Soyun Park: An Interview

Soyun Park takes the classic Nutcracker tale and puts her voice and imagination to work. Her story is truly one of courage and how if you never give up dreams do come true. Soyun is from South Korea and as a little girl she dreamed of telling stories. This is her story. 

Who are you and what do you do?

Soyun Park - Courtesy of Soyun Park

Soyun Park - Courtesy of Soyun Park

My name is Soyun Park and I am currently working in DreamWorks Animation TV as a visual development artist. I also like introducing myself as a ‘dreamer.’

What inspired you to create a retelling of The Nutcracker?

it was one of those stories I liked as a child. Those magical adventures always attracted me. And the main reason was I wanted to work on a story that makes people feel warm-hearted and reminds them of their childhood. For those of you that need a refresher; the story is about a young girl named Clara who believes in magic and the adventure starts when she gets ‘The Nutcracker’ as a Christmas present from her godfather. Clara resembles me a lot as a child with all those toys. Not only the story inspired me but also there were plenty of elements that were fun to design, which I enjoyed. I hope to develop the work further and share them in the future.

What are some of your favorite kinds of visual development stories to tell?

There are so many themes I love to work and willing to work on. But mainly, I want my artworks to be inspiring and memorable to people, not a piece that can be forgotten easily. Thus, I love creating warm mindfulness artworks with a little of magic inside. I also enjoy working on a story that blows up good memories in life as well as the theme of ‘family, friendship, dream and traveling.'

What are your favorite kinds of colors do you like to use?

I like using rich colors. But when it comes to painting, the color has to do with storytelling. Depending on what mood I want to express and what story I want to tell, the lighting will be decided and then the color comes. I use ‘warm vs cool color combination’ a lot in the scene paintings because it is a good way to show the mood with the contrast. Usually, the focal points become warm colors and rest of them are cool desaturated colors.

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

What made you go into visual development?

Visual development was actually a happy accident. At first, when I changed my path to becoming an artist, I was just glad that I could draw and paint. Then, my dream got specific after I entered Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. At school, I learned about ‘Entertainment Arts’ focusing on visual development. It means building up the world for the characters by visualizing the story. And this fact attracted me so much. It actually matched perfectly with my dream ‘becoming the artist who makes amazing animations.’ And as I took more classes and study more about it, I figured out this is the path I want to go.

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

How did you end up working for DreamWorks Animation?

DreamWorks with Disney and Pixar have been my dream companies for a long time. Not because they are the biggest animation studios in the world but because those animations they created inspired me hugely. I never thought about getting into these major studios right out of school. But it did happen. In my graduation term, I applied for the ‘Talent Development Artist Program: Visual development training’. And right after my graduation, I got a call from DreamWorks to come for the interview. After meeting with some art directors I actually got into the training program, which selected only four out of hundreds. After the intense but valuable 12 weeks of training, I finally become visual development artist and encountered my dream.

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

Can you talk to me about your story of how you came to America to pursue your dream of art?

Unlike other people who grew up here and naturally got into Hollywood studios, for me, it was literally impossible when I first dreamed about it. I was born in South Korea and lived there for 20 years. As a kid, I enjoyed drawing and coloring and had a vague dream of becoming an artist. However, it took time for me to feel a sense of dedication. When I was growing up in Korea my surrounding environment pushed me to do academic studies and in South Korea, educational fervor and expectations are really high and going to a good university is a big thing. So I studied really hard and attended ‘Hankuk University of Foreign studies’, which lists top 10 universities in Korea.  But I wasn’t happy. Then, I realized people should do what they want to. So I started to think about what really makes my heart run and looked back at my life. Then an idea began brewing in my mind. I remembered my childhood: I love art and animation! With this in mind, I decided to leave the university and prepare for the art school in the U.S.A. It wasn’t an easy decision since this meant taking apart with everything I had and starting all over by myself in a new world. But I didn’t hesitate and now I got close to my dream ‘becoming a talented artist who makes inspiring animations.’

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

Who are some of your biggest influences in art?

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

Nutcracker Visual Development by Soyun Park

First of all, I have to say all the old classic Hollywood animations I saw as a kid. In fact, my journey started at age 4 when I lived in Florida for 2 years attending preschool. I lived close to Orlando where all the giant theme parks are located and went to ‘Disney World’ frequently. And it impacted me largely. For 4 years-old child, Disney World was a magical fantasy world that everything could be possible. In addition to that Hollywood animations totally got my attention. Since then, one of my biggest joys was watching animations and being part of their world. It all started there. Thus, Walt Disney has been one of my biggest influences for a long time and his famous quote: ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ has been a long time motto for me.

What does your desk look like?

My working desk in DreamWorks is pretty simple but cozy. For the visual development artists’ desks, the computer monitor and Cintiq(drawing board) take most of the spaces. They are giant. Rest of spaces are filled with art books, handouts, and all kinds of references. Some post-its are attached to my monitor(organized) and some art prints are pinned to the wall. My working desk at home is pretty similar but it’s more decorated and busy. I love cute dolls or small toys so my desk is filled with those cute items and my walls are filled with artworks. Most of them are the works of artists that I admire, a few are mine, and some photos of my family and friends.  And there is always a space for either cup of coffee or water to make me awake.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

As I mentioned, my dream has been: ‘become an artist who makes warm-hearted animations that move people’s mind and inspire them with meaningful messages’. Just like many great animations impressed me. Since I am a beginning artist, I want to continue my journey as a visual development artist here at DreamWorks and contribute to a great work. Also, I  hope to extend my career towards feature animations. Later on when I get more confident with my artworks, maybe I would love to create my own story or a brand with my sister (who is also a designer). Sharing my story through my artworks and inspiring people will be definitely a thing I want to do for the rest of my life.

Fun Questions

If you were stuck on an island what five items would you want with you? 

  • Teddy bear (buddy) Cozy
  • Strong tent
  • Lighter
  • Pot
  • Knife


If you could illustrate any food what would it be?

Rice ball!? I would like to illustrate Korean food and I have been eating them frequently these days.

What is your favorite animated movie?

It is really hard to choose one. I pretty much like most of the classic animations. But from recent 3D animations, I have to say ‘Toy Story 3.’ When the first Toy Story came out I was 4 years old just like Andy in the Toy Story 1 and when I entered university in Korea Andy went to college too in Toy Story 3. I felt like we grow up together. But the best part of the Toy Story 3 was the message: ‘growing-up’ and ‘becoming an adult’ It was totally an animation for an adult. I still can’t help crying in the ending scene when Andy says goodbye to his toys.

If you had a superpower what would it be?

I would definitely want to have a power of ‘Time traveling.’

If you could travel through time where would you go?

It’s a hard question. But I want to go back to 10 years ago(2007) when I was in the first year of high school with school uniforms back in Korea. It was one of the great times of my life with my lifelong friends and the best teacher. We had dreams, we were bright and brave, we laugh a lot, we thought we know the world but not really, we were just happy to spend our youth together. We were blooming even though we had the pressure of studying. And if I go back I want to try out more adventures and enjoy the moment.