Breaking Into the Creative Industry

Blue Sky Studios visits the Academy to with tales of career development and inspiring work


On Wednesday, Feb. 28, Career Services brought Academy of Art University alumnus and veteran animator Sang Jun Lee and production supervisor Christine Holmes of Blue Sky Studios to the 79 New Montgomery Theatre. The presentation consisted of a quick introduction from Holmes as to what to expect from the studio’s office (from feature film-inspired desk decorations to company field trips to the museum) followed by a presentation from Lee about his time at the Academy, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and his 13-year tenure as a character designer at Blue Sky Studios.

Lee, who graduated from the School of Animation & Visual Effects (ANM) close to two decades ago, was ecstatic to return and share his experiences of both his time at the Academy and the creative industry at large, discuss his work on Blue Sky’s Oscar-nominated animated feature Ferdinand and give students a few tips on breaking into the industry, including the Blue Sky internship program.

Long before his break into the creative industry, Lee was a student with no artistic experience, who joined the Academy at the age of 23. He worked tirelessly to build a portfolio from his time as a freshman on the recommendation of older friends and pushed his instructors continuously for feedback. This paid off as he landed a position at ILM shortly after graduating. He spent most of his tenure there designing monsters, which made getting into Blue Sky somewhat of a lucky break, as their films tend to be geared towards a younger audience. While he got lucky, he urged students vehemently to tailor their portfolios for the job they are applying for.

Shambhavi Kashinath a second year M.A. ANM student praised the advice. “I learned a lot about what kinds of materials to prepare and what to do for jobs, and interviews and portfolios,” she said.

Much of the presentation showed techniques that Lee used to design Ferdinand, all the way from the initial research phase to advanced animation tests. Lee intently discussed the creative process that allowed the design of each character to accurately reflect their personas.

“I think they are really good storytellers,” said M.F.A. visual effects student Owen Hu about the visiting studio. “The characters are animals but they have humanity. Finding humanity is my own goal in animation and they’ve got that. They also have great timing and character design. Their animation is very realistic and believable. Obviously animals won’t behave like they do in the animation but they’re so good at humanizing the characters it becomes believable.”

Second year M.A. character animation student Anburaja Balamuruga echoed the praise for Blue Sky’s animation. “It was great that they showed a lot of different things about the process,” he said. “They showed how they simplified the shapes and added personality to their characters. That was the best thing I [learned more about]. … In my own work, I like to add more exaggeration to my characters and I think animation is all about that.”