A graduate of the University of California, Andrew Huang got his start in art long before leaving high school. However, it was his short film mega-hit Doll Face, which generated world-wide acclaim and fame. Having gone viral on Youtube years ago, with several million hits, Doll Face is emblematic of Huang’s signature melding of live action, animation and CG visual effects. And while continuing to create a lush portfolio of pet projects, Huang is now in big demand, designing and directing commercials and music videos for a bevy of top-tier clientèle.
Andy Huang’s Digital Face
CG Animation's New Boy Wonder
An Interview with Max Eternity
Max Eternity (ME): Hi Andy, welcome to AD MAG.
Andrew Huang (AH): Hi Max.
ME: As far as I can tell, your rise to success came as a result of the Doll Face video that you created. I’ve watched it many times, he first time about a year ago. Tell me about that project.
AH: Yea, that is pretty significant. I made it in 2005-2006. I was at USC at the time, to study visual art, and to be near their film program. At the University of Southern California (USC) you could create anything in their curriculum, but they own it. So I did Doll Face outside of my schoolwork.
I was planning to go into animation, but I made it to show what I could do, not expecting to upload it online. I put it in SIGGRAPH in 2006 and the Annecy in France — a very big animation festival. I also put it on Youtube, and it went viral.
I wasn’t prepared for how much exposure it would get. But the Endeavor agency called me and that was that. A lot of opportunities came for me from that.
ME: Why do you think Doll Face resonates so intensely with viewers?
AH: Umm, I think it’s the visual, obviously. But also, it’s the content. It’s a narrative we can all relate to in various ways — about how commercialism really screws with us. I think it was just a theme that can be interpreted in so many ways, with gender and politics.
ME: And how did all this begin? Were you artistic as a child — who influenced you?
AH: Yea, I think I drew and painted mostly. But in high school, I did some animation. I learned Lightwave and Maya when I was pretty young.
When I started doing fine art, I missed the other. I love the Muppets and Jim Henson. There are so many people that influence what I do, like Jean Pierre Jeunnet.
ME: When did film work fit in, the digital aspects to what you do? Did it come intuitively? Was it always there — the digital?
AH: I think, it was one of the cheapest ways to do what I wanted to do and have it look realistic — the digital, I mean. I can animate, control the lighting and all with software, without having to create a film in the traditional sense, with actors and all that. I can make it look posh on a budget. People think if you do animation and graphics, you’re techie, but I still don’t know, really, how a computer works. I can’t take a PC apart and put it back together.
I wanted to work at Rhythm and Hue. I went there when I was a kid. And they told me that I needed to know how to draw and paint to work in effects.
You have to have a good eye to know what is going to look good.
You’re always learning how to use new software, but your ability to make an image stays the same IF you can draw and paint.
ME: You do art films and commercial projects as well, like music videos. Do you find it constrains you artistically when creating a product for a commercial audience? How do you balance the art with being commissioned to create a “product?”
AH: Yea, I’m still kinda learning how to do that, to be honest. That’s why I do so many videos, to have flexibility. But even then, it’s a reality that no one escapes. I think, um, I don’t know.
I do a lot of videos, and the commercial is very challenging, always finding a new technique, a visual grab — maybe I can change an angle, or use a standout technique. You have to look at everything as problem solving, as long as you are being challenged and doing something new. But, I always have my personal projects in the back of my mind.
ME: I really like the video you did for AVI Buffalo, much better than the music they create, to be honest. The music’s not bad, per se, but it’s the visuals that caught my eye. Can you talk about that video, where did the ideas come from — the giant, floating jellyfish and the plants that look like organic jewelry?
AH: Um, well actually, I came up with the idea because I was looking at different photographs of slime molds — the beautiful structures that they form. AVI Buffalo is the really young band from Long Beach. So I thought to do this kinda photography, like the movie Fantastica Planet, to make things look surrealistic, like coral reefs. I was also looking at the work from Ernst Haeckel, who did these beautiful jelly fish drawings. So we built these jelly fish puppets, and it miraculously came out.
I like the band and the label. The video was a combination of puppetry and CG animation.
ME: Are you primarily a script writer, filmmaker or director? I ask because you create photorealistic CG animation, which is very painterly. I see lots of colorfield and color theory in your work. In other words, how do you describe your work, the role(s) you play in bringing it to life?
AH: I think I just have to say I’m a visual artist, because the word director is kinda of a 90’s concept. A director now day’s is so similar to a graphic artist. I’m not a bad writer, but not a great writer.
I wish I could be more an actor’s director. That’s kinda what I want to work on, but I’m definitely more of a visual artist.
ME: You have many videos on your website. In addition to Doll Face, The Gloamer really caught my eye — haunting, edgy, lush — fabulous. Talk about that if you will.
AH: Yea, um, I was really thinking it would be fun to do a horror film. But, I’m scared of horror films. They freak me out because of my very active imagination. But I think I would have a blast making horror films. So I made that film.
I wanted to do a live action, animation combination, but couldn’t afford an actual camera, so I shot everything on stills.
I came up with this narrative of this guy working late at night. I like Hitchcock, so I used crows — ratty looking crows.
That project was just pure fun; I just wanted to do something visually fun.
ME: What would you say to someone who’s looking to get into your line of work — to a high school student, for instance?
AH: I think I’d say take a lot of drawing classes. From there if you can draw the figure, it opens up a lot of skills, and gets into art history. You gotta start there.
As far as the digital, take the time to learn Photoshop. Take the time to learn Flash. You will find it’s extremely useful. It’s not easy.
You can learn on you own, or go to college, but the drawing has to come first. The digital tools are there, it’s a language to get it done, but ultimately you won’t be able to communicate your ideas unless you do that art first.
And, I’m still learning too, struggling to find out what kind of work I want to make, what’s my voice — what kind of brand I want to create for myself — it never really stops.
Doll Face was done 5 years ago, and I almost don’t relate to it now, because I did so long ago. I’m in a very different place artistically, but I’m glad it’s still appreciated.
ME: Andy, thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
AH: Thank you, I’m honored.
ABOUT: Max Eternity
At the apex of art and technology, Max Eternity is a artist, writer, musician, activist and art historian, specializing in digital art, Mid-Century Modernism and the African Diaspora. He is an arts blogger at The Huffington Post, Editor and Publisher to Art Digital Magazine, and a contributing writer to Artworks Magazine, Eklektx, the Black Art Project and others. Eternity is also an inventor, currently having over two dozen utilities and intellectual processes in various stages of development.