Interview with animation director Jiawen Liang



Jiawen Liang is a 3D generalist and motion graphic designer. He holds a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts and will receive an MFA in Computer Arts from the School of Visual Arts in the Spring of 2022. As an undergraduate senior, he was awarded the Norman Rockwell Museum Award in the 2020 Society of Illustrators Students Competition. Liang initially began working with 3D software to support his illustration. He soon gained a love of 3D design and began working as a freelance 3D designer in product lighting and rendering. In his 2021 summer internship at Logitech, he finished a short animation in Cinema 4D character workflow. He lives and works in New York.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that animation is your way of telling stories?

My motivation for telling stories comes from my desire to represent dreams and build imaginary worlds visually. Animation is, without a doubt, the best way because I have the freedom to use my imagination to do what I want.

  • What exactly is the job of an animation director?

In this animation project, I’m not only a director, but also in charge of everything except the music and sound effects. Aas a director for my project, the most important job is to create the storyboard and confirm the art style of the animation.

  • How many people are involved in creating an animation like yours? And could you tell us a bit about their roles, and the flow of the team?

I used Cinema 4D as my primary software for animation, which is relatively rare in character animation projects. My choice was based mainly on curiosity as I wanted to try out software other than Maya for character animation. For the music part, I found some music I liked as a basic reference and then told the composer what the mood of each part of the animation felt like. The composer then finished the music based on the story’s mood and the style I wanted.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your animation? How did that lesson happen?

The lesson I learned the most was time management and understanding the technical limitations of the team. Only when I know my abilities can I develop a plan that can be executed. I used to have a lot of goals but rarely thought carefully about their feasibility before starting to achieve them. So none of these plans ended up being done. And now, I realize that any unfinished project wastes a lot of my time and energy, so no matter what kind of project in the future, whether I am satisfied or not, I will try my best to make them complete.

  • What is the process in creating an animated character?

Since I’m the only one doing character animation, I wanted it to be very simple when designing the characters. So my character is made of simple geometric shapes. He doesn’t have a neck, shoulders, and waist as these parts require more time and effort in weight painting. Because it is a simple character, I can let him make exaggerated movements and expressions without surprising the audience. Like other animators, I record the movements and expressions as references for character animation. Just make them more exaggerated and more interesting while animating the character.

  • 2D Animation vs. 3D animation what are your thoughts on this endless battle?

It’s hard for me to say which animation is more attractive. 2D animation is generally freer and can break almost all limitations. Such as color, style, light and shadow, and the form of objects. Although 3D animation does not have the same degree of freedom as 2D animation, it can create a more exciting surreal world. For example, Zootopia and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

  • What does your animation workflow look like while animating? Tell us a little about the tools that you are using. What are your preferences? Methods? Plugins? Techniques?

I follow the standard 3D animation workflow. Including modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering, and compositing. But the use of the software is a little different. I used cinema 4D instead of Maya for rigging, animation, and lighting. I used Maya and ZBrush for character and environment modeling. Substance Painter is used for making textures. Both Marvelous Designer and Houdini were used for clothes simulation. The render engine is Redshift. I finished the post-production in Nuke and After Effects.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the animator’s role to worry about that?

Because this is a thesis project and a personal work, I don’t think too much about the audience’s preferences. Whether the audience’s needs are considered or not depends on what kind of projects I do. Even though my work is about a personal story, it’s a dilemma that almost anyone faces. I think animators do need to pay attention to this issue, but it doesn’t mean that catering to the audience’s preferences can make very good work.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

I’ve just graduated from school, so this is the first time I’ve submitted my work to a festival. This is an excellent opportunity to communicate with the industry.