H for History
H4H #25: Jesse Zhang – Leaving to study in Denmark
Jesse Zhang enjoyed the creative side of life at Radford College, so after Year 12 found themself living in Scandinavia and studying art.
Jesse Zhang (Class of 2014) enjoyed the creative side of life at Radford College. Their favourite subjects were classes like English, Art and Music. They also enjoyed “the 5 days a year or so where you didn’t have to wear uniform. Or when I got to Year 11 and 12 and I could use a toaster or vending machine.” But a moment in Ms Peters’ Art class certainly left a lasting impression: “In year 12 I had Ms Peters as an art teacher, who told me she basically went on a 10-year gap ‘year’ in Scandinavia. She helped me feel better about my decision to drop the T package and go into an A package to focus more on my portfolio for The Animation Workshop, which I got into probably due to the extra time.” So, quite suddenly, Jesse found themself living in Scandinavia and studying art.
The Animation Workshop in Denmark is a very unique school in Viborg. Explains Jesse, “It’s an independent bachelor course administrated under VIA, a neighbouring university that has partial control. Unlike university, it has hours, which is why I call it a school. You go there from 9-4 every day, and you shouldn’t skip. A typical day in the first and second year of TAW would be a lecture or two, followed by the rest of the day for putting what we learn into practise, with an hour at 12 in between for lunch. Having us stay and work meant we all had access to the programs, hardware, software, pencils and papers we needed at any point, as well as teacher and peer critique, so it created a very comfortable, friendly environment. Every year there was at least 1 group project, encouraging us all to work in teams, those were my favourite.”
Jesse was thrilled to have found their muse and a team-oriented environment at TAW. “I’ve heard so many stories from other animation students, from Belgium to Melbourne to the US saying that they hated their courses. A lot of them complained that it felt like the class had a rivalry instead of wanting to work together. A lot of other animation courses don’t offer group projects as even an option, which is ridiculous because all animation studios are just teamwork.”
I asked Jesse which artists have inspired and they replied: “I find I’m mostly inspired by friends, but also directors. I’m inspired by directors like Brad Bird, Hayao Miyazaki, Wes Anderson and Edgar Wright. I love the comic artist Hirohiko Araki, One, Ariel Ries and Bryan Lee O’Malley. I would love to be able to name some ‘classic artists’ but honestly, as an animator, I draw so much inspiration from TV, movies, comics, etc, and rarely from old Dutch painters like the ones we learned about in Year 11 Art.”
Looking over Jesse’s impressive and eye-catching work on the @IAMPRIKLE website or their Animation and Compositing Showreel on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5lCqhgxiBM), the subject of the art ranges from the fantastical to the more urban and everyday. “I just draw and animate a lot of different stuff, usually very LGBT-friendly stuff, and again, just whatever I’m feeling like, which right now is a lot of Dungeons and Dragons and sometimes fanart.” Wherever Jesse may be guided by their muse, the end-product is always deeply affecting. I was left breathless and stirred by their beautiful and evocative graduating film “City of Memories” (https://vimeo.com/253930631) and gently challenged by the concepts of the short “Mannequins” (https://vimeo.com/202418040) in which “two mannequins are delivered to opposing boutiques where they each get given a modest outfit and begin attracting the attention of nearby shoppers. When one mannequin steals the show with a brand new, sparkly hat, the other gets jealous and a rivalry between friends ensues.”
Now that Jesse is back in Australia, I asked if they felt any pull to return to Denmark to pursue their career? “My plan is to actually move back to Denmark next year in August. I had such a solid network and group of friends there, that I can’t bear to leave it indefinitely. In the meantime, I think I want to just find work doing whatever I can. I’m applying to some studios in Melbourne and looking to see if anyone needs art/animation/media tutoring or advice or anything in Canberra.” Jesse will be imparting some of that advice on the Life After Radford panel speaking to Senior Students about post-school experiences on Thursday 13 September.
Jesse may well impart advice to keep your options open as life can take some fantastical turns at times. “So far, I don’t really have a long-term goal,” they declare. “I want to just work in the industry and have a feel for it. I like making silly things and drawing for my own pleasure right now. There was a point in the last two years where I felt like I really wanted to direct something super amazing and important, and get it shown at Annecy or something, but right now I’m just feeling like doing what I want for a while :-).”
This article is written using pronouns with respect to Jesse’s non-binary identification.