends on turning his career down that path again in the near future, and imparts that passion and knowledge to his students.
- What is your career history to date?
I have worked in the entertainment industry for 12 years and have worked in the game industry for 8 of those years. Outside of Gnomon, I have worked either as a freelance concept artist or a full-time lead character artist for game studios, including EALA, Activision, NCsoft, Universal Interactive, and ADI.
I am also an instructor. I started in 1997 with a figure drawing class over at Associates in Art, and have continued to teach ever since at schools such as Art Center College of Design, and LAAFA, and Gnomon, where I started in 2000 and taught continuously for the next 5 years.
- What is your expertise as an instructor?
At Gnomon, I mainly teach two classes: Figure Drawing and Character Design. For the Figure Drawing class, my focus is to teach the students how to break down and understand what they see and communicate clearly what they wanted to say about it. It is the basics of observation and visual communication skills that can be applied to any visual arts.
As for the Character Design class, my focus is to teach the students how to create interesting characters to add to the storytelling experience. We work with simple shapes, juxtapose with imageries and abstractions to help tell the story visually.
My goal is to have the students be able to make good design decisions to serve the bigger picture of the story, and develop their own visual design vocabulary along the way.
- How do you think an education in the field can enhance a career?
CG has come a long way in becoming more and more user friendly and looking more natural, but just knowing the software is not enough. Schools are becoming more balanced in their training, in both the art and the technical side of things, in order to stay competitive. I think it is an exciting time to see what the new generation of artists can produce with a good knowledge of both training at their disposal.
- What is your view of the opportunities at Gnomon?
I was surprised by the learning atmosphere created by Alex and the Gnomon staff. It is very centered around the students, giving them the best learning environment possible. Alex is always bringing in top industry talents to share their knowledge and experiences with the students.
The class sizes are always kept small so there is plenty of interaction time between the student and teacher. This is something rare among the schools where I have taught. Gnomon is still one of my favorite places to teach, and I always had a great time teaching there.
- What would you tell someone who is considering a career in 3D?
Learn your craft both technically and artistically. Expose yourself to great art and whatís going on out there. Continue to improve your taste in art, and build up your eye; a good eye goes a long way in what we do. Always stay curious, humble, and continue learning. Make sure you have a lot of patience (when dealing with computers) and love working in a team environment.
- Do you have any favorite anecdotes from your classrooms or students you can share?
My co-teacher Anthony Francisco and I usually throw an open house party for the character design class so the students can get to show their work to various industry professionals at the end of the term. We always emphasize having a good presentation and to give the project an edge and a professional touch. The students go all out on their presentations. Some have brought in lights, theme designed portfolios, sculptures and presentation boards for some friendly competition.
Once, we had to stop a student when he started to introduce fire and drapery into his set-up. Yikes! We were afraid he was going to burn the school down! His final presentation remained fireless, but we gave him credit for the extra effort. ;-)
Throughout the semesters weíve had a lot of talented, hard working students in the class and a lot of success stories of hooking up students with job connections through the open house parties.
- What do you see as the future in entertainment?
I see more consumer buying power coming from Asia and European countries. As a result, more room in the market will start to open up to cater their needs. It is also an opportunity to see more films and studios pop up that tells the stories from their unique culture and point of views.
- What are the qualities youíve found that make a CG Artist the most sought after?
A good work ethic, a hunger for learning, and the ability to take what theyíve learned and use it in their own voice. Also, a love for what you do, professionalism, understanding of the target audience, always learning and adapting to the changing culture, and good team work/communication skills.
- What skills do you find to be important in a field that is still evolving?
The internet has made the artistsí exposure and mutual influences much easier and faster. Project production is becoming a global operation rather than just a regional one, but despite all the adjustments in the technology and business structures, the basic trade of entertainment design and story telling remains about the same. From looking at some of the more successful veterans in the industry, Iíve found itís very important to have a solid understanding of core principles of traditional art and storytelling, and to learn to take advantage of the changing culture and future technologies.