Tagged: animator

Schoolin’ Life: Ariel Ries

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet animator Ariel Ries.


Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a 21-year-old animation student by day, creator of the webcomic “Witchy” by night. I’m from Australia but I’m into my second year of living and studying in Denmark at the moment. In all likelihood, I’ll be living here for another two years.  I draw a lot, watch cartoons a lot, and cook a lot.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

My 9 year (number of years until I’m 30) plan at the moment is: finish school, get a storyboarding job in LA, live there for somewhere between 2-5 years, either build a big enough audience that I can just make comics and live off my patreon, or be well known enough that I can get a steady stream of freelance and move back to my hometown, Melbourne, Australia (while working on comics on the side!). Hopefully it’ll work out.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Most of my personality crisis happened in my late teens. I was a mixed, white/Southeast Asian confused about my sexuality and how I should label myself in a whole bunch of ways. I had an athletic, bulky body, brown skin, and a big chin, and the only Asian women I ever saw in media were wispy, pale-skinned east asians. many people told me I wasn’t “Asian enough” but my appearance prevented me from ever feeling “white enough” or “feminine enough,” too. Learning about intersectional feminism has helped me so much. Learning about the social constructs of gender has helped me shed doubt about myself and learn to be proud of every part of myself, be it queer, Asian, masculine, or feminine.

I’m thankful that I never had to have this same problems with my career goals. I’ve been interested in art since I was 8 and my parents supported me wholeheartedly in my ambitions. I’m friends with a lot of people with very healthy views about art, authenticity, and the toxic opinions about artists held by people both inside and outside the animation industry.

What was your first job like?

My first long-ish term job was at an art supply chain store, and it was like working for Big Brother. The head office would send in people disguised as shoppers to spy on us, we had to up-sell everything, and we went through about 1 manager every 6 weeks because the bosses blamed the company’s performance on the workers, rather than, say, bad business decisions. We had to stalk everyone in the shop and ask if they needed any help constantly. It was definitely aggravating for the customers, but it was part of the business’s employee protocol. I hated a lot of it, but at least it taught me how to talk to strangers!

What was your first apartment like?

I’m still living in my first apartment and hearing horror stories from other people makes me feel blessed about the roommates I share it with. Rural(ish) Denmark is a great place to have a first apartment because you have easy access to cute furniture and all the apartments are super charming.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Well, I uprooted my entire life in Australia to study in Denmark, so that’s a pretty big one. I do occasionally feel homesick, and I do miss my friends and family a lot, but my friends here are cool too and I consider myself a pretty well adapted expat. the fact that everyone here speaks perfect English makes living here a lot easier.

If all goes to plan too, I’ll be living in LA in a few years. I visited LA earlier this year and I’m not gonna lie, I don’t love it, but I have good friends there and at least you can actually get good Asian food, which is almost non-existent in Denmark.

In what ways did your friendships change?

It’s very hard maintaining long distance friendships, especially when you have at least 10 friends that you wish you could keep in contact with. The time zone in Denmark is almost the reverse of Melbourne time, so I can only Skype people on the weekends, and there’s only about 5 hours in which I can call people! It blows. That’s not to say all my friends have forgotten about me, when I was back home in the summer everything with my best friends clicked perfectly back into place, so I’m lucky that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could be there for my friends though.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Since I’ve moved out, it’s a lot easier to deal with my mother. She’s super dependent on me and my sister for self-worth, and I think having both of us out of the house will help her to find fulfillment and self-worth elsewhere. so, less of a relationship change, more of a dynamic change. I think me and my dad’s relationship  has improved actually. I probably talk to him more now that i set aside an hour a week to talk to him and mum. he’s worked 9-6 my whole life so I didn’t see much of him when I was back home. hopefully our relationships will continue to head along this path!

As for my sister, I think we’ll just miss each other. we get along super well but we’re both busy people and that’s hard when you’re 30 hours apart.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

i don’t know how much my worldview will change in the next decade. When you’re a world builder, you naturally learn a lot about economics, people, and the structure of societies. I take a vested interest in social justice and the progression of humanity. I’m cautiously optimistic about our ability to overcome the climate crisis, the cannibalistic nature of capitalism as we know it, and the bigotry of the privileged. I only hope that in time I will become more optimistic, not pessimistic.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Thankfully, I haven’t arrived at this point yet, but I just assume it will be something job related.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I can’t say he’ll remain my biggest influence, but we had a teacher last year named Mike Nguyen. I’ve always valued being sincere in my work, and when he lectured us on the importance of authenticity when creating something, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. He told us that as long as our art is honest, it will resonate with others. Hearing an industry veteran say something like that helped me believe there was a place for someone with sensibilities like mine.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

I mean, I’m still kind of hoping that one day a talking animal is going to give me a magic wand and tell me I’m a magical girl, but I’ve seen enough anime to know how that can go wrong.

Schoolin’ Life: Maelle Doliveux

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet and get to know illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer Maëlle Doliveux.



Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m ¾ of the way to 27. So I’m sure that next 3-4 years will be another host of interesting life revelations. But so far in my life, I’ve gone by the name Maëlle Doliveux, and I’m a French and Swiss illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer living and working in New York City. I spend my days making things, all kinds of things, for different people. I’ve worked for Newsweek, The New York Times, Sesame Street, Motorola, UCB and others. Almost every day I walk my little dog to and from my studio space in Greenpoint in an old rope factory.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself for the decade? In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I should start this by saying that I’m still in my 20’s! My expectations were definitely far too high. I think I read somewhere that anyone ‘successful’ already created some kind of ‘masterpiece’, or at least was well known before the age of 24. And I read that Craig Thompson (one of my comics heroes) published Good-bye, Chunky Rice by age 24. I had this notion that unless I got a comic book published by the time I was 24, I would never make it in the industry. In the end I didn’t get a comic book contract, but I did get published by the New York Times, which meant a lot, and of course I’ve also come to realize that people’s trajectories take different amounts of time, and giving yourself no-pressure space to be creative is vital for the actual creation of ‘masterpieces’. Nobody sets off to create a masterpiece and then accomplishes that.  And obviously, being ‘successful’ is not necessarily being published, and definitely not being famous.

I thank my parents and my international school teachers for never having imposed expectations on me about who I was as a person or my career – I always felt like I could be anything and do anything I set my mind to, if it’s what I truly wanted and I worked long and hard enough at it. This is an extremely privileged way of looking at the world, and I’ve been very fortunate that it has worked out for me. I think I’ve been insanely lucky that I haven’t been confronted with sexism more in my life (apart from catcalling New Yorkers).

In terms of romantic relationships, I had very false and dumb thoughts about how they worked, and about what kind of woman was considered attractive. I assumed independence and wit intimidated men, so I deduced that nobody was really interested in me for a long time. Also, I think that we are told there are these ‘rules’ to dating, when in reality, all relationships are different, whether friendship or romantic interest.

What was your first job like?

First ever ‘real’ job was as an architectural assistant in a small architecture firm in Lausanne, Switzerland. I’d just graduated from Part I of my British architecture degree and had to do a minimum of six months as an apprentice. It was the first time that I realized that most of architecture in practice was not at all what it was like academically. The amount of time spent on concept and design is probably less than 10%, with most of the time being spent on technical detailing, administration, negotiating with a client and the contractors, researching materials and so on. The people I worked with were very friendly, and these things are important, but I personally found it all excruciating after 6 months. It made me want to try something other than architecture. In a big way, having a job that I disliked so much is still a big motivator for me as a freelance artist. When there are moments of doing something I’m not completely enjoying, I always think “well, at least it’s still better than sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day drawing technical details of suspended ceilings”.

What was your first apartment like?

The first apartment where I lived alone was a tiny little apartment in Lausanne. The kitchen was a small sink and a foot of counter space and two burners, and I could practically brush my teeth, shower and cook all at the same time. Sadly, someone broke in during the time I was away over Christmas, and stole the only few precious things I had, including some family jewelry my grandmother had left me, and my mother’s beautiful coat, which she had bought with her first ever paycheck as a young woman. Bizarrely enough they also stole my dishwashing liquid. I was pretty sad and worried about the whole thing, so I moved back in with my brother soon after.

Did you experience any big life changes?

A career change and a big recent (ongoing) romantic relationship. After this experience in Lausanne, I wanted to take a year to figure some things out, and thought that taking some improv classes and studying ‘illustration’ in New York sounded really fun. I had no idea what illustration was. But my feeling was that I’d do that for a year and then figure out my ‘real life’. Of course this very quickly became my ‘real life’, because I was having a lot of fun.

I realized illustration was exactly what I loved the most in architecture – concepts, visual problem solving, storytelling, drawing, sculpting/model-making, working with your hands, making something beautiful. I did several wonderful internships with some great mentors who encouraged me to switch into the Masters program at SVA, which was a really great move for me. After that I knew this was the right career path. I also got a dog in my early twenties! It was definitely a way to commit to illustration, because I didn’t want to have a dog and work in an office and get a dog-walker all the time. I didn’t think that was fair to a dog. But I knew that if I worked as a freelancer I could be with my dog all day, and she would give me a better rhythm to the day.  

In what ways did your friendships change?

Since I was a kid I’ve moved around quite a bit, so I’m now somewhat sadly used to the ebb and flow of friendships. But I know that with true friends, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend apart – when you see each other again it’s like you saw each other only yesterday. I hope to be better at spotting those friendships now, as opposed to the fleeting ones. But I’ve never really been into having a mass of friends- I like selective friendships that know me well and bring me joy and energy.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I came to see my parents as people, and to love them just as much, but as people, not just as all-knowing, all-powerful superhumans. Kind of like the first time you see a high-school teacher outside of school.

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a stereotypical French artist girl, with a dog and ukulele and an artist’s space in Brooklyn— wait a second, that IS what I am. Am I a stereotype?

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’m much more confident and less intimidated than I used to be. I remember that making a professional phone call or email when I got my first job as an architectural assistant was absolutely frightening. I kept on thinking I wasn’t doing things right, or faking it. When I interned with some incredible illustrators, and they admitted the same feeling to me, I realized that that sensation never goes away, for anyone in any field.  And also that everyone was their 20’s at one point, and didn’t know things and was learning. It would be insane to get angry or upset with someone for something they weren’t aware of. When I started seeing other people as also ‘faking it till they make it’, that made me much more confident in myself.

How did you change intellectually?

My tastes have broadened, and I hope to be more open-minded now than I was, particularly in terms of visual art. I think I’m more able to recognize and analyze what I like and why I like it, and also to be understanding and admiring of art that I like, but isn’t necessarily to my sensibility.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I think my identity is more defined now than at the beginning of my 20’s, probably because I’m very passionate about my career, and present myself to others as ‘an illustrator’. I think wandering and figuring things out and being open to things and not defining yourself is an important part of your early 20’s. (And one should stay open to new things later in life too!)

Though my career doesn’t define me entirely, I think working as a creative person merges your personal and your professional life a lot.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

Having grown up with a very international education, I think I’ve always been aware of how countries’ boundaries are non-existent, and how interconnected we are. Also how we as human beings are essentially the same at our core, and that culture is all the different ways that humanity can become specific. I don’t think my worldview has changed in that sense, but I hope that I’m more informed and more interested than I was as a teenager. I listen to the news on the radio now and try to keep in touch more.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Hmmmm… I feel like I’m a fairly hard person to embarrass. I’ll usually try to spin it to make it funny, or embrace the embarrassment. That was my high school survival tactic that’s stuck around. Last year I created a 13ft long dragon costume and performed as that dragons’ talking anus and threw a whole store-bought fish and multiple chocolate and rice pudding cups out of said anus. That didn’t embarrass me in the slightest. I’m only embarrassed when I don’t stand completely behind the work I’ve done.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

When I came to New York to study illustration I also chose SVA because it offered cartooning classes, which I was very curious about, but knew that a full-on cartooning degree would frighten my parents. I’d grown up with comics and in my university years had discovered American indie comics, which completely opened up what I thought the medium could do.

So I took a cartooning class, and loved it, but immediately tried to be like the artists I admired, and to make an opus that would “stand the tests of time”. It was ridiculous and entirely unfeasible. Anyways, I started working on this huge graphic novel when I’d barely had three little short stories penciled, and outlined this very intense noir/sci-fi dramatic epic. Very kindly, the wonderful, talented and extremely generous Tom Hart sat down with me to look it over, and about halfway through the conversation asked me, “Have you read Osamu Tezuka’s Road to Kirihito?” I replied that I hadn’t, and he suggested I read through it. When I did I realized that Tezuka, the legendary master of long-form comic storytelling, had basically created a version of my story that far exceeded and surpassed anything I wrote or could have written.

I realized his was successful because he was passionate and knowledgeable on his subject matter, while mine was juvenile and only half-studied because I felt like it was what I was ‘supposed’ to do, rather than what I was actually interested in doing. This was a pretty discouraging event, which made me falsely think that I wasn’t cut out for comics for a while. Only later on, when some grad school friends recommended me for some short-form comics projects, did I pick it up again. And by then I was far more confident with what I was interested in and the kind of art I wanted to make, so the work reflected that and was far more successful when I wasn’t inhibited by what I thought ‘good’ comics were, or wasn’t trying to cram in everything into one story.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Sam Weber, Brian Cronin and Richard McGuire have been three huge influences. I interned and worked with Sam and Richard, and Brian was my thesis advisor for my final MFA project. Not only do I admire their work, but they are also exemplary in their professionalism, and really showed me how to be successful as an illustrator. I interned with Sam and his studio mate Chris Silas Neal for over a year, and they showed me everything including how to file taxes. This sounds simplistic, but I had absolutely no idea how to do anything like that, and they were true examples for me to know that it was possible to make a living and work full time in this field.

Brian and Richard helped me be more comfortable with my voice, and I’ve always admired the breadth of their work in terms of style and form. They never limit themselves because they think ‘this isn’t illustration’ – they will make the work they feel is interesting to them, in the medium they enjoy at that moment, and then find the right place for it. As someone with a wide range of curiosities and who gets bored fairly quickly, it was a godsend to see that this was also a way to make a career.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Probably Facebook? Not sure it’s a ‘moment’, but it probably will be seen as one in the future. For all its’ glory and awfulness.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

It sounds cocky but I don’t really believe in regrets. I think if I were presented with the same set of opportunities I would always make the same choices. And I believe that ‘mistakes’ are just as valuable as ‘successes’. Maybe even more important because they provide opportunity for learning and changing.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I very recently and very briefly met Amy Poehler, who complimented me on my work. I’d just done several posters for the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre annual improv comedy marathon, and as a founding member of UCB, Amy attends almost every year. At the end of the weekend, I was walking home from the wrap-party, when I bumped into the artistic director of the theatre, who quickly turned around and introduced me to both Amy and Matt Walsh. I was very flustered, and giggly and excited, and tried not to make a fool of myself.  
To me it sums up this decade well: work hard, do things that interest you (improv comedy) without overthinking it, make friends, interesting projects will come along from all of that, and if all goes well you will make some people happy. And maybe that makes you happy. Which is an ego trip that I probably have to address… still not sure how healthy this is mentally. But right now, making art makes me very happy.