Walking the Artist’s Path with Zoe Zheng
It’s hard to place a label on Zoe Zheng. She’s a designer, an animator, a filmmaker, among numerous other creative outlets that are in the quiver of her skillset. Those who have collaborated with her will not only expound on her remarkable talent but also the unique manner in which her mind works. Zoe is proof of the concept that a true artist is much than technical mastery of a medium, it is also vision. She’s used these assets in creating a wide variety of projects ranging from animated productions to media used at theme parks in China, festivals for Walt Disney, and more. The common thread among all her work is that it is in fact quite uncommon. There’s a unique and clearly defined identity to everything she touches, which is exactly what Ms. Zheng’s fascinating mind intends. The artistic medium known as animation continues to diversify and expand, with Zoe Zheng posed directly at the forefront. To understand and inspire, we’ve asked Zoe to sit down and give personal professional insight to how it feels to be such a coveted professional in present day.
You’re originally from Guangzhou, China but have spent time residing in the UK and the US. Did this international experience inform your approach as an artist?
Zoe Zheng (ZZ): I certainly feel that the experiences I’ve had in these places come through in my work. There is a mix of discipline, seriousness, dark humor with silliness and light-heartedness.
There are elements in your original animated films that seem both classic as well as progressive. I see that same sense of dichotomy that you just spoke about in these. Is this something you are mindful of and seek out or is it just natural for your “voice”?
ZZ: I don’t think people break rules just to be cool. They are reasons the creative communities reward rebels, and I guess it’s because that’s at the heart of creativity: learning the rules, and breaking them; that’s how we arrive at creative outcomes. Maybe that’s why my work seem both progressive and classic because I’m both learning the rules and experimenting with them as I navigate life as a creative.
Your award-winning film What She Didn’t Know (Future of Film Awards, Oakland Film Festival) received a lot of recognition at film festivals in San Francisco, DC, and elsewhere. Your film Dance of the Angel has a completely different tone and visual style but was also highly praised at the Experimental Music & Dance Film Festival, Animation Block Party, and was a winner at the Short Film Factory. I’m wondering, what’s the most meaningful part of all this for you?
ZZ: Recognition is always appreciated if it means more people will see my work but witnessing the process of turning the visions in my head into concrete designs has always been the most satisfying.
You’ve worked on projects with names that all Americans would recognize, such as “The Memory” for the Walt Disney Family Museum, as well as for major theme parks in your homeland of China. That’s very diverse and international. Did you ever think you’d work on projects all over the world?
ZZ: I’m very happy with that aspect of my work and of course you’re always happy to be associated with such an iconic name/brand as Walt Disney. The project I worked on for the Donghu Theme Park in China was through my association with L&A group. I was the motion designer for the background animation, where I designed and animated the background assets in After Effects.
What you created for the Donghu Theme Park receives an average of 1.85M+ views per month. That’s a massive amount of views! Your animation skills have been used at other live interactive events such as the Life is Beautiful music festival 2023 where 170,000 were in attendance. Increasingly, animation is becoming an active part of our experience at public events rather than a passive one. What did you create for the Life is Beautiful festival and how did it work?
ZZ: Bored & Thirsty was the exclusive water provider at Life is Beautiful music festival in 2023 in Downtown Las Vegas. Bored & Thirsty turned the packaging of their electrolyte water into an Augmented Reality enabled can, and I was the lead motion designer on this project. They gave me the packaging graphics and I designed and created its animation in After Effects. To access the AR animation on the can, users simply scan the bottle with their phone camera, and tap on the link that pops out, then they can view the animation moving on the bottle in real time.
Another production you are working on is very interactive as well. Tell us about The Kooks.
ZZ: The Kooks is a project I’m working on with AR Dimension’s Creative Director & Producer Coby Palivanthukal, Technical Director Yimin Zhang (of the People’s Choice Award–nominated Marvel film Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania), and 3D artists Jarrod Chatham & Parker Chatham. I am designing the app’s user interface. The Kooks is a storytelling app where the story is unfolded by AR characters that you can talk to and interact with in real time. The story occurs as these aliens, called Kooks, arrive at a beach where humans surf and need to figure out how to cope with the sudden change.
Your career certainly indicates that there is a lot of diversity in terms of what type of work one might want to do in this field. It seems like we are in the midst of an era where animation continues to branch out into different parts of our everyday lives. As a professional who is in such demand and able to use your skill with so many different applications, what are the ideas that excite you that might be possible to undertake?
ZZ: I would quite like to make a VR animated music video which utilizes the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. I love his work and admire his dedication to the abstraction of shape, color, and sound. His belief that like music, shape, and color have the ability to tap into the soul is something which has opened my mind on how I see design now. There was no animation, not to mention VR, during his lifetime but I would love to see what it’s like to re-construct one of his paintings in a temporal spatial medium based on his philosophy and theories. The reason I would choose the medium of VR animated music video is because I think it would create an unforgettable experience that would reach the audience more than a 2D painting.
Writer : Winston Scott