by Evan Miller,
Since we're talking about Gaia Online this week, I have a skeleton to let out of my closet: I've actually got a Gaia account myself. A few college friends suggested I start one about three years ago, but I never really have the time to login. As a result, I'm not earning the "gold" that one gets from the site when you visit it, which means that my character avatar cannot afford stylish duds. Currently, he's wearing ripped jeans, a red shirt, and looks kind of like he's been sleeping in a Greyhound bus terminal for a month. Oh, and there's a flower growing out of his arm. If only I could be that classy...
This week's featured artist is an animator-turned-illustrator whose online gallery scored her a position at one of the largest anime-themed websites on the internet.
Sometimes, a career in art is less about where you plan to go and more about where styles, mediums and opportunities take you. Indonesia native Elda The (pronounced "Tay") is no stranger to this phenomenon. After moving to the United States for art school, Elda has worked in animation, partnered with a major comics publisher, and become part of the art team for the largest anime and manga themed community on the internet, Gaia Online. As a devoted fan of manga and anime since childhood, her journey has brought her through a remarkable variety of fields and experiences. "I feel that I'm more like an illustrator now - someone who can create a scene that speaks to a bigger story," says Elda, who is currently pursuing a master's degree in Illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco after previously working in comics and animation. Above all, Elda's journey is remarkable in that it began very simply; she started an online gallery, worked hard on the challenges art school threw at her, and let things happen from there. As she would soon discover, sometimes a simple online gallery is all you need to build interest in your work.
Born and raised in Jakarta, Elda showed interest in art from an early age. After upsetting her mother by drawing on the walls of her home with crayons, Elda's mother enrolled her in art classes, hoping that her daughter's "artistic impulses" would receive more positive encouragement there. Aside from drawing, Elda took an early interest in the world of animation and comics, especially Japanese anime and manga. Although much of the manga available in Indonesia were older titles, that didn't stop Elda from taking a strong interest in series like Doraemon, Sailor Moon, and Candy Candy. She credits Sailor Moon and Naoko Takeuchi's work as an inspiration for her to move beyond "doodles" and onto more detailed sketches of human figures, but admits that her style really didn't develop a "manga" flair until high school. It was then that she was introduced to the work that would help inspire her to draw her own comics: the popular mid-1990s series Magic Knights Rayearth by CLAMP. The series spurred Elda to start drawing her own fantasy manga, and although she admits that the storylines featured many genre clichés, the experience helped develop her sense for storytelling.
At the same time, Elda continued to take an interest in the world of animation. "Anything animated - Disney, anime, anything - I went crazy over it," says Elda, who finished high school with the ambition to turn her love of art into a career. However, she was unsure if she could find a good program for the fundamentals of animation, or if her parents would support the idea. To her surprise, her parents not only supported the idea, but offered a suggestion that would change her view of the art world forever: why not go to the United States? Buoyed by the support of her parents, Elda acquired a copy of the American publication Animation Magazine and started applying to schools. The application process was a tricky one; Elda soon discovered that a lot of American art schools were not that receptive to the "anime style," and getting the attention of these schools would be trickier than she had initially thought. Fortunately, her application ended up in the hands of the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), who admitted her to their Animation program. Ready to take on the challenge of art school, Elda packed her bags for Ohio.
For Elda, the transition from one of the world's largest cities to the midwestern hub of Columbus was a strange one, but the experience appealed to her curious side - not to mention that she was now free to focus on her art more often. "There weren't many Asians in Columbus," reminisces Elda, "but all the classes were about art, so I was happy. It was a lot better than the boring math classes I had to take in high school!" Although she had studied the English language for most of her life, she had a few problems with the language barrier, especially when it came to writing term papers. However, over time, the quality of her studio artwork and the friendships she forged in the USA helped her adjust quickly. As she puts it, "I felt 'normal' among the art people!" Of course, Elda's time in Columbus wasn't completely consumed with school. As she worked on her senior animation project with her classmates, she devoted a lot of her personal time to her own work, which she featured on her own website and a Deviant Art gallery that she started after coming to the United States. Even though she was working hard on the elements of animation, Elda found that she was beginning to feel more at home with doing specific artistic works than working with animation frames or a sequential comic. For the senior project she was working on, she found that she was most happy working on the backgrounds for the piece, which only added to her suspicion that there may be another artistic path open to her that isn't related to animation. When she graduated with her BFA in Animation in 2006, Elda found herself seeking a place where she could not only put the animation skills she picked up to good use, but also continue to expand her skills in Illustration. Much to her surprise, the perfect opportunity would come to her in an e-mail that appeared out of the blue in her inbox one day.
The mail - which she initially mistook for spam - was from the giant anime-themed online community Gaia Online. Apparently, a previous intern for Gaia happened upon Elda's Deviant Art gallery and was impressed with what he saw. When he left Gaia, the other staff asked him if he could recommend another artist. He suggested Elda, who was just preparing to graduate and enter the working world at the time. Elda interviewed with the Gaia staff, who were very impressed with both her animation projects and skills as an artist. Elda got the job, and she packed her bags and left mid-state Ohio for the warmer climes of San Jose, California. Initially, her task at Gaia was to animate monsters and work with character designs for their massive multiplayer online game zOMG. However, after her coworkers noticed that Elda felt more at home with Illustration work, they asked her to work with designs and backgrounds instead of animation. It was a gracious gesture, and according to Elda, it reflects one of the company's best traits: "Working there is like family. Everyone is always really supportive." Around the same time, Elda reached another milestone when she was asked to work with Imaginary Friends Studio on a ten-page sequential comic for the comic series Lullaby. The project, published in 2007, not only gave Elda the chance to work with a team of experienced comic artists, but it also led to other opportunities. Later, she had the chance to work on illustrations for card games based on the popular video game series Soul Calibur and Street Fighter, and was later asked to design pieces for the reference web site tablefy.com. "I realized then that I was happier painting than I was with animating key frames," says Elda, who had gone from being an animation student to having an extensive portfolio of accomplishments as an illustrator in the span of a year.
Fausto Bottle Designs
As Elda grew acquainted with Gaia, she was asked to help with a variety of projects for the site, including illustrations for the Gaia Towns application and concept art. One of the biggest projects she was involved with was the design of special "items" for character avatars that evolve over time, such as the "Fausto Bottle" seen here. Outside of work, Elda kept working on her illustrations, paying careful attention to every element involved in her pieces. "I think of each object [in a piece] as a symbol, and it usually has a meaning to me," says Elda, who admits that many of her works refer in some way to how she felt when she was working on them. Her personal work, along with her Gaia illustrations, inspired Elda to reflect on her own history as an artist. She wanted to become a better artist with regards to creating concepts and using traditional mediums like oil painting, but her background was rooted in animation. In the hope that she could build upon her skills, Elda decided to apply to the Masters Program in Illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Although she was worried about her job at Gaia, her manager there became one of her biggest supporters, telling her that she was free to work on her skills and return to the company. With their blessing, Elda began coursework at the Academy.
Today, Elda is back at Gaia as an intern as she works on her thesis project for the Academy, which includes a proposal for a children's picture book. Although much of the work in her online gallery is digital, Elda says that her experiences at the Academy have helped her improve her sense of color and blending in her work. Although she has worked with manga and comics before, she admits that she wants to keep working on her skills before she produces her own work. "At this point," Elda says, "I want to keep working for Gaia, try to publish my thesis work, and see where things go. I want to keep building on the experiences I've had." It is certain that Elda has come a long way from the crayon drawings on the walls of her home in Jakarta, and considering the wide spectrum of fields she's worked in so far, it's clear that the art community will continue to enjoy the work of Elda The for years to come.
Elda The: The swan usually represents "eternal love," and I thought it would be a good ironic gesture to create an impact by destroying the love theme. Well, love is a pain in real life anyway, so I'm trying to capture that sensation through my drawing. The color palette represent coldness - a death of passion. The only warm tones are coming from the blood, which signify the warmth that turned into tragedy.
ANN: What aspect of working for Gaia Online do you find the most challenging? What kind of input is involved in the creative process for your Gaia work?
Elda: I think the most challenging part is to keep coming up with ideas, and ideas that are actually well received by most users. Sometimes it's easier to create an item that you genuinely like, but.. it's not so good when most users hate it. So I think it's a good learning experience on how to balance your style and taste with the market on making a commercially unique artwork. Gaia users have pretty good taste actually, so something that's too commercial won't do either (laughs).
Water Lantern (Tablefy)
ANN: You mentioned that you like every element in your pieces to have a special meaning. Could you describe what some of the elements in "Water Lantern," your piece for Tablefy.com, represent?
Elda: Since Tablefy is a site that really wants to become a useful tool for its user, I was thinking that the lantern represents how tablefy could be the tool that helps the user by lighting the 'dark alley'. I truly push the limits of interpretation where it glorifies the city (ha ha) and it also attracts more intellect and free thinking, which I incorporate by drawing the fishes. And hopefully it's the sort of tool that could make life easier, that's why I drew the happy giant in the back (grins).
ANN: What was the most important thing you gained from your experiences with IFS and the Piper's Lullaby anthology? How do you think your future work in comics and manga will differ from those experiences?
Elda: Learning the process of making a comic was really helpful to me. It was the first time I got a script, drew panels, and so on by certain measurements. But the most satisfying part was to see it in the book store - that was really nice. I don't see myself as a manga artist right now, I think of myself as an illustrator - but maybe down the road, something will just happen and who knows... I think I might prefer making a color manga instead of black and white. I just love to paint! (grins) I think I've learned to tell my story with colors too; it's hard to live without them.
ANN: Could you tell us a bit about the children's story you are working on? What kind of elements from your previous work have you been able to tie into this work?
Elda: It's still in the very rough stages, but I want to convey the idea of being lost and searching for an answer. I think a lot of the works in my galleries convey the feeling of being lost so many times. That's pretty much how I felt most of the time. It's so easy to lose your self in this fast paced society - well at least it happened to me a lot. But in my conclusion, I guess it's okay being lost... hmm... so tiring but on the other hand, it gives you have enough reason to keep looking for an answer. That's when my optimistic side is talking, but once I get into my pessimistic side, I just get this huge artists block (laughs)... well, maybe that kind of balance is ideal. (grins)
Interested in seeing more of Elda's work? Here's where you need to go:
Are you an aspiring manga artist looking for some extra page views? Do you have a friend or loved one who draws extremely good original manga but needs a boost? Don't just sit there! Submit two links to your work, including one original piece (no file attachments please! File attachments will be made into delicious, filling mooncakes with extra egg yolks), to evan [at] animenewsnetwork dot com, and you could be featured in a future Gallery column!
All works © Elda The.
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