Visual Development Artist Saera Hwang Focuses on Successful Storytelling

With a dazzling artistic sensibility, acute eye for design and a keen facility for breathing life into any project, Visual Development artist Saera Hwang’s boundless technical capacity and artistic creativity are remarkable. Moreover, she has an innate knack for approaching animation assignments with a natural skill that ideally realizes the proposed concept.

Born and raised in Korea, the ambitious young illustrator had both the drive and talent to realize her lifelong dream. “Since I was a child, I wanted to become an artist,” Hwang said. “I loved to draw and paint, and I loved classic Disney classic animation. I had piles of notebooks filled with drawings of Disney characters and other picture book illustrations. This is what led me to pursue animation. It’s a long story but, to keep it, short, when I was 11, I wrote in my notebook that my dream was to come to the US to study and work in animation.”

“For a long time, it seemed impossible,” Hwang said. “For me, it was a miracle to be able get here to California and do what I love professionally — and here I am!”

Hwang, following graduation from Seoul’s prestigious Hongik University College of Fine Arts arrived in California for further study at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design had established herself as a professional artist capable of high quality work.

“My education and training helped me develop the specialized skills and knowledge for animation,” Hwang said. “And my working experiences after school has trained me to learn different skillsets as well as effectively communicating and working with production and creative supervisors.”

But, as with any show business success story, it’s always that critical first break that determines the course of a career. In Hwang’s case, fortune smiled upon her when Pixar Art Director Bryn Imagire made a recruiting trip to the Art Center College of Design campus. Immediately impressed by Hwang’s abilities, she arranged an internship for Hwang at Pixar’s Animation Studio in Emeryville, California, which almost immediately resulted in Hwang being taken on as a full time employee. It was fruition of her lifelong ambition and her first assignment, The Good Dinosaur, allowed Hwang to demonstrate her technical and artistic mastery.

Courtesy Disney/Pixar

“I was a shader artist on The Good Dinosaur,” Hwang said. ”Which is essentially the same as being a painter for CG [computer generated] animation. That’s what I was doing, designing, painting models and making shader packets for every facet of the production — everything from dinosaurs, people and insects to sets and props.”

It’s a demanding discipline that requires an all-inclusive grasp on the overall production design and plays a critical role in the film’s overall appearance, as Hwang explains: “These paintings provide visual guide for technical artists to bridge art and tech for cg animation. As a shader artist, you focus on designing and painting surface textures for characters, sets, every object that appears on the screen for the final film, and doing so with a sense of design, color, and lighting.”

The Good Dinosaur was both a significant achievement and high-profile launching point for Hwang’s fast-moving career and growing resume.

Her already impressive roster of successful jobs, starting with her contributions to Bay Area based firm Tonko House’s Academy-award nominated short The Dam Keeper and work with some of the animation world’s most famed companies — Pixar, DreamWorks — underscores her illimitable skill, boundless potential and singular gift for taking on a wide variety of jobs.

“Each project brings its own valuable lessons,” Hwang said. “But on The Good Dinosaur, the most interesting experience was actually getting the tools out and paint on board and paper, creating tree bark textures, conceiving possible stylization for trees — it’s just so much fun to explore with real paint, and find the best ways to support the story. That’s the most important focal point for an artist working in animation.”

“What I love about animation is that it’s a storytelling in art form,” Hwang said. ”There’s no limit to what you can express. That’s what makes it special — there is so much power in that.”