SIDM Alumni Feature: Leia Ham
By Lynette Wu
School of Interactive & Digital Media
Published on 30 Jul 2019
Wonder what it's like to work at Cartoon Network?
Curious about working overseas and life after NYP?
We spoke to our SIDM alumna, Leia Ham, to find out more about her job at Cartoon Network, her journey from NYP to where she is now, and what words of advice she has for her juniors.
Leia graduated from NYP's Diploma in Digital Media Design (Animation) in 2013, and worked in Singapore for a year before pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Illustration (Entertainment Design) at the renowned Art Center College of Design in California, USA.
She is currently a Background Designer on the show “Apple and Onion” at Cartoon Network studios, California.
What were your key inspirations / influences?
My major influences were early 90s anime and movies. Since I spent most of my childhood reading, fantasy and young adult novels were also very formative for me.
These works eventually influenced the style of my work.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy being able to design backgrounds that support the story, and crafting the little details that tell the audience more about the character or world they’re seeing.
Is being a BG Designer at Cartoon Network your dream job? What is it like working at Cartoon Network?
It’s pretty much a dream job. I’m very happy to be part of the animation industry: being able to work on cartoons at a studio that produced cartoons that I used to watch as a kid is amazing!
It is a great environment to work in, and I get to learn a lot from my co-workers every day!
How did you get noticed by Cartoon Network? What was your portfolio like then?
A fellow Art Center alumnus recommended me to a vacancy at Apple and Onion. I went through a background design test and was tasked to design a few backgrounds while emulating the style of the show. I was eventually accepted by Cartoon Network, and embarked on an interesting journey of being a BG Designer.
My portfolio back then was a mix of visual development and concept art. In addition, I had some works that adopted a more line-based style, which helped show my versatility.
You can still see them on my website!
Working in Singapore and in the United States, what are some of the differences?
I am very fortunate to have worked at places which value work-life balance and creative collaboration, both in Singapore and the US. These aspects are both very important to me.
In terms of work culture, the US adopts a very friendly and casual approach, whereas Singaporeans are a little more formal and hierarchy-conscious.
I’m really glad to be able to enjoy fun-filled events like summer BBQs and art shows lined up by my current workplace!
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
Moving away from home was difficult for me at first. Coupled with the rigorous workload at Art Center, I was quite homesick.
Being away from home, I missed the home-cooked food from mum, and I had to learn how to take care of myself.
Thankfully, I have many like-minded friends whom I can share my burdens with, and I can always get the recipes from my mum who is just a call away.
Eventually, I learnt to keep going and not to be too hard on myself. Keeping in mind that my parents were working hard to provide me an opportunity to study in the US spurs me on.
What would you say is unique about your studies at Art Center College of Design?
The workload at Art Centre is very demanding. I used to think that we had a lot of assignments and projects in NYP. But at Art Center, it was a tenfold increase!
Apart from design modules, we had to take various science and general education modules that are mandatory. These modules helped to broaden my knowledge. I was also able to take courses on anthropology and neuroscience that adds value to my work.
How has SIDM helped you on your exciting journey?
The drawing mileage that I started at SIDM was really helpful, as well as the well-rounded foundation in both 2D and 3D animation - which was helpful for me as I continued my studies. Knowledge of the 3D pipeline in particular gave me tools to understand designs in 3D, and helped in my development of lighting in painting.
What advice would you have for your SIDM juniors/ young artists?
I've met a few juniors who have gone to Art Center from Singapore, and it’s amazing to see more and more artists pursue their dreams.
I think it’s important to observe and study the everyday things in life, and have a broad array of interests. This helps to liven your work apart from the skills and art knowledge we acquire.
What advice would you have for the ones who are considering working overseas?
Do thorough research about the place you want to work at, and keep an open mind about the challenges and differences you may experience.
In addition, be firm in your decision. If you are sure that you would like to pursue your dreams despite how difficult it may be, then it’s definitely a dream worth fighting for.
Stay grounded and tell yourself you can, even if everyone tells you otherwise.
Do you think going to university is necessary in getting a job in the industry?
Going to a university helps to train you, and increases your proficiency through the curriculum they provide. You get to meet many like-minded friends, and learn from lecturers in schools who will share their experiences with you. Attaining a degree helps to assure employers who are not well-versed in art that you’re qualified.
However, art is true meritocracy. If you have a good work ethics and good skills, a degree shouldn’t matter. The qualification doesn’t guarantee you a job, but skills do.
Hence, it is essential to get your skills up to industry level.There are many resources out there that are easily available, and I know many self-taught artists, and people who didn’t finish university who were offered jobs halfway through school.
Will you return to Singapore and contribute your expertise to the local industry?
I don’t know what the future has in store for me yet! I’d like to return at some point in the future.
Lastly, where will you go on from here?
I look forward to being able to develop some original content in the future.
Right now, I’d like to take in all that life has to offer and continue learning at my work. Hopefully that will enrich my art in time to come.