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