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Uprising: Why Henry Chang Believes Concepts Are as Important as Craft



The Imaginary Forces art director talks motivations, complacency and spreading your knowledge base to succeed

Uprising: Why Henry Chang Believes Concepts Are as Important as Craft

“You just keep trying to figure out the best possible combination of things in the right order to construct a perfect image.”

Growing up in his dad’s Chinese antique store, Henry was already creating from a young age - building and modifying modular race car toys to go faster and faster. As a child, being surrounded by Buddha statues and Chinese artwork influenced his visual aesthetic and philosophy.

“I became really aware of things such as balance, form, and textures of a work. Especially things that are Zen, or even Wabi-sabi. I tend to be more careful about the textures of things and what they would communicate to the viewer.”

While studying Motion Media Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Henry also taught himself coding. “Coding is just like design, you have your design and planning phase, then you are constantly given challenges and try to solve them creatively and logically at the same time,” he says.  

Imaginary Forces offered him an internship during this time and subsequently hired him after his graduation in 2012, where he has loyally remained ever since.

After his first week, mainly spent sitting quietly in a corner, his first opportunity arose - designing a few frames for a cinematic in the videogame God of War: Ascension. He says he was blessed to be part of the project so early on in his career. “Even though my contribution was small compared to all other artists, this experience gave me huge confidence… and the two people who walked over to my desk and gave me the opportunity - Jeremy Cox and Theodore Daley - became two of my best friends and mentors.” 

Jumping headfirst into opportunities is advice that Henry has clearly taken with him ever since. “Give it 100% with every chance you are given. As opportunities present themselves make sure you express 100% of what you have in mind,” he says. “If words don't cut it, make visuals, sketches, style frames to tell people what you are thinking. If your design doesn’t get used, don’t get discouraged. Take it home, analyse it, learn from it.”

Creating meaningful visuals for storytelling is what fulfils and motivates Henry, who also enjoys the problem solving element of his work. “What I love most is building structures. It could be as simple as building CG rigs, compositing templates or making CG pipelines that optimise the workflow. It's like building a machine that just automates things. I get the most satisfaction by doing this.”  

The variety of different projects in motion design is one of the things that keeps his work fresh - working on everything from experience design and interactive gaming, to documentaries and title sequences. “I realised, as motion designers, we can really do anything within time-based media. That changed my career view… it allows me to take my design thinking and problem-solving skills from motion design and apply them to all future projects.”

This holistic approach to motion design is mirrored in his approach to leisure time and other passions that serve to breathe life into his projects. “Having knowledge of a variety of things contributes to having fresh angles in my field. Rather than spending my time finessing my craft, I spend time on things I find interesting,” he says. “This could be building a PC, watching documentaries, or reading about a new discovery in space. I think being a good designer means having base knowledge in different fields and that will contribute to your brainstorming ability.

Travel is another aspect of life that has inspired Henry, helping him find “universal values” and different perspectives of beauty that can influence his design choices from different corners of the world. He also finds inspiration from his friends and contemporaries.

“My biggest inspiration comes from people around me. To name a few, Karin Fong, Jeremy Cox, Theodore Daley, Max Strizich, Austin Marola and many others. I find that knowing the people you look up to gives you the purest of inspiration, simply by knowing their reasons and motivation behind their actions.”

Working remotely has been a normal part of Henry’s life for some time - and it has its benefits. “I've been remote working for my company in the U.S. from Taiwan for over a year and I've even built a PC rig that fits inside my carry-on luggage for travel-work,” he says. “I really fell in love with it. I can choose to put in hard hours focusing on solving a problem when I have to, yet have the ability to lay back and do other things when I'm just waiting on renders.”

 But this also has challenges when it comes to maintaining a social connection with his friends and colleagues. “ I try not to lose that in this new lifestyle I’ve chosen,” says Henry. “I love talking and exchanging ideas with people. I just surround myself with other creative minds which not only helps me stay fresh, but also helps to get other angles on ideas I have in mind.” 

Following this philosophy, Henry started The Accent Studio in 2015, a live streamed show that involves news, interviews and design history, where Henry and a group of fellow Taiwanese designers share their ideas and knowledge about the industry.

Henry remains passionate and excited about the fast-evolving technology in the industry that has allowed smaller studios to take on bigger challenges and for artists to surpass creative limitations. “The best thing is when you see an artist push their vision to the extreme - they can be commissioned and paid to do just that. That’s something that always gives me a thrill.”

However, he also believes some areas of the industry have room for improvement, saying that people have become complacent and less entrepreneurial with an industry-wide meta, and have started to forget “how concepts are as important as the craft”. Going forward, Henry also expresses a desire to educate a new generation of talent.  Although he laments another aspect of the industry that he believes restricts younger artists and smaller companies - the cost of their tools. “Working in the industry, you realise how incredibly expensive it is to keep software and hardware up to date. Many companies have already developed plans that are much more friendly to small scale studios or individual artists, but we can do better.” Henry continues, “Make tools more accessible! At least make education licenses for the poor students out there…”

Henry’s currently working on a project where he can “tell his own stories for once” - he describes it as a “sort of children’s book”, something borne out of one of his deepest passions: “I'm a total sucker for Japanese manga and anime. It's just like children's books for grown-ups!” Henry adds, “The grids force your imagination to come through in order to fill in the blanks. It's like looking at storyboards of movies. My love for Manga definitely helps with my design skills when it comes to compositing and telling stories with my own style frames.”

Like many other creatives operating at this level and striving for perfection, Henry can be his own harshest critic and explains his never-ending balancing act. “Managing expectations is the hardest thing for all artists. A lot of us are perfectionists, but at the end of the day, there are limited resources, variables and time that dictate what we can do.” He continues, “Accepting that is the biggest challenge for me. Putting the resources in what matters and compromising in other places where you can. It’s a constant struggle.”

But what really drives Henry to develop his skills and continue creating for Imaginary Forces, is his hunger for learning and his ardent rejection of complacency.

“I enjoy connecting the dots in my brain. As I learn new things I try to manifest a conclusion and verify my thinking through facts. That's the connecting dots side of learning that always motivates me to learn more,” he says. 

“I just can't allow my brain to rest. It’s a curse...”

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Imaginary Forces, Fri, 17 Sep 2021 14:56:00 GMT