Written by Sarah Yoon
The world needs more storytellers like Mary Jane Whiting. A talented artist, she is excited to share fun stories and encourage others along the way. Instead of spilling everything about her here, I might as well let her speak for herself! Without much prompting, she jumped right into the interview:
I was born in Texas and moved to Florida to major in Computer Animation at Ringling College of Art and Design where I’m a Junior. I’m a chai tea enthusiast, certified workaholic (but it’s more like fun than work) and my passion is visual development artwork for animation. I’m currently working on pre-production for my senior film. The process includes doing all of the concept design, visual development artwork as well as storyboards. At the same time, I’m working on a lip-sync project of myself as an animated character.
Ringling is a special program because we do all of the design work for our projects as well as storyboarding, animating, modeling, lighting, compositing etc. Basically, it’s one person doing the work of a small-scale studio production. It’s an incredibly intense and competitive program, but I really love what I’m doing at the end of the day and I can’t wait until my film is released in May of 2015!
How were you introduced to your craft?
I actually didn’t start drawing until pretty late in high school, unlike most of the professional artists and talented kids I grew up with. I always felt pretty far behind with my skill level, but I always enjoyed creating things and experimented a lot with different mediums in high school. I then discovered Ringling College and fell in love with the animation side, since I’d always grown up watching and loving animated movies. The year I graduated from high school, Disney’s Tangled was released and I was absolutely sold on 3D animation, so I packed up my bags and moved from small-town Texas to Sarasota, Florida. When I got here, I struggled again to catch up with all the other amazing artists at Ringling, but over time I found my own niche and grew as both a person and artist. I found out that I wasn’t as much an animator as I thought I would be, but I fell in love with other aspects of the animation process—design, modeling, texturing, lighting. I always held on to my first love, painting.
What are a few of your inspirations that helped you grow from when you first began to now?
Hmmm well, I guess my first big influence was my best friend who I met the first day here at Ringling, Victor Maury. We’ve been friends since freshman year and we always push each other’s work to be better and better. He’s been the kind of artist that had a few more years under his belt than I did, so I always looked up to him and he’s always inspired me to push my work further than I’ve ever thought I could. A few other inspirations have been professional artists like Shane Prigmore, Chris Appelhans, Helen Chen, Ryan Lang, my teachers, Jason Bennett, Jon DiVenti, Tron Mai, Kevin Chen and James Paick to name a few.
For being a student, you already have a very professional online presence. Is that due to competition in your field?
There’s quite a bit of competition in the animation industry, but it’s also about getting to share your art with others. I always love getting to share something and see someone else’s reaction to it. I think also this industry really is about sharing—It’s not about hiding your work under the rug. I think it’s important to post your work even when you don’t think your art is good enough. I always try to post my work as kind of a visual log of my own progress. So far my online log has captured over 400 images of my art from my days in high school until now. Every once and a while I can just look at a visual timeline of my progress and be reminded where I came from. It’s kind of a cool visual record and reminds me that there’s always room to keep improving.
After switching to a Skype conversation, Mary Jane and I gabbed for a while about our new haircuts that we happened to get on the same day–but then we moved back to the real conversation:
It’s neat that you’re very prominent online, unlike many young artists who haven’t bothered yet.
It feels really important to get my work out there and be able to share with different people. It helps me keep a visual log of where I am going. It’s fun getting to see how people react to my stuff—I’ve been doing it since high school, I started out on deviant art and I have expanded to different channels. It’s hard, but it’s neat to have somebody write you and I’ve had a couple of perspective students write me and say, “I love your art! Can you tell me more about Ringling, or tell me more about yourself,” and it’s always cool to answer those kinds of questions and think, “I used to be you. I used to be the one writing to people.”
Some people have difficulty sharing their art—either it’s too personal or they’re insecure about it. What would you say to encourage them?
Oh man, that’s always tough because I know that it comes down to “I feel like my art’s not ready, or I don’t want to share I just want to hold it in forever.” I remember when the first piece of art I ever posted online: I was 12 years old and I had this online message board account. I said I was 16 so that I could post this piece of anime fan art. I was going to impress the world with this piece. I knew it wasn’t very good but I posted it up, and immediately people were saying “oh, it’s not very good. You have no technique.” I felt really sad for a while but I realized that I had to push through the doubt. And as weird as it is to say, all the flaming spurred me on. I had to look at my art and say “I can do better!” My biggest advice would be that you have to ignore what anybody else says that’s negative. They’re going to think what they’re going to think. It’s hard; you don’t want to show your work when people say mean things about it. But you’ve just got to put it out there. There will be people who respect and enjoy your art even if there are others who are not as nice.