Meet Kenny Park, Animation Director and Illustrator based in Vancouver, Canada. Read on to hear about Kenny's animation journey and discuss REPRESENT-ASIAN from his point of view!
Read the full, unedited conversation on the Asians in Animation website for an insight into the industry and how identity intersects with his career and informs his art.
Who are you?
I’m Kenny Park. I’m a queer, Asian animation director and editorial illustrator living in Vancouver, Canada.
Tell us about your background and how it led you into the industry?
I've been fascinated with drawing and animation ever since I was a kid. There was a Japanese video rental shop a few blocks from my home where I used to rent bootlegged copies of Sailormoon and Dragon Ball Z, and even though I couldn’t understand the story (this was before the days of English dubbing) I would obsessively watch these cartoons because I loved the aesthetics and the worlds they brought me into.
I also received a lot of encouragement from my parents and teachers for the artwork I produced. So, by the time I was ready for college and thinking about potential career paths, animation seemed like a viable option.
I applied to two animation programs at Canadian colleges (Capilano and Sheridan) but didn’t get into either. So, I spent a year building a whole new portfolio. I took whatever drawing classes I could find, just took the whole endeavor way more seriously, and then reapplied to the Capilano program. I got in, and that two-year program turned me into a professional.
Congrats on becoming Head of Story for The Witch Boy from Netflix! What hurdles did you have to navigate to get there?
When I first started in animation there were no Asian or openly queer people in leadership positions — it was an industry entirely dominated by straight, white men. Many of the studios I worked for had a frat boy energy (there were plenty of gay jokes). Some studios held job interviews at strip bars. So, for someone like me, the industry felt pretty hostile.
There have been massive changes over the past couple decades. It’s heartening to see so many women and people of colour in positions of leadership and I no longer feel worried about being open about my sexuality.
On a personal level, I’ve had to learn how to be open about my sexuality and I’ve had to learn to believe that someone who looks and acts like me could deserve to be in a leadership role. It’s not something that happened overnight — I continue to work on those things — but it’s getting easier over time.
How does your background and experience strengthen your work and art?
Being a double minority means I’ve been positioned as an outsider my entire life. As a consequence, all those well-worn cliches don’t really speak to my experience, and that can push me to look for something new.
Today I feel like my minority perspective is a strength. My queerness and my cultural background are assets in many circles. That never used to be the case in animation.
Also, working as an editorial illustrator for several years gave me the opportunity to engage with stories and ideas that I never would have had the chance to explore in animation. Those years doing work for the Washington Post, Wired and The Boston Globe Magazine trained me to take big concepts and distill them down to a single image — it really helped to level me up as a visual artist.
What steps should a story artist take to be a strong candidate to work with you?
Be open to collaboration and feedback. And be a nice person.
Where do you feel you fit in the representation conversation? What are you doing to fulfill the need to be represented in media?
In general, I’ve given myself permission to create stories and artwork that center characters that look and act like me — something that I never thought I could do ten years ago.
I’m actually in the process of pitching a series that centres a queer Asian man as the hero.
Also, being in a position where I can help to influence who gets hired, I try to advocate for more diverse teams.
What’s your current analysis of the animation industry in relation to POC/Asian cultures?
I’m encouraged by organizations like CAPE (and AnimAsians!) that help to lift up minorities who traditionally aren’t represented in leadership roles. And the fact that I’m working as Head of Story on The Witch Boy — a queer allegory about a mixed-race boy that is being directed by a queer Asian man and made by one of the most diverse teams I’ve ever had the privilege of working with — points to a lot of positive change in the industry.
There is clearly a lot more work to be done, however. To use my home town, Vancouver, as an example, the population is almost half Asian and, still, most of the directing roles are held by white men.
Any last word to our readers?
Being a minority can be difficult. It means that you aren’t able to move through life with the same sense of ease that those who belong to mainstream culture can. When I first began in the industry there was literally no support for people like me. But when I look around at the industry today, I’m so heartened by how much more support and community there is for so many folks who exist on the fringe.
I’m incredibly grateful to the people behind organizations like AnimAsians and CAPE who work so hard to help build those communities.
A big thank you to CAPE for partnering with us with this series and to Kenny for all his wisdom and inspiration! Kenny, we are so excited to see your work on The Witch Boy and look forward to see where you go next!
Be on the look out for a few more interviews to come with the other participants of the inaugural CAPE Animation Directors Accelerator (CADA), a first-of-its-kind program to identify and uplift the next generation of storytellers and leaders in animation.
Interview Conducted and Post Compiled by Kristian Bansil @kristian.bansil
We are so thrilled to be included in Straight Ahead Podcast's Heritage Month celebration!
We're kicking off our AAPI heritage month celebration with @animasians ! Alisha Syed (External Relations Chair) and Katie Dizon (External Relations Director) talk about the organization, its goals and accomplishments, and about its founding with a small quote from Lexie Chu. Meant as a safe-space, Animasians provides resources and events for its members, but the true strength of AIA is its community. Learn how you can be a part of it, and take advantage of the opportunities this wonderful organization is supplying. On top of that, we touch a little on Alisha's and Katie's day jobs as post-production coordinator and production assistant (respectively), and how their experiences inform their work ethic.
Listen to Katie and Alisha's episode here! (Spotify)
Thank you for having us!
Everyone, please check out STRAIGHT AHEAD PODCAST and all the incredible work they're doing! We are such big fans of them and highly encourage you to listen to their interviews and spotlights on rising Black, Indigenous, and People of Color voices that are breaking into the animation industry.
Check them out!
Connect with Sony Pictures Imageworks for this special event to celebrate and talk about all things ANIMATION, TECH ART, LOOK DEV, and VFX!
You’re invited to join us for this special presentation, panel, AND networking event with Sony Pictures Imageworks happening this Wednesday, May 25th!
Meet Clara Chan (VFX Supervisor), Julius Kwan (Animation Supervisor), Alan Chen (Look/Dev Supervisor), Alyssa Zarate (Matte Painting & Environment Supervisor), and James Park (CG Supervisor) in conversation with Sonia Bhatia (Manager, Diversity, Inclusion, & Engagement) to hear about the incredible work being done on SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES, and more – and learn about how you can be a part of it too!
They'll be sharing their diverse perspectives across different projects, and afterwards you'll have an opportunity to chat and ask questions!
This event is especially geared towards the Asian community, but Canadians of Korean descent, women OR individuals of a South Korean residency are encouraged to attend. Sony will consider attendees as candidates for future productions, so we recommend everyone to attend and learn more - especially animators, lighters, and compositors!
RSVP here: https://bit.ly/aiasony
WEDNESDAY MAY 25th | 6:30PM PST
THURSDAY MAY 26th | 10:30 AM KST
5월 25일 수요일 |오후 6시 30분
5월 26일 목요일오전 10:30 KST
네트워킹 + 취업 기회: 애니메이션, 테크 아트, LOOK DEV 및 VFX에 대한 모든 것을 축하하고 이에 대해 이야기하는 이 특별 이벤트를 위해 Sony Pictures Imageworks와 연결하십시오!
이번 5월 25일 수요일에 Sony Pictures Imageworks와 함께하는 이 특별 프레젠테이션, 패널 및 네트워킹 이벤트에 초대합니다!
Clara Chan(VFX 감독자), Julius Kwan(애니메이션 감독자), Alan Chen(Look/Dev 감독자), Alyssa Zarate(매트 페인팅 및 환경 감독자) 및 James Park(CG 감독자)와 Sonia Bhatia(다양성 관리자, 관리자)와의 대화를 만나보세요. , Inclusion, & Engagement) SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES 등 – 귀하도 일부가 될 수 있는 방법에 대해 알아보십시오!
그들은 다른 프로젝트에 걸쳐 그들의 다양한 관점을 공유할 것이고, 그 후에 당신은 채팅하고 질문할 기회를 갖게 될 것입니다!
이 행사는 특히 아시아 지역 사회를 대상으로 하지만 특히 한국계 캐나다인, 한국 거주 여성 또는 개인이 많이참석하는 것을 기대합니다. Sony는 참석자를 향후 제작의 참여자로 고려할 것이므로 많은분들이 참석하여 자세히 알아보면 좋겠습니다.
My childhood in Singapore was pretty strict. There was a lot of focus on academics and getting good grades, so I found myself studying and going to extra after school classes on most days. There was a time when my parents would not allow my brother and I to watch tv. We still somehow sneaked in some hours of Pokemon, Digimon and Powerpuff Girls every week!
I always saw these fantastical plots taking place in the US, Japan, England or somewhere else overseas. I remember for one of my short films, The Kitchlets, I wanted to bring the fantasy back home, to a tiny apartment (HDB flat) in Singapore. I was a Brownie girl scout as a kid and I was actually inspired by the Brownie mythology and other household deities when creating the Kitchlet creatures. When my parents found out I wanted to pursue a career in the arts they were definitely skeptical. For the longest time, they thought it was just a phase I was going through and that I would grow out of it and pursue business, medicine or “at least” architecture or something that made money. People in entertainment in Singapore do not make much and being so far away from the American animation industry, I didn't even know it was a solid way of making money and just wanted to draw and make films for a living. I can understand my parents’ concerns with the lack of knowledge at the time and also living in Singapore.
I have always wanted to tell stories that inspire positivity through a fantastical lens. I grew up in multicultural Singapore with a lot of insecurity and struggled with self worth, feelings that many go through at some point in their life. I learned about other cultures and myths and legends and found myself wanting to create my own fantasy in my work. I’d love to present a film with similar characters who grow stronger and learn perspective on their journey.
I want to continue taking art classes as well as learning from my peers at work. Drawing and story aside, I want to learn more about the world. At the moment I am continuing my language studies in Japanese, French and Indonesian. Learning languages is so much fun, I love discovering new folk tales and cultural nuances as I learn about languages and their cultures.
I also want to read more books on philosophy and science as well as folk and fairytales from around the world! In art school we focus most of our time on technical drawing and animation ability, but I want to learn more about the physical and psychological world to help inspire the stories and thoughts I want to convey through my art.
There is so much to explore and we have to not only learn how to tell good stories but also learn what to tell stories about. The cinema was a sacred place for me growing up, a place where all my problems disappeared and I fully emerged into the stories of others. I’d love to build worlds that an audience can escape into and be entertained in. My ultimate goal is to become a director and create my own films with the most talented artists!
If the world was ending, I’d want my last story to be about the purpose of humanity’s existence. I want to show everyone that being human and living everyday, learning things, hating and loving each other impacted the universe in some way. (Something epic like that.)
For others on a similar path in animation, here are four things you should know:
Originally from Singapore, Clarisse studied at Tama Art University (Tokyo) and California Institute of the Arts (Los Angeles). Other than film-making she enjoys myths and legends, a nice cup of tea, and making miniatures. She currently works at Skydance Animation Studios as a story artist.
See more of Clarisse's work here: https://clarissechua.weebly.com
Post compiled by Jeremy Hsing
Graphics by Amy Ni
Art provided courtesy of Clarisse Chua