Interview with Tangled: The Series BG artist Fiona Hsieh

Interview with Tangled: The Series BG artist Fiona Hsieh

Interview with a background artist on Tangled: The Series.


First of all, we wanted to thank you for offering us the opportunity of organizing this interview!

-To begin, could you please present yourself, your studies and your professional career?

I'm a visdev/landscape-focused artist, majored in character animation at CalArts, graduated in 2015, and currently illustrate for published books on the side, and do background painting for Tangled.

-You're working on the series backgrounds, but could you develop more in-depth your role? Do you have to produce drafts from scenaristic elements, can you propose ideas or are you only working on the final result? Were you rather free to choose the style and backgrounds or did you have to follow precise references and color panels?

Some very loose mini versions of shots (called color keys) are created by the art director. Layouts are created by the layout artists. And I paint the background from white canvas to finish, while following the guidelines of the layout art. You have to follow the color key made by the AD to an extent, but the color keys are simple that it offers a lot of freedom and creativity for us bg painters, depending on the background.

Art-Were you aware of the script and details before the episode distribution?

Not the script, the episode animatics/boards are finished by the time I get my assignments. But I don't have to watch it (I haven't watched them for years LOL). I just follow the color key and paint what I think looks beautiful/spooky/etc.

-Do you work from home or at the studio?

Full-time in studio, but they let me work from home for a few days a week (which is a privilege).

-What are the time and communication constraints?

Usually I get 2 weeks per episode, sometimes a week and a half, depending on if the pipeline was delayed. No communication constraints.

-How's the atmosphere within the team?

I only work directly with the art director and coordinators that keep track of scheduling and whatnot, and nobody else. So us background painters are pretty solitary and chill. Almost all other roles on the crew are required to work with many others (like board artists with writers, directors, showrunner).

The "atmosphere" of a show is honestly different depending on the individual and your job and who you work with.

Really-Were you involved on the first Tangled movie? If not, how did you join the team and what have you felt in joining a crew as talented as this one?

No, I was 16 years old when the movie came out. LOL! The producers for this series hired me before I graduated (at CalArts) after seeing my work at a portfolio review.

-Have you ever worked for Disney (or any other animation studio) and have you ever produced movie concept arts before?

This is my first job out of college, so I have not officially. I've worked for 2.5 years on Tangled the series so far.
I've done concept art at Laika for their future movie and on Kubo as an intern, and some concept art at Dreamworks as an intern.

-Looking at your Deviantart gallery, we couldn't help but notice you like drawing snakes. Have you ever thought of dragging a few snakes in your concept arts? Did you have the opportunity to design the one in Pascal's Story? If not, what do you think about it?

The characters are designed by character designers on the crew. We only do out assigned job, for the most part. Everyone doesn't work on every role. The true "concept art" stage of animated TV shows are only initially, before the production on episodes/season even begins. Past that, the style is decided and firm and there isn't any concept art role. That snake has a wonderful design!

-Do you know if there's going to be a Tangled: The Series artbook?

No clue about that, but it would be nice!

-What difficulties have you met while working on the series? What have you learned from that experience?

I haven't encountered particular difficulties regarding my working process.

-Were there some abandoned backgrounds? If yes, could we have an exclusive preview?

Many abandoned, but unfortunately those are NDA and will probably never be shown.

-On average how much time does the production of such a movie / animated movie take? How much time do you spend on each background and on the whole backgrounds of an episode?

I personally get around 2 weeks to work on 7-9 backgrounds per episode, depending on complexity. As long as all the backgrounds get done before the 2 weeks is up, you can use the time however you see fit. A whole season for the whole crew takes a little over 1 year.

-Is there a background you're particularly proud of? What was the most challenging one?

I think at this point, I've probably done around 350~400 backgrounds, so I can't really say there is anyone in particular! There are a few I remember being proud of, but not off the top of my head or they aren't released in the show yet. What's personally challenging to me is anything that's very tedious, rather than pretty, such as a ton of specific but boring objects sitting around in a room, all overlapping one another... Haha

-Which Dreamworks movie(s) have you worked on?

It was just some concept art for Trolls, but it wasn't used. It was like testing an intern.

-Which books have you illustrated? Can you tell us more about them?

"Chewie and the Porgs" the Last Jedi spinoff book, a Black Beauty illustrated book from Usborne, and another really nice one in the making.

-Do you work on CGI backgrounds too?

No, there is no CGI in this show.

-How was your experience on Kubo? As it is a stop-motion movie, I guess the experience was really different.

Since I was an intern, I was just asked to illustrate some specific concept work. It's really amazing to see the art translated into the stop-motion sets. Many sets were already built/nearly finished when I was there.

-Coming back to Tangled, how many background artists work on an episode?

Four of us.

-How did you react when your learned the producers would hire you before you even graduate?

Relieved I had a good job! LOL

Backgrounds-Is there a particular studio or animated movie you would like to work on?

At the moment, really anywhere that would let me work from home that also has good salary. It's a really great privilege to do so. I have a lot of animal-related hobbies, and I train for dog sports, so the more time I get at home, the better.

-What kind of background do you prefer to work on?

Landscapes/nature scenes and anything I can have more creative freedom. I also prefer night scenes specifically on our show.

-Did you always wanted to work on backgrounds and visual development or were there some other animation aspects you wanted to explore?

I realized this was my strength, so I focused on it, and it worked out really well.

Concept-Since how long do you draw? How did you discover that passion?

Like everyone else, I started drawing when I could hold a pencil/crayon. It was always an innate passion, and I always doodled a lot.

-I also was wondering if in The Quest for Varian the background artists had to animate the tower when it has been destroyed or if it was still the animator's job?

Yes, all animation is done by the outsourcing company (Mercury Filmworks) and they do a great job!

-You already have a promising career. What are your hopes or perhaps dreams for the future?

Thanks!! I'm really unsure at the moment, but I'd like to do visdev for feature someday (since most features won't let me work from home), once I finish my dog training goals. :lol:

- Once again, we would like to thank you for your time, we are really happy to know more about your work on the series. Keep up the good work!

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