I’m LA by way of South Korea. My hometown is Bundang, in the Bundang-gu district of Seongnam. It’s a 30-minute bus ride from Seoul, where I went to school long before I ever knew about ArtCenter.
My entire family is from South Korea. I never thought, not once, that I would eventually end up in America.
At Hongik University, I studied motion graphics and graphic design. I loved animation as a child, but it was never a viable career choice, not where I grew up. I had no idea that there were entire institutions of learning devoted to teaching design skills that could theoretically land students jobs.
My third year at Hongik was when I first heard of ArtCenter. At the time, I was revisiting the classic, canonical Disney and Pixar films, hoping to rekindle my passion for animation. Little did I know what life had in store for me.
Upon arrival, ArtCenter cast my prior academic experience in a new light. The College’s emphasis on honing an employable skill set was refreshing. At Hongik, our course load was less intensely scrutinized: the priority was firmly placed on art history and theory as practiced in groups. At ArtCenter, we were on our own. And we were okay with that.
I had zero idea of what an “animation pipeline” entailed. I had no idea what “visual development” was. These days, visual development is literally in my job title.
No one back in Korea was doing what Pixar or Dreamworks was doing. Americans may not understand that their domestic business model for contemporary animation doesn’t exist there. When an animated feature sees a wide release in the United States, the studio is selling merchandise as much as they are selling a motion picture experience. In Korea, for infrastructural reasons, studios and distributors do not subscribe to this philosophy.
My only goal when I graduated from ArtCenter was to have a bulletproof portfolio. In order to do this as a bona fide ArtCenter student, I had to get familiar with a number of different skills: design, rendering, hand-drawing, among others. Back home, art school felt like being thrown in the deep end of a pool and being told, “have fun swimming.” At ArtCenter, they taught you how to keep yourself afloat.
These days, I’m full-time at Netflix Animation. Even when I was at DreamWorks, the industry was flooded with ArtCenter grads. I have a theory. I think that ArtCenter grads, because they are so fundamentally sound in their respective disciplines, end up acquiring a diverse set of skills. Your average ArtCenter student can do a little bit of everything.
I believe that, when it comes to being creative, there are specialists, and there are generalists. “What is a generalist?” you ask. A generalist is the opposite of the specialist. A specialist might specialize in painting. That is their sole field of expertise. A generalist has no single, exclusive skill set. I am a generalist. I can handle costume designing, environmental design, set design, character design, and more.
I was part of a wave of new hires that Netflix made about a year or so ago. The company’s animation department is a melting pot for brilliant minds from different backgrounds. I get to work with folks from DreamWorks, Pixar, Disney, and beyond. If only my younger self could see me now!
Netflix is, of course, a relatively new company. As such, they truly do value the ideas of individual creators, as opposed to company-driven groupthink. That’s why some of Hollywood’s most revered filmmakers have gone on to work with them. They understand that ideas are precious things that need to be nurtured and cared for.
In other words, Netflix and I share the same creative philosophy, which is this: the artist leads.
Celine DaHyeu Kim
BFA 16 Illustration
Visual Development Artist, Netflix Animation, DreamWorks Animation