Credit: Léa Zhang
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Léa Zhang Junior Designer at Buck in Amsterdam

06 July 2023 Portraits
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Graduating in 2020 from the Graphic Motion Designer program, Léa Zhang is now Junior Designer at Buck, an international creative studio based in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and Amsterdam. Her motions "Walk Cycle" (collective work) and "Spring" have been selected for the Design in Motion Festival in Amsterdam in 2022.




You graduated from GOBELINS Paris' Graphic Motion Designer course in 2020. What has been your career path since graduation?

After my training at GOBELINS, I looked for a studio to join. The ones I liked best were mostly abroad. The idea of settling down somewhere else and traveling was very appealing to me.


We were in the middle of a pandemic, and companies were rather reluctant to recruit interns, so I didn't expect Buck to be the first to get back to me and offer me an internship. In the meantime, I continued to work freelance and did another telecommuting internship.




What does your job as a Junior Designer at Buck entail?

At Buck, designers contribute to all projects requiring 2D. In the pre-production phase, we research and explore concepts for pitches. In production, we establish the artistic direction.


Depending on the purpose of the project, our styleframes can be used as visual aids directly by the animators, or reconstructed for animation. Designs can also inform a 3D scene.


Even if the final project doesn't require illustration, we help build a reference for other artists.


The functions of the " junior " positions are similar to those of an intern or apprentice. We receive more support, and gradually find our own rhythm before moving on to the role of designer.




Illustration Léa Zhang

Léa Zhang

Why did you choose to settle in Amsterdam?

I was supposed to go to New York or Los Angeles for my internship, where the main studios are located, but then Buck announced that they were opening a new site in Amsterdam.


It was a simple choice, as I could get back to Paris easily and their offices were open, unlike those in the USA.


I'm glad I was able to join a small team. It was great to be able to participate in its development. There were about fifteen of us when I joined, and now there are almost 60.




Why did you choose to work in a studio?

I prefer to gain solid experience in a studio before potentially going freelance. I don't have to worry about the administrative side of things, and I have a structured living environment, so I can concentrate on my illustration.


On the other hand, being a freelancer can be quite lonely. It's become important for me to be able to spend quality time with my colleagues and share this experience with them.




Illustration Léa Zhang

Léa Zhang

Have you continued to work as a freelance illustrator and animator alongside your position at Buck?

I don't really take on freelance projects anymore since I've been in the studio. It's not a very healthy rhythm of work. On the other hand, I do miss illustrating for editorial, so if I can do small commissions on the side, it's hard for me to say no!


I've worked on the design of a puzzle for an independent toy store, and I've also done illustrations for Ninkasi, a craft beer brand. I've also done a few collaborations with other artists. These projects allow me to create more personal things.




Two of your motions, "Walk Cycle" and "Spring", have been selected for the Design in Motion Festival in 2022.

"Walk Cycle" was created as a team, with my Buck colleagues. We submitted several animations on themes chosen by you, giving us a chance to work together and have fun at the same time.


"Spring" was a little animated loop I'd made on my own, on the theme of the transition from winter to spring.


The festival took place in Amsterdam's central station. Together, we went to see the works displayed on the station's screens and billboards.




Spring, Léa Zhang 

Spring, Léa Zhang

Which project has impressed you the most?

" Riot Games 'League of Legends was a really special project for me. Buck created a cinematic for Chinese New Year 2023. Most of the team was based in the USA, but a few people in Amsterdam were able to contribute too.


I don't play video games, but seeing the reactions to our work on Youtube was really cool. The opportunity to work for the entertainment industry on this scale doesn't come along very often.




What project are you currently working on?

At the studio, I've just been working on a mobile game, and in parallel with my work, I've just opened an e-shop to sell prints of my illustrations. It's something I've been tempted to do for a while.




Illustration Léa Zhang

Léa Zhang

How do you see the future of your career?

I don't think about it too much, as long as I can continue to illustrate and do projects that are close to my heart. The more I progress in drawing, the more I'm drawn to concept art and visual development.


Our industry is changing fast, and I'm curious to see what our professions will look like in a few years' time. I'd also like to do more substantial personal projects, like a short film or a graphic book.




Do you get to work with GOBELINS alumni?

I haven't had the chance to collaborate with any of the old-timers yet, but I'd love to! A few artists from my studio have also done GOBELINS, so it's fun to get together on projects.




The Last Of Us, Léa Zhang 

The Last Of Us, Léa Zhang

A lot of your work is inspired by films and TV series. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I've had a passion for cinema ever since I was in secondary school. I love transposing the poetry and atmosphere of films into my illustrations. For me, along with music, it's the medium that conveys the most emotion. It's what makes me want to draw. Working in animation allows me to combine drawing and film.




Can you tell us one good memory from your year at GOBELINS?

I loved my year at Gobelins! There was a lot of goodwill between us and from our coordinator Laure Chapalain.


During one of our workshops, we were able to travel to see our mappings projected live on the cathedral in Orléans. We visited the city and admired our work together in the evening. Seeing our animations displayed on such a large space, which for once wasn't a screen, with spectators all around, was a unique experience.




Illustration Léa Zhang

Léa Zhang

What advice would you give to a recent graduate of the school?

Enrich your portfolio with personal projects. At school, we work a lot in groups, so it's important to keep up your personal practice. This is what allows you to find your artistic individuality and naturally attract projects that appeal to you.


When I left school, I didn't really know what I wanted to specialize in. It was only afterwards that I found what I really wanted to do. It's important to remember that your path isn't set in stone once you've graduated.




Interview by Sophie Jean

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