Industry Professionals – Derrick Song

We sat down with Derrick Song, an Art Lecturer at 3DSense Media School Singapore. 
Derrick has more than 7 years of industry experience working as a Concept Artist and Modeler. He was the Art Director of Zealot Digital (a subsidiary of Softworld, Taiwan), and has also worked with Ksatria and KOEI. He has worked on several high-profile games, such as “Dynasty Warrior”, “Lone Wolf”, “Xenjo Online”, “FateHunter”.

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Okay, let’s start off with a basic introduction. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. 

D: Currently I am a full time lecturer in 3DSense. I mainly teach 2D and 3D modeling. I am a program director for the illustration course.

10 to 15 years ago, I studied 2D illustration in One Academy (Malaysia). After graduation, I came to Singapore and I joined advertising agencies as a visualizer. After a few years in advertising, I realized that advertising was not really what I wanted. At that time, MDA supported KOEI (Japan) to build their franchise here in Singapore by hiring CG artists. I took this chance to change industries and I applied and got the position in KOEI to start off my career as a 3D artist.

I learnt a lot about game production, especially in KOEI Singapore. I then transferred to other companies including Soft World in Taiwan, which is the biggest game company in Taiwan, which gains most of its income from game distribution. I worked as a lead character artist for online games like Fate Hunter. Fate Hunter is based on the novel by JiuBaDao (Giddens Ko), a famous writer from Taiwan.

I worked in the game industry for six to seven years before 3DSense approached me to collaborate with Imaginary Friends Studio to start a 2D training program. I just joined this program two years ago. We train every batch of students to work on 2D illustration and 3D modeling. We are quite happy to share our experience in this industry, and we can see some of the students who have zero background to being able to draw something presentable and do some modeling as well in a year’s time. We can really see the result, so we hope to be able to continue [conducting these workshops] to train more students to increase the amount of talent in the industry. When the [animation] industry has more talent, other companies will be more willing to invest in Singapore. So we are creating a talent pool for other companies to recruit.

This issue is going to be about local opportunities, I just want to find out more about 3DSense as an art school and what opportunities you can provide. Lastly, what do you feel about the local talent as compared to the international talent?

The biggest difference in local talents is their attitudes. The Asian local talents are more humble and listen to instructions; and they are more hardworking. These attitudes will help them become successful, because you need to listen to the lecturers before you start developing your own style.

This course also attracts students from Indonesia, China and Malaysia, and the passion for illustration is becoming increasingly popular as more students want to learn about illustration or 3D. This is the advantage for Asia, because this is the time for us to show the world that we can do it; what you can do we also can do here in Singapore.

And how about the 3DSense Singapore, what can it offers to students who are interested in animation/ animation industry?

Of course we have the training program. Besides that, we also have some Master training programs. We invite Pixar artists down to share their thoughts and tutorials for the students’ benefit and to get them exposed to the industry. Just today, we invited the founder of Artstation’s to come down for a talk about his experiences. He’s a Singaporean, and he started the CG Society as well as Ballistic Books (Publishing). Right now he is involved in Artstation, which is becoming more popular as it allows artists to expose their works and at the same time provide a platform for artists to be recruited by other companies. It’s really easy to locate an artist’s profile on Artstation.

Let’s talk about recruitment. What opportunities can 3DSense provide? Like which companies does the students get picked up by and what jobs can they go into. 

3DSense has different diplomas; the main diploma we have here is the [DDE], the animation diploma. This diploma consists of three specialisations – animation, modeling, and VFX. Once you have graduated, most of the modelers go into game production. Game companies right now are hiring 3D modelers. Animators go into the game industry, or they might go into film production, like Double Negative. VFX students go into film modeling. What the companies are looking for differ from year to year; this year they might want more animators, but last year, they might want  more modelers. There are quite a number of alumni from 3DSense working in Double Negative.

So let’s say somebody wants to commission the students to make an IP. Would you provide those opportunities?

Those companies looking for talents to produce short films can definitely come and approach our students. We would recommend the best student(s) to the company. We choose the best student not only based on their portfolio, but also on their attitude.

Guidance on pricing for a project will also be given. Depending on the company, the payment can vary. For an intern, they will probably be reimbursed transport, some support for your meals. Some companies might be willing to pay $500 to $1,000 for an intern job scope. A full time job would have a monthly income of about $1,800 to $2,500. We do have students who are earning up to $3k plus.

People who are looking for animators for shorts should outsource freelancers for their projects. Its not really necessary to hire a student or an intern. Some of the students also eventually become full time freelancers.

Tell me a little bit more about your students. What do they specialize in? Because some companies are looking for 2D people, and they want to make sure that they students are capable enough in 2D as well.

We have different diplomas catered to all sorts of talents. We have the 2D Program, we have the 3D Program in Modeling and Animation, and we also have the Graphic Diploma, as well as the VFX Diploma, which focuses more on the technical directions for the article effects in movies. What the students can offer is really dependent on what the client requires – we have modelers, animators, concept artists, VFX artists and even motion graphics designers.

You can browse the 3DSense Facebook page or the website to see some of our students’ works. We keep these pages updated with our students’ works, even the animation shorts are also up there.

Right now there aren’t any 2D animation talents right now, because we specialize more on 3D animation.

Have any of the students worked on an internship level before? For example working on full-fledged companies or working on small-animated series, or anything free-lanced based.

There are some students who have, but I can’t really recall who.

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Students are concerned with finding jobs here and overseas. Singapore is growing, but the animation market is still really small. So how does the [animation industry] thrive?

3DSense encourages students to expose themselves and market themselves. Students need to create websites and build up their online presence. Platforms like Deviantart and forums where students can post their work. Letting others see your work and build up your personal branding will higher your chances of getting noticed by people, and eventually lead to you being hired.Before you go about promoting yourself, you need to have a great portfolio first. Students work hard in getting their portfolio done up. Once they graduate, they need to do marketing.Right now, I think the job situation in the worldwide animation industry is the same, not just Singapore. Compared to last time, even in the US and Canada, these jobs in the CG industry are really easy to get. Now, its tougher since the job scope is quite global. Internet is also quite developed, so companies tend to outsource their jobs. Different people have different paths; and it all depends on the timing. If the student is really lucky and has a good portfolio, they can get a full-time job. If they cant get a full-time job, they need to become more active in the forums to secure some freelance jobs from other companies.For example, the 2D concept artists find it hard to get a full-time job in Singapore. So they usually market themselves online and other companies in Japan and US will offer them some freelance projects. These are the survivor methods for most of the artists in the industry.

What about international opportunities? Some people might be based here in Singapore, but they might be intending on going overseas. How easy is it for Singaporeans to get jobs overseas. 

You would need some connections if you want to get a job overseas. if a friend recommends you in, it would be easier to get the job. Without this connection, it will be harder to get those better jobs because the companies receive quite a lot of portfolios from all around the world everyday. So definitely you would need a good portfolio, your work has to be very good, and they will also be more concerned about the attitude of the applicant. This is where the recommendation from your friend comes in, and the connections will make the applying process much smoother.So far, there aren’t any students working in Dreamworks (if I am not wrong), but yes we have students trying to get into Pixar. When those artists come in from overseas to give talks, students can make connections from there. We do have one student that managed to do a test with Pixar as a concept artist and she would be the first student to work in Pixar if she passes the test.We also have connections with other big companies as well.

A lot of students have researched about 3DSense and were very interested in 3DSense, especially since they feel that 3DSense can compete with NAFA and Laselle. What are your thoughts on this?

The biggest difference here is the time that is used for the studies. Polytechnics and those colleges usually have three year programs, and their syllabus is a bit different because they teach you many different skills (for example like 2D animation and 3D concept). It is not as focused as our programs. Even though our program is only one year long, its more specialized and choosing a specific course means that you will spend the whole year honing that particular skill. This makes learning more efficient, so that the quality of their work will be different. We also get industry veterans to teach students. Some lecturers might be working in Ubisoft or Double Negative; they might even be the seniors in the companies, and they will come to present and guide the students through the latest news and technologies in the industry.

Any last words for aspiring artists or for artists wishing to enter the animating industry?

First of all, you need to have passion. Once you have the passion, you will have the initiative, and then you will be hardworking. If you are hardworking, definitely your portfolio will be different.Sometimes passion is not enough, and you also need to persevere and not give up. Even now, I still draw quite often even though I have been drawing for many many years and I am doing 3D.

When you are ready, someone will definitely hire you.

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