Every so often, we’ll be spotlighting alumni and what they are up to these days. These Q&A sessions will give you a bit of insight into where the world has taken them since graduation.
This week, the spotlight is on Marie Cheng (BFA/Digital Arts) who is currently a Script Coordinator at DreamWorks Animation TV and has two self-published zines called “Creature Confessions” and “Raising the Gremlin Child”.
DODGE: Share your career path with us – how did you get where you are now?
MARIE: Currently, I am a Script Coordinator/Writers’ Assistant at DreamWorks Animation TV, where I pitch in the writers room, attend record sessions, and take notes in story meetings. As a writer and comic artist myself, this gives me the chance to learn from some of the most incredible creatives in the industry. I started off as a Nicktern at Nickelodeon Animation Studio the summer before my senior year. A few weeks into the internship I transitioned into a PA role, and shortly after graduating from Chapman, I moved into a Coordinator position. I am very grateful to have had mentors and supervisors that championed my ability to work full time while still in school and give me opportunities to grow into my current role. In addition to working in animation, I make my own indie comics as well. My two self-published zines “Creature Confessions” and “Raising the Gremlin Child” can be found at Skylight Bookstores in Los Feliz, Calif.
DODGE: What was the biggest adjustment you faced after graduation and how did you overcome it?
MARIE: I was very lucky to have a job my senior year and after graduation went to work the next Monday so I did not really feel a huge difference in my lifestyle at that point. I think the biggest adjustment between the educational environment and the professional world is that there are no grades to tell you how you’re doing, no professors keeping you accountable other than yourself. It became my full responsibility to maintain weekly meetings with my mentors and make an effort to continue pursuing my creative ambitions while succeeding at the job I was hired for. I think it is also very important to seek out a supportive community upon graduating. While I was at Chapman I was involved in Greek life and on campus clubs. I was accustomed to having a very large group of peers that I could always have lunch with, spend time with, etc. Everyone disperses upon graduation, and I had to make a great effort to build a new community for myself at work and in my local community once I moved to Los Angeles. Balancing work life and a personal life can be very difficult during the first few months out of graduation, but I think it is key to keeping motivated and inspired to create.
DODGE: What is the best advice you have received and/or what advice would you give current students?
MARIE: My biggest advice is to seek out and try to attain at least one internship in the industry during the four years at Chapman. I had four internships before I was offered my PA job, and I know the experiences I had from those internships greatly influenced the decision to keep me around. I am also grateful to work with people who inspire me to have a positive, constructive attitude no matter how tight the deadlines are or how much needs to get done in the next hour. There is very little a person can control at times in the professional world, but attitude is one of them to a deep extent. Artistically, I think some of the best advice I have been given is to tell the stories that connect with you, even if they don’t have mainstream appeal right now. No one ever became known for their art because they tried really hard to do what they thought everyone else wanted to see. Do what you want to see.
DODGE: What is your favorite memory from your time at Chapman?
MARIE: That is so tough! I have had so many great memories. I think studying abroad in Florence, Italy, for a semester was one of the highlights. Immersing myself in the art and culture that was different than my own background broadened my communication skills and gave me a larger pool of life experiences to draw from in storytelling. I also loved being an Orientation Leader and actively participating in events through the Digital Arts Club. We had Pete Docter come to speak to us about Inside Out, as well as other notable animators from PIXAR, Disney, DreamWorks, Laika, among others. The weekly Dodge dinners with industry professionals were also noteworthy chances to learn from those with a lifetime of valuable experiences.
DODGE: What have you taken from the classroom and applied to your career?
MARIE: Creating an animated short film from first pitch to final deliverable was instrumental in solidifying the concepts I needed to have a foundation for storytelling and production ability. The sheer discipline it takes to follow one project through for a year and a half taught me how to stick through a story you believe in even when it’s tough. Working with all different kinds of personalities in group settings helped me to improve my ability to be a team player and communicate clearly, which is incredibly important in the professional world. I think taking classes in fundamental drawing, art, and storyboarding assisted me in understanding how to tell stories in a way that is also entertaining. Knowing how each phase of animated film production is completed helped me to quickly jump into the production world in an animation studio.
DODGE: Have you received any awards or recognition?
MARIE: I was a Presidential Scholar at Chapman, and grateful recipient of the Academy Internship Grant, which helped subsidize my transportation expenses for an entire semester when I was commuting to LA for my internship. I am also very excited to be selected as a mentee for the Women in Animation Mentorship Program, where I have been assigned a wonderful industry storyboard mentor who I have learned so much from. Currently, I am a diversity scholarship recipient at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Hollywood where I study improv comedy to strengthen my storytelling skills and pretend that people think I’m funny…
Thanks so much for sharing, Marie!