Transcribed by Yuki Okamura-Wong
Ray: Hello, and welcome everyone to Straight Ahead: an animation podcast where we spotlight rising Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who are the future voices of the animation industry. I am Ray Mendoza Landa, one half of your co-host.
Yuki: And I am Yuki Okamura-Wong, the other half of our whole host. Our guest this week is Bryan Bae, he is a Korean-American vis dev artist/designer and currently working freelance from Los Angeles, and our first deaf/hoh (hard of hearing) guest! Would you mind telling us a bit more about yourself?
Bryan: Hey, thank you for having me here! Excited to do this with you guys. To add on to what you said, I’m a Prop/Character Designer currently freelancing on a Cartoon Network short.
Yuki: So the way we like to start off on Straight Ahead is by playing a fun little game called In Between. We are going to give you two similar choices and you have to choose “in between” the two of them and let us know why.
Bryan: Oh my gosh, okay, okay I’m ready.
Ray: Would you have rather had your soul trapped in a cat like Joe from Soul or have your body molecularly altered to become a pigeon like Agent Lance Sterling from Spies in Disguise?
Bryan: I would go with my soul trapped in a cat cause I like to sleep a lot and I could have people to feed me. I could annoy people and escape somewhere to be my lazy self.
Ray: You don’t want to fly and then poop on people? It doesn’t interest you?
Bryan(surprised): Oh man that’s a game changer!
[Ray, Bryan, and Yuki laugh]
Bryan: Ahhh… now I changed my mind, I want to be a pigeon and poop on people and their cars! I don’t know why I haven’t thought of that.
[Ray, Bryan, and Yuki laugh]
Yuki: Okay final question, would you rather travel with Jackie Chan collecting all 12 talismans or with Goku collecting the 7 dragon balls?
Bryan: [claps] …daaaang! Oh this is so hard, aw man!!
Yuki: We gottem, we gottem now, Ray!
Bryan: Oh man… just a moment.. If I was animated I’m going to go with Jackie Chan, because I’d also be good at martial arts, so I’m going to go with Jackie Chan. I Kinda don’t want to hear Goku screaming?
Ray: Aaaaawww!! [Laughing]
Yuki: [reeling] You don’t want to hear his screaming?!
Bryan: It’s too much screaming! You know what I mean, right?
Yuki: No totally, that’s really funny!
Bryan: Y’know I think that at one point they were screaming for one, solid minute? Like oh my god, can you just get on with it?!
Yuki: for more than five min– yeah, that’s true.
Yuki: I have a brother like that, he screams a lot, he like yells a lot, and I’m like, can you calm down? I’m glad we have Discord now so I can just turn his volume down.
Yuki: It’s okay, he knows! He knows!
Ray: So yeah, I just want to briefly thank Bryan again for being on. Like Yuki mentioned earlier, this is our first deaf/hard-of-hearing guest and we want to give more of a spotlight on individuals like these, and hopefully we can learn a little bit more as we progress within this podcast episode. But to kind of start off: Bryan can you describe to us what your role as a prop and FX designer is, as well as what your day-to-day is like as a freelance artist?
Bryan: Oh yeah, so, my day-to-day with me being a prop designer is that I design props and effects from the boards that are assigned to me. It’s all shared online. I try to measure the discrepancies and bridge the gap between what needs to be designed and what’s happening on the screen. So I work closely with either the art director, or my lead prop designer on the visual language to see what they’re looking for. That’s my typical workload.
Ray: Cool, cool. So actually, one of your recent experiences was working as a Prop and FX Designer for Aquaman: King of Atlantis. You describe yourself as a freelance artist, but was that your first gig in-house?
Bryan: Yeah, it was actually my first real gig in-house, I thought I was gonna get a little chance to be at the studio for a hot sec but the pandemic happened. I thought maybe we’d return to work in the studio, but we never did so… darn [snaps fingers], I never got the opportunity to see it. So I’m just working from home again. My experience working on Aquaman has been a huge honor, I enjoyed it and learned a lot from my lead for props, Kyle, and showrunner, Victor. Everyone on the crew worked really hard and I can’t wait for you guys to see it if you enjoy action-comedy.
Ray: But damn, that must have been a real shame that your first in-house opportunity, and it’s still from home.
Bryan: Yeah, it’s still WFH, but I still see people through video calls. [shrugs] I never got to meet them in person, but it’s still cool to be part of this show I worked on, and everyone was awesome and everyone worked hard.
Ray: Because it was working from home, due to the Pandemic, did it feel different from doing freelance? Or were you actually able to get to know the crew a lot more for being “in-house” work from home? ‘Cause I know with freelance—from what I’ve heard—you don’t get to interact with a lot of the crew members, you just kinda get assigned a thing and you just do it.
Bryan: Yeah, yeah, you’re right about the assignment. But that’s fine, I got to meet people through the video calls, and it was really cool y’know? Interacting with people, having a conversation and getting to know them. Even though you can’t see them in person, you will see them soon enough after Covid. Maybe I could see you guys too? One day!
Yuki: Yeah, hopefully!
Bryan: Yeah, but it’s very different doing freelance from home… alone… working. As opposed to interacting with people. It’s a very different feeling. So I much prefer working in-house than doing freelance.
Ray: So to me, that’s really awesome that even though it’s work from home, you get to know the crew a little better, which is also part of the fun about being in the industry is working with others, even from home . For you, though, what are some of the challenges that you have faced being deaf/HOH in the animation industry?
Bryan: I would say, it’s kind of hard for me to keep up with multiple people in one call, like y’know when everyone is talking all at once. I’m an expert at reading lips, but it’s hard for me to find and switch to each person talking. I need to focus on them to understand, but it’s hard when everyone is talking at once, so I would always go “what did he/she say?” whenever I couldn’t hear. I prefer to do one-on-one or one-on-two conversations so I can keep up. I would say that’s one of the most challenging parts for me.
Yuki: I’m curious, when they hired you on for your freelance or your first industry job in-house, did they accommodate you in any way? Like right now Ray and I are using the closed-captions on google meets to sort of help you out, so was there anything that the hiring team did, or stuff like that, or were you upfront that “I am hard of hearing, so can we use this”?
Bryan: Yeah, like whenever they found me and reached out to me, I told them that I am hard-of-hearing, that I have hearing aids, and they knew at the time that I need it. The show runner on Aquaman, Victor, we figured out that we had to use Google Meet and Zoom so that we could have the closed captions on Google Meet. So it’s been a very smooth process through the whole meeting. They would have zoom sharing the screen on Google Meets, I’m not sure how they got it to work but it did. (laughs)
Ray: So, from what you said, it seems like it’s more beneficial for you to have one-on-one time. Which is honestly kind of great, because whether you’re doing vis dev or story you can talk to your higher ups on a one to one basis anyway, so from there it doesn’t seem like as an artist it doesn’t hinder you whatsoever. I guess it’s more of a social aspect of when it comes to talking to multiple people, it can be an issue.
Ray: But when it comes to art, the majority of the time, you only talk to your director anyway. So correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no loss in communication there.
Bryan: Yeah. It’s kind of hard for me to keep up, even with CC on because I can also read from who is talking. Yeah when I’m trying to hear, I try to focus on the person that is talking. But like on Aquaman, when one person is mainly talking and then someone chimes in with a little thing, it becomes harder for me to keep up.
Bryan: Often in a pitch that will happen, with people just going at the same time, aaah! (Bryan lifts his hands in a wide gesture, imitating many people talking)
Ray: Oh okay yeah I can totally see how that could be hard. Luckily there is always an amazing PA in these kind of meeting that are taking notes that you can always refer to later.
Yuki: You have a PA that takes notes for you? Luckyyyy!
Ray: Ahh wait you don’t? I mean I still take my own notes but either the PM or PA takes general notes of the meetings and shares it with us.
Yuki: Damn, nobody takes notes for us. At my old job, I think the PM used to take notes or had an itinerary for our meetings, but we never go to see them… so I started taking notes and sharing them with the rest of the animation team.
Bryan: Oh, oh yes most definitely. A PA took notes during the meeting and we would get those notes right after the meeting. I was glad to get the notes so I don’t have to ask a lot of questions.
Yuki: Yeah, that’s lucky.
Ray: [laughing] See, I’m not the only one!
Ray: So Bryan, you’re actually a co-leader of the Deaf, Disabled, and Neurodiverse (DDNV) group within The Animation Guild 839. If you can, could you talk about it, what are some of your goals in the union?
Bryan: So me and Marie, my other co-leader, we were just talking about our main goals. They’re: Safe community, Accessibility and hiring equality within the industry, and more positive representation within animated media. Currently we are working with other committees within 839 and management departments and various studios. We’re also working with an accessibility and sensitivity consultant to draft what we would like to see in the workspace for us. That’s our three main goals.
Yuki: That’s really cool. What do you mean by “Safe Community”?
Bryan: For example, Marie has a Wheelchair and it’s very difficult for her to get to the entrance where she works. We’re trying to spread awareness on what we can do, and what others can do to help.
Ray: So it’s great that you and Marie decided to start this, how many years has DDNV been around?
Bryan: Oh, I actually dont’ know because Marie was the one that started all this and she reached out to me, if I wanted to be part of it, to contribute, and about the people who are in need. She’s the one that’s doing all of this, and I’m just here to help. I mean, she’s been doing everything by herself, and I’m like oh man she’s doing everything and I don’t know where to start. So yeah, just talking about what I can do to help. Whenever I try to keep up with her so I’m trying to to my best.
Yuki: It’s good, it’s good to just be around and help support that cause.
Ray: So something, if you can, If you could dispel one or two common misconceptions people seem to make about deaf/hoh artists, what would they be?
Bryan: I get mistaken to know American Sign Language (ASL) cause I am deaf/HoH/have hearing aids. I actually don’t know how to ‘cause I went to public school instead of school for the deaf. My mom wanted me to have a better chance at life without having a hard time fitting in and thought it would be a different reality for me. I’m glad she made the right choice for me to be more freeing.
Ray: Is there anything the animation industry or animation communities can do to be more inclusive to artists with disabilities?
Bryan: Just being vigilant in doing due diligence to provide accessibility. Being prepared beforehand instead of us having to constantly ask for reasonable accommodation is key. So yeah, I really don’t know much, but just gotta be more open and vigilant.
Bryan: I think that’s key.
Yuki: Yeah, and I feel like I’m learning a lot already from setting-up and then doing this recording, learning about accessibility and how we can have those tools available, right? And be more collaborative.
Bryan: Yeah and it was also cool that we can have that cc-audio live on Google Chrome. I was like aw man.
Yuki: Yeah, you were telling us earlier about, uhmm… is it just in Chrome? Or are you using an extension?
Bryan: It’s an extension, yeah, it has an option where you can turn it on/off, so I just have it on the whole time.
Yuki: And it works on like Spotify and all those other kind of programs too, huh?
Bryan: Yeah, if you are on Google Chrome you can auto-generate whatever.
Ray: That’s really cool, and something that in theory is so simple, can be really beneficial like the fact that doing the CC’s can be so helpful to someone that is deaf/HOH. Like you said, right now, if you were on Safari or using the spotify app vs using Spotify on Google Chrome it wouldn’t be able to extend there, but creating things that could make stuff accessible for the HOH could be vastly beneficial.
Ray: So for you, How long did it take for you to land your first industry opportunity after graduating from Ringling College of Art and Design?
Bryan: It took me four years to land some actual real work. The funny thing about my first real freelance, I was in New Zealand and I remember 2019, and I got an e-mail from Cartoon Network if i was interested in doing freelance. (Bryan holds his head) “Oh my god”, but I’m over here! And I e-mailed, asking if they could wait til I got back from New Zealand, and they were like oh yeah we can wait. I was all, thank you so much. After I got back I got the freelance, and that’s how I got started.
Yuki: (laughing) Oh no, not the crisis! He said oh no I’m in New Zealand!
Bryan: Yeah, get the job! I said oh no! They asked if I could start right away and I said oh no, I’m in New Zealand!! But it was very cool that they were willing to wait.
Ray: So were you in New Zealand just as a vacation? A fun trip?
Bryan: Yeah, I went on vacation with my girlfriend and my friends for two weeks in New Zealand. We were just exploring North Island and South Island. It worked out!
Ray: Yeah, while you were on your trip were you like, oh gotta get back, that freelance gig is waiting for me. (chuckles)
Bryan: Yeah! Like I’m never gonna get this opportunity again, but they were cool to wait.
Ray: Aw man, that’s awesome, that’s awesome. So for you, how was that transition for you from being a student to a working professional?
Bryan: Oh man, that has been a bumpy ride cause I wasn’t pushing myself right after college and I had been in an art rut or something. Being a designer, there’s only one or two spots for prop designers, and everyone is competing for those spots. I’ve taken a lot of design tests before and never made it next to step. So I’m like whenever they give me the news like “Thank you for your hard work but we’ve decided to go with a different candidate.” I mean it’s not a great feeling when I get that kind of news. Still it’s rewarding when I get the opportunity to do the test. You got your ups and downs, highs and lows, and even if at every opportunity you get shut down, you just keep going. I would just say. Then finally I got that first freelance work in 2019 before landing my first real gig in 2020.
Ray: Would you say that you’re more comfortable in your role being a prop and FX designer—whether it’s in-house or freelance now—versus when you first started? Or are you still like nervous from job to job?
Bryan: I feel more comfortable working in-person, ‘cause you get to work in the studio and see your coworkers in your daily life. Everyone has their own point of view, but that’s what it is to me. As opposed to being at home and freelancing where you’re just e-mailing and not talking, it’s not fun.
Yuki: Yeah, like more of a connection.
Bryan: Yeah, so I’ve been trying to get an in-house job. So I just keep trying and trying.
Ray: Yeah man I’m really glad you shared that. Not everyone is fortunate enough to get an industry job right out of school. Sometimes it can take a couple years or more. But like you said you just got to keep trying.
Ray: So actually, something I’m really interested in, could you talk to us about the brand you started: Baer & Lamb, and what made you want to start your own shop? And if you can, for those that may not be aware, could you explain what Baer & Lamb is?
Bryan: Baer & Lamb is actually my girlfriend and I’s nicknames, so I’m Baer and she’s Lamb.
Ray: Awww! (laughing)
Yuki: I get it, your name is Bae and… aaaw!
Bryan: Yeah, my last name, Bae and add the r, so Baer. And my girlfriend’s name is Mary, so…
Ray: Ah, Mary had a little lamb (singing)
Bryan: Yeah, right! (laughs)
Yuki: That’s cute!!
Bryan: I call her lamb most of the time.
Ray: That’s just too cute.
Bryan: So I really wanted to start the shop because I love collectable pins. I wanted to design some pins. We want to design more characters along the way, so we do that but being exhausted with work most of the time. We haven’t had the time to get back into it.
Ray: I think it’s really cool that you opened up your own shop with your girlfriend. Because something that I feel like especially in this age where younger artists are out hustling and trying to have a diversity in income. How important do you think it is for us as artists to approach different revenue sources outside of our full-time slash freelance work?
Bryan: That’s a good question. I don’t really know, honestly I just wanted to do it. It’s tough to juggle all you’re doing with the shop and what you’re doing full-time.
Ray: Yeah, cause there’s so many artists that have their own etsy shop or art on redbubble just things of that nature. Again, it’s just another way to have an extra revenue source, especially when living in LA.
Bryan: Yeah, it’s hard to keep up. I’m just always saying fake it ‘til you make it. Sometimes when I see younger artist try to hustle, that’s all I can say to them.
Ray: So could you tell us a little bit about your experience at Ringling College of Art and Design and how did you feel their program prepared you for life after college?
Bryan: My experience… at Ringling… was not very good.
Ray: Aww damn.
Yuki: Ohh, okay…
Bryan: What I learned there was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in the animation industry, rather than doing illustration for advertising and editorial. I wanted to do visual development. So it was kind of different for me.
Ray: So you were in the illustration major, and it wasn’t what you wanted to do?
Bryan: Yeah, so what my take… so this was in 2010… oh my god… it was so far in the past, so what I learned at Ringling was crap. So after I graduated, I had to relearn again using online videos and tips from artists that were in the animation industry. I was focusing on self learning what I wanted to do. I’m sure that everyone has different opinions, but for me it was just different because they didn’t teach me what I thought it would be. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, so after I graduated I retaught myself.
Ray: I guess my question would be, because ringling is an art school, you had to enter with a portfolio when you first apply, so did they not give you the proper information? Or did you want to be in animation but you were only accepted into illustration?
Bryan: Yeah, I remember at the time I was doing traditional work, and that’s all you are doing essential in the illustration major. Honestly, I didn’t know much about it, the only reason I went to Ringling was because my cousin went there, so I was just following wherever my cousin was going. As I was drawing, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t able to transfer majors so I just stayed on in illustration until I finished.
Ray: Honestly that sounds unfortunate, like again no school is perfect, sometimes you go to the wrong school, sometimes you go to the right school, sometimes school isn’t even the answer for you, but again you took the initiative to teach yourself. You reached out to artists that were working in the industry so you could learn and enter the industry.
Ray: Luckily it doesn’t seem like it hindered you too much because you’re still, you know, you have a great career. You’ve worked for several different companies. Again, you’re working for Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. and whatnot, but I can also still see that if you were in the major you wanted it could have set you up a lot better. But, again, you didn’t let it hinder you which I think is pretty amazing.
Bryan: Yeah. Yeah listen, aw man… it’s not like you graduate, you get your first job. There’s a lot of ways to get better, and get where you want. But if it doesn’t work out the first time, you just have to work harder.
Ray: Mhm exactly.
Ray: So something that I want to talk about is a fun thing you’ve been working on. It’s a personal project called MAGYK, but it’s spelled M-A-G-Y-K. Can you tell us a little bit about it and the inspiration behind Magyk?
Bryan: Yeah, sure, I’ve been working on this personal project for about three and a half years now on and off. I finally have a new title to replace ” MAGYK!”…haha its called ” Chromagik”! I don’t know if I actually have a final answer for it, cause it’s all over the place. It has adventure, fantasy, and sci-fi elements and takes place in a retro sort of world. I’m constantly changing the ideas, like, whenever I watch a show that inspires me, I say “aw man, that’s pretty good, I should write that down”. I’m always changing ideas, but my top inspiration of what I wanted to do is always the Avatar series, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and I don’t know if you guys have ever seen this but the animated movie Paprika?
Yuki: Yeah, love it. It’s so good.
Bryan: Yeah it’s insane animation, and the last one is Last man, a French comic. That’s the sort of combination I wanted to do.
Yuki: These are all very different [laughs] from one another, I will say. I know what all of those are, very different.
Bryan: Yeah, mash it up! Mash it up! That’s what I wanted to do.
Ray: So is this something you plan on pitching for a show, or is this a graphic novel or a comic series or is this just fun portfolio pieces for yourself to help you get your next job?
Bryan: For now it’s just for fun, nothing serious, but I would love to turn it into a show one day.
Ray: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Yuki: That’s really cool.
Ray: Is there any other future aspirations you have in this industry or for your career?
Bryan: Just one thing I’ve always wanted to do is make a show with a co-showrunner. Because, me and my roommate, we have been talking about wanting to run a show together. And we have a lot of ideas of what we want to do… but it will take time.
Ray: What kind of story would you tell, if given the opportunity?
Bryan: Probably Chromagik. [giggles] I obviously have other ideas I want to do, but everything is pretty much hush-hush, so.
Yuki: Okay, and real quick, we usually ask our guests. But does your culture either in your case as a deaf/HOH person, or as a korean-american, have an effect on the art that you create?
Bryan: Usually, yeah, it does. To me, importantly, I want everyone to be equal, I want everyone to feel supported and loved, including myself. When I’m drawing a self portrait, I always draw my hearing aids on my ears so that people can see or know that I have them. It’s a part of who I am and it’s not something I want to hide from the world, but be open and show them. You can tell by how much I draw myself that I am proud of these things and that I want people to see me how I see myself.
Ray: So finally, what advice do you have for those that want to pursue a career in the Animation Industry?
Bryan: (laughs) That question made me think a lot. There’s so much advice I could give, but if you want it, just keep pushing yourself. It’s okay to feel rejected, but you’ll get stronger– a lot stronger actually, if you keep trying. Hold on, it’s cheesy, but I had a fortune cookie from P.F. Chang. When I opened it and I saw it, it was really the best feeling I had, because I believe in the fortune cookie. It said, “Keep going, it will all work out the way you want it to.” I have it in my wallet.
Yuki: [laughing] I believe in you fortune cookie!
Ray: [laughing] Yeah!
Bryan: P.F. Chang fortune, thank you! Yeah, I would always say that my advice to myself.
Yuki: I love that, keep it in your wallet, that’s so cute.
Ray: Wise words from a Fortune Cookie.
Yuki: Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Where can our audience find you, and is there anything else you’d like to plug?
Bryan: Yeah, my instagram is bbae2. My website is bryanbae.com if you guys want to check it out, I have my personal projects on it too, if you want to check it out. If you wanna text me I’ll give you my phone number, just kidding!
Bryan: You can also check out my online store that I run with my girlfriend at baerandlamb.com and thats baer spelt B-A-E-R
Yuki: If you enjoyed our interview with Bryan, please rate us on Anchor, Spotify, or wherever you tune in. Follow us on twitter and instagram at StraightAheadAP, and let us know your response to today’s Inbetween questions, or if you have any suggestions for future Inbetween questions, contact us on social media or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shout out to Marie Lum for connecting us with Bryan for today’s interview. If you have any suggestions for guests, please contact us! We love discovering new professionals and want to use this platform to boost these voices of the future. And finally, a big thanks to our music composer, Daniel Rodier.
Ray: Thanks again for listening! And thank you once again to our guest, who has a bright future Straight Ahead. Until next week have a wonderful day!