Meet Malaysia’s First Pixar Artist, Kiki Poh

Main Image Courtesy of Kiki Poh

Kiki Poh, 41, is a shading and grooming artist at Pixar Animation Studio

As part of the team that created Disney’s hallmarks as Toy Story 3 and Cars 3, Kiki Poh is living out her dream life as Malaysia’s first Pixar Animation Studios’ shading and grooming artist. From what started off as an internship opportunity, bloomed into a career, we spoke with Kiki about her journey and what goes on behind the scenes.

What lies in the job scope of a shading and grooming artist?

Shading technical director creates appearances of the texture, colour and material properties of characters in the film. I also help create hair for characters – sometimes it’s for a human character; sometimes it’s a feather or fur for a creature.

Was there an event that happened and made you think “This passion can be something more”?

I’ve always been a huge fan of Doraemon, who could draw anything for his friends and save them from bad situations. He made me believe that nothing is impossible. But it was the first time I watched Jurassic Park that I knew the exact job I wanted when I grow up. It was stunning to see how people behind that film made an extinct species come back alive.

Kiki worked on massive blockbusters that included Toy Story 3

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And it just clicked?

Yeah, I made up my mind immediately that I want to be just like them, bringing to live our wildest imaginations. Till this day, this is the only thing that keeps me going.

What kinds of research go into your line of work?

It depends on the assignment but I usually like to observe things that are surrounding me in general. For example, when I design the outdated, old, and rusty cars in Cars 3, I like to look at the rusty cars on street, and observe where the oxidation patterns grow on the car.  When I am working on grooming a character’s hair, I just like to go around to the cafeteria to look at people’s hair.

Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before and accept that failure is just temporary. Have a positive mentality, faith in yourself and work hard. Soon, you’ll find yourself that the top of the mountain you’ve been trying to conquer.

– Kiki Poh

After being in the business all these years, is there anything that still catches you off guard?

In our industry, constant technological advancement forces us to learn and adapt to new things, time after time. Learning new things is something that keeps me busy and happy, and there’s always something to learn from another person, or a task you’re doing.

Who could forget the short story of Piper, the cute sandpiper and its discovery of the sea

 How do you stay inspired?

I still enjoy watching animated films, cartoons and films with strong visual effects. Of course there’s significant improvement visually, but most of the time, it’s the level of imagination and story-telling that I like most. Other than that, I enjoy painting landscapes of the outdoors and meditating. That helps me find balance between staying in and going out in the nature.

Who has been your biggest mentor?

My first mentor Junyi Ling, who I was first assigned to at Pixar, is still my biggest mentor. He taught me all about shading pipeline at work and till now, is my go-to whenever I need some work advice. He’s always encouraged me to pursue my passion, and to enjoy the work that I do.