CPP art lecturer animates opera production

By Aprille Gozdecki, Feb. 23, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona art lecturer Jian Lee collaborated with the Boston Lyric Opera as a character animator for its most recent production, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” last month.

“It was my first time working with theatre people,” said Lee. “It was very different from working with usual animators or filmmakers but lots of fun.”

Finding new ways to replace its usual in-person performances, The Boston Lyric Opera created an animated project with its adaptation of Philip Glass’s opera. The production combines three different narratives — Edgar Allen Poe’s original story, the story of a girl named Luna from Guatemala City and references of an American story shown through archival images.

Working alongside lead illustrator and character designer Rodrigo Munoz, Lee animated Munoz’s drawings using After Effects, a motion graphics software. Lee also hired Daniel Quijano, a former student, as an assistant animator to prepare the materials for animation like dividing layers and cleaning up the background.

Lee never saw herself working on an opera project, but when art director Yee Eun Nam contacted her about the job, she decided to take the opportunity.

As a remote project, most of the staff, including Lee, were based in Los Angeles, but a couple of the crew members worked from New York and France.

“It’s new to everyone to work on everything online but surprisingly helpful,” said Lee. “It minimized driving times. The only time everyone wanted to get together was for the wrap party.”

The production also became a family project for Lee.

Her husband, Will Kim, an art instructor at Riverside City College, worked alongside her as an environmental animator. Her children also contributed to the production by featuring their drawings when they were needed as props. Despite the art director’s effort to imitate a child’s drawing, the crew decided to recruit Lee’s children when it did not go as planned.

“It looked like an adult’s drawing imitating a kid’s drawing,” said Lee. “So, she asked my kids to draw, and they ended up drawing that picture for Luna. It was fun for them to see their drawing on the screen.”

Although Lee had not considered working with an opera prior to the project, her recent role as character animator opened an opportunity to join a new, upcoming project with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

“This current project is even more exciting for me,” said Lee. “They’re hiring local artists and animators to make animations for their YouTube channel because they cannot do live concerts. This is a lot more open to freedom for me as an artist and animator.”

After reflecting on her time working on “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Lee shared that she realized she has lost many career opportunities because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard with everyone staying home, but at the same time that project and the current project that I am working on is also happening because of COVID,” said Lee. “So, I guess there is always a good thing and a bad thing happening at the same time.”

In addition to her upcoming projects, Lee teaches foundations in 4D design at CPP. She also teaches art at Riverside City College and Moreno Valley College.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is currently available to rent for $10 until June 30. To stream, visit https://blo.org/usher/.

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