Meet KCAD’s 2018 Valedictorian: Q&A with Andrew Zesiger
2018 Valedictorian Andrew Zesiger dishes on how motion—in both art and life—has brought him to where he is today.
image courtesy of Andrew Zesiger
What brought you to KCAD?
I’ve been drawing since I was two. By third grade I was making flip books with stick figure animations. I had never seriously considered a career in art, but once I graduated high school, my parents told me I had enough potential that this could be a future for me. I loved drawing so much that I thought ‘if I can bring this stuff to life that would be something worth doing.’
At my high school, KCAD was known as the place where all the artistic kids went. It was hard to actually imagine myself there until I first came for a tour. When I did, it all seemed possible. I saw all the toys they had up in the Digital Media classrooms and I said to myself, ‘this is where I want to be.’ KCAD seemed like a place for people who were serious about making creativity a career.
What sparked your interest in animation?
Animations have a life to them. My favorite still images are the ones that tell a story, like Frank Frazetta paintings where there’s a whole environment and someone’s doing something and you wonder ‘why are they here? What are they doing? What more am I missing?’ It’s the art that invites you to look into it and see what else is there–that’s what I wanted to create.
"Emotion Comic" by Andrew Zesiger (image courtesy of the artist)
Do you remember your first transformational moment as a KCAD student?
I’d always had trouble spending excessive amounts of time on one thing; I wasn’t convinced that if I spent more time on something, it was going to get any better. But my foundation drawing classes showed how much it paid off to really put a lot of time and effort into one piece.
I realized that I could draw quickly and imply motion, or I could take my time and make something look real, like it was actually moving. I felt more successful in my work and it was reassuring, like KCAD was where I was meant to be.
Which visitors to campus left the strongest impression on you?
There were so many, but especially John Giang, a visiting artist from Industrial Light and Magic; James Suhr, a KCAD alumnus who works on Gravity Falls and other projects for Disney Animation Television; Alisha Lack White, a storyboard artist who helps businesses create user-experience presentations; and Matt Clausen, who works for NASA creating virtual reality technology to help geologists explore Mars.
All of the professionals the Digital Media program brought in were incredibly relevant and doing very cool things in their careers. It was helpful to see how they applied themselves and made it to where they wanted to be, and to hear their advice on how we could do the same. It also affirmed that there are jobs out there.
Did these experiences broaden your sense of possibility in terms of what you could do with what you were learning?
Absolutely. When I saw how much you could explore here, I wanted to soak up as many different experiences as I could. I dipped into 3D, Adobe AfterEffects and special effects in video, interactive design, sound design; every little trick and tool I picked up made me that much more versatile. My senior thesis project is a culmination of everything I’ve learned: I’m animating, I’m storyboarding, there’s motion, character studies, color studies, I’ve drawn backgrounds, I’ve had to do logos and type for it, I had to edit video, and I even made music for it.
"The Legend of Ducktail Dan Storyboards" by Andrew Zesiger (image courtesy of the artist)
What about experiences outside of the classroom?
For two years, I was on teams that participated in an international 24-hour animation contest. Teams of five students lock themselves in a room for 24 hours and make a 30-second animation based off a theme. It was a real-world timeline, and you and your friends are throwing your all into this one thing. Everyone gets a little sleep deprived and loopy, and it’s 2am and you’re still working. The energy was incredible.
Another time [Digital Art and Design Program Chair] Brad Yarhouse was looking for people interested in working with a local independent filmmaker named Tom Norton and I jumped at the opportunity. I did some storyboards for a movie he’s making right now, then he tapped me again to help make a poster for the movie, and now I’m designing some of the office space in his building to have a more art deco aesthetic. It’s just been a wide range of experiences coming out of this awesome relationship I got from a professor.
Did you undertake any internships? What did you take away from them?
I interned with KCAD alumni Comfort Love and Adam Withers, who create comic books together. They taught me so much, like how to get your own website and domain set up, how to manage and store your equipment, and the importance of making good contacts at places like print shops and other logistical areas.
I’m not sure if I’ll go into comics, but it was cool to learn how it all works. Comfort and Adam were always willing to answer my questions about potential career paths and connect me to people they knew in the industry to help me get my portfolio out there.
"The Uniques–Virtue, Speed, and Ghost" by Andrew Zesiger (image courtesy of the artist)
Speaking of industry experience, how did the fact that Digital Art and Design faculty are also industry professionals impact your experience in the program?
I feel like the faculty here are investing their time and energy into my career. They’re helping students grow creatively, but they’re also teaching us the tricks of the trade: how to present ourselves to potential employers, how to prepare for interviews, how to organize our portfolios–things like that.
It’s like the technology in my classrooms; I feel like I’m getting the best there is to offer. It’s an honor to be named Valedictorian, but to have teachers who relate to you on a personal level, who actually care about you, that’s the biggest edge I could have hoped for.
Your thesis project takes a look at your process as well. What does that process normally look like?
When I brainstorm, I have to do it visually. I think with sketches. For instance, for the character design in my thesis, Ducktail Dan, I looked at 1950s greaser-type characters. I did dozens of sketches until something clicked. Then, I moved on to the next thing; like designing the car. My notebooks and all these loose Photoshop files, those are all sketches that guide how the finished pieces look.
"The Legend of Ducktail Dan studies" by Andrew Zesiger (image courtesy of the artist)
What kinds of hurdles do you typically encounter in your creative process, and how do you overcome them?
If something feels off, if a motion catches my eye as wonky, I’ll go to my friends and my professor and I’ll ask them what they think. In my experience, the critiques I’ve received have been constructive. When I work on something so long I can start to glaze over things, so fresh perspectives are critical. There’s honesty here; people give it to me straight, but no one is ever a jerk about it. It’s not about tearing the work down; it’s about making it better.
What else about interacting with your peers has inspired or motivated you?
I met really good people here, not just in my program but in Illustration and Graphic Design as well. You push each other and help from each other, but it’s also just about showing an interest in what other people are doing, because that’s important. There’s no downside to it. Worst case scenario, you learn something new.
What does this honor of being named Valedictorian mean to you?
It’s really amazing. There are so many great artists here. Being recognized this way is a huge honor, and to know that I’ll get to stand onstage and address all these people who I look up to is really humbling.
What’s next for you?
I’m interested in Disney and some other companies in California. I might want to get into some kind of talent development pool. At the same time, I don’t want to miss a hidden gem; there might be an opportunity out there that I haven’t considered yet. I’m approaching it the same way I approached my education here at KCAD, just always being open to new things.
What would you say to someone in the same position you were in four years ago when you first started at KCAD? How can they make the most out of their time here?
I’d tell them to try to imagine yourself in this place, imagine yourself succeeding, and then go for it. Don’t shortchange yourself. Treat your education like a career. Do your best but make sure you have fun too, because you don’t want to burn out. You’re gaining knowledge and skills, but if you’re making friends and feeling good about it too, that helps you go further.
See more of Andrew Zesiger's work at artstation.com/andrewzesiger.