Animator and designer Kim Yuan Xu is based in Brooklyn, New York, and was born and raised in Xiamen, China. His remarkable career led him to work on Office ladies, Wolfboy and the Everything Factory, SpongeBob 360, SpongeBob Reinvented, Magic Girl Friendship Squad and Clifford the big red dog among many others. Kim talks about her career and tips for those looking to pursue a career in animation.
Is there a point where you can identify where you’ve been like, “I’ll make animated movies when I grow up”?
When I was growing up in China, my mom bought a lot of DVDs like Disney Princesses, Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry and we played them all the time on TV. It was my first introduction to animation. Later I watched classic Chinese animations, Japanese cartoons and of course SpongeBob, Power Puff Girls, Kim Possible, etc. and I love them all, which is probably why my art style is so mixed and flexible. I always knew I was going to make art. But I guess it was when I first heard Joe Hisaishi’s music that really hit me. I was 16 and just starting to think about majoring to apply to college. I just saw Hisaishi concert at random on TV. The whole orchestra was playing the original score he wrote for Miyasaki’s animated films and all of a sudden I cried because the emotions in his music were too powerful and moving. The music itself tells a great story. So I was like, “Wow, I want to make movies with music like this someday …”
“We create things to entertain people, to make them laugh or to feel things or to get away from everyday life…”
What part of the facilitation process do you find most rewarding?
Definitely when more and more viewers watch the animation projects I’ve worked on and tell me how much they love them. Animation is an important part of the entertainment industry for sure. We create things to entertain people, to make them laugh or feel things or to escape everyday life, it doesn’t matter if it’s two minutes or two hours. If people love what we do, all the hard work pays off. I spent my entire year of my thesis at university directing my short film, The Button. After I finished I posted it online and submitted it to film festivals for more audiences to watch. I got a call from our department manager at SVA telling me that they wanted to post my movie poster on The Animation Guild’s The Keyframe magazine. I was over the moon because that’s when I first realized that people liked my stuff. The Button received Best Animation at the Los Angeles Film Awards, New York Film Awards, ONIROS Film Awards in 2019, finalist for Best Animated Feature and Best Environment Created at the Lonely Wolf London International Film Festival in 2020. But more importantly , when I first started working in a professional team, it’s even more rewarding when you see the number of views explode and the public is leaving reviews and positive comments. SpongeBob 360 has got 35 million views so far on YouTube, and SpongeBob Reimagined: Reef Blower has got 5.2 million. It’s really overwhelming but in a very good way.
What is SpongeBob like in real life? Joke! What was it like working on SpongeBob SquarePants, such a beloved character?
As a kid who grew up in the 90s, you can imagine how excited I was when I got the opportunity to draw some of my favorite childhood characters for a living. SpongeBob SquarePants are also very popular in China. I watched the translated Mandarin version on the National Children’s Channel when I was a kid. We are fortunate to have an amazing team at Cartuna, which is the production company for the SpongeBob 360 and SpongeBob Reimagined series. From October 2020 to January 2021, I was the clean and color animator for Patrick, Mr Krabs, Plankton in 360 and SpongeBob in Reimagined: Reef Blower. SpongeBob 360 is a special 5 minute 2D virtual reality mashup with many classic clips and hidden Easter eggs from the SpongeBob universe. The audience had so much fun looking for the Easter eggs. We drew everything the most traditional way in Adobe Animate and TVpaint, which is hand-drawn frame by frame in 2s, which they used to do on paper. The main thing is to draw everything on the same canvas without any cuts. Because it’s 360 ° and everything happens at the same time. We had to “fill in the blanks” between scenes in the original episodes. The background was painted in Photoshop and then “stitched together” to create a 360 ° view. Once that was all done, our composer did his magic in After Effects and – Voila! You have a super cool 360 Krusty Krab!
The Reef Blower, meanwhile, is a 1920s black-and-white version of the classic SpongeBob SquarePants episode. It was really fun redrawing these characters in an old school style. Again, thanks to everyone who watched and liked! You are the reason we keep doing what we do.
“It might sound like a cliché, but ‘never stop promoting yourself’ is literally how you make a living as an artist…”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from an industry mentor?
My first year animation teacher at SVA, Mario Menjivar, worked for Disney classics like The Lion King, Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast etc. He taught us to animate in the most traditional way: hand drawn on paper. My thesis supervisor Bob Camp, who was one of the directors of The Ren and Stimpy and the storyboard artist for SpongeBob Squarepants, helped me improve my scripts and storyboards throughout my college years. . My director of SpongeBob 360, Mari Jaye Blanchard, who is also a professor at RIT, is one of the most detailed and passionate directors I have worked with, and she gave me the nickname ” Detector Xu ”which I am incredibly honored! I guess I’m very grateful that these industry “senpais” believe in me and encourage me to keep doing what I’m doing. It might sound like a cliché, but “never stop promoting yourself” is literally how you make a living as an artist. You need to know your capabilities and keep pushing them to the next level, project by project, step by step. Update your art social networks constantly and stay in touch with other artists in the community!
Watch Kim Yuan Xu’s incredible animation below and get more on her official website.