Text: Lester Hio
You’ve seen their work: a black-and-white comic on prudent investing on your Instagram feed; a cartoon about a half-dog, half-shark on Netflix; and a heartwarming superhero tale about a young girl and her pet T-Rex.
These ADM graduates show how their creativity and artistic passion have led to commercial success internationally, putting their name – along with Singapore’s and NTU’s – on the world stage.
All artists, these NTU alumni now hold leading roles in their fields. Enabling this was the exposure to different aspects of the creative process during their time at ADM, though they might not have realised it back then.
Since its emergence in 2019, The Woke Salaryman (TWS) has become an influential source of financial advice for young adults.
These days, digital natives have been gaining financial knowledge and literacy not through investment books or financial news articles, but through cartoons and graphics on social media.
The Woke Salaryman’s distinctive greyscale illustrations of sound financial advice is the brainchild of Goh Wei Choon, 34, who obtained a Bachelor’s degree followed by a Master of Arts specialising in Animation in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
Goh Wei Choon (ADM/2014 & 2016), Co-founder and illustrator, The Woke Salaryman
When he co-founded The Woke Salaryman with He Ruiming, his long-time friend and collaborator, the online finance literacy scene was starting to explode, with influencers carving their niches on social media.
Wei Choon says: “We combined finance with comics and rode that bubble. It was the right thing at the right time and that gave us a fanbase.”
Their follower count grew rapidly, and Wei Choon bade the corporate world farewell to give his full attention to The Woke Salaryman.
NTU has played a significant role in shaping Wei Choon’s personal life too. It was where he met his wife.
The decision has paid off handsomely. With its signature monochromatic comics and with plenty of pop culture references, The Woke Salaryman now dishes out financial and lifestyle tips through relatable anecdotes and entertaining bite-sized content to almost 400,000 followers on Instagram and another half a million on Facebook.
More than just artists
But it wasn’t all just about drawing comics and inking punchy lines. In Wei Choon’s experience, while design-centric degree programmes emphasise portfolios geared towards practical and technical skills, ADM’s theoretical approach and academic rigour were better in the long run.
“When I saw other job seekers who know anatomy, rendering and texturing – I was like why didn’t ADM force us to step up our technical skills? But I now realise that the other skills I picked up in NTU have been more useful and will bring me further," says Wei Choon, who also honed his craft as a student illustrator for HEY!, NTU's campus magazine.
The Woke Salaryman is a hit with young adults who have just entered the workforce.
“Working in the age of social media, it helps so much that I have tried other cross-disciplinary stuff before. That foundation year turned out to be one of the most important years,” he says. “I always thought I will go into animation – I hold a Master’s degree in animation – but since graduation, I have never held a job in animation. It has always been content, videography, website design, copywriting – so many other things, and that foundational year helped me so much.”
Skills such as the academic training of writing papers, citing sources, researching and critical thinking help him communicate with clients better, and to substantiate his own achievements and capabilities. He elaborates: “When you are midcareer, you know how to market yourself and your skills, and substantiate the claims you’re making.”
Breaking into Hollywood
Echoing similar sentiments about the usefulness of transferable technical skills is artist Jacinth Tan, 32, who received her NTU degree in animation in 2014. The creative director at a local animation studio perhaps is best known for her brainchild Sharkdog, a popular children’s animated series that plays to an international audience of millions on Netflix.
Jacinth Tan (ADM/2014), Creator, Sharkdog
Sharkdog chronicles the chaotic exploits of the titular half-shark, half-dog protagonist and his human owner Max.
Jacinth got her big break while working as a storyboard artist in 2015. She got wind of the Nickelodeon Shorts programme, which accepts international pitches that would be developed into animated shorts for the Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. audiences.
“I had less than a week to come up with a pitch. Since I had a lot of stories with my dog I wanted to share, and it happened to be Shark Week, I combined the two,” she says.
Her pitch stood out from 850 submissions and was turned into a 20-episode, 90-second show that premiered on the US children’s television network’s app, Nickelodeon Play, in 2018. It was subsequently picked up by Netflix in 2021, and is now into its third season.
Popular among both children and young adults, Sharkdog is now into its third season.
Samantha Lee, 34, from ADM’s Class of 2010 has also broken into Hollywood. Based in Los Angeles, Samantha, who also goes by Samm, started her 13-year career at One Animation before moving to the United States to work at Dreamworks, Netflix, and finally, Disney TV Animation.
She is making waves as a director on Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, a star-studded production that has Laurence Fishburne as one of its executive producers and which features the voices of names like Alison Brie, Maya Hawke and Wesley Snipes.
Prepping for lead roles
Both Jacinth and Samm say the exposure to the gamut of production work in their undergraduate days put them in good stead when they were tasked to take on big-picture roles.
Producing Sharkdog thrust Jacinth into a role where she was involved in the entirety of the project. The intense, hands-on learning experience at NTU was essential in transforming her from an animator to a showrunner, allowing her to lead such a major project early in her career.
Samantha Lee (ADM/2010), Director, Marvel’s Moon, Girl and Devil Dinosaur
“I need to know the whole pipeline of animation and the show,” says Jacinth. “It was so important to have a grounded, fundamental understanding of how that works. My experience at ADM was like a buffet – it really opened my eyes to see the range of things that the arts offers.”
“We had to take classes in rigging, modelling and lighting, which honestly I wasn’t very interested in. But because I took them, the software and terms used aren’t alien to me. When the departments share with me why some things can’t be done, I understand why,” Jacinth says.
A full understanding of the entire production process has helped Samm in her role as director as well.
She says: “The school made us do both an individual animation project and a group project. In the former, you intimately learn every step of production, and though I mostly work in pre-production, this knowledge has been invaluable for me. A director who knows what artists down the production line are doing will better know what they need to do during the storyboarding and editing stages to make the process smoother.”
Working on projects also happens to be Samm’s fondest NTU memory, as she recalls sticking three roller chairs together in the basement of ADM’s animation studios to form a bed to sleep in. “We called it the dungeon,” she says with a laugh. “We pulled all-nighters and put in a lot of hard work.”
Passing the torch
Whether by flying the NTU flag proudly or returning to help the next generation of students, each of these grads is giving back to the NTU community.
Jacinth never misses the annual ADM Grad Show put up by final-year students. That’s where she spots talented young designers and where she looks for new hires who are brimming with bright ideas.
“As a graduate of ADM, I am keenly aware of the calibre of my juniors, and I look forward to grooming them for the animation industry,” she says.
For budding artists and soon-to-be ADM graduates, having a network of industry insiders is crucial in getting their work out to a wider audience.
In the superhero animation business, networking is vital, Samm says, with each new role building upon one’s previous portfolio. “When it comes to how I got the opportunities to work on these shows, it has been a mix of knowing some people, and the good old-fashioned way of applying jobs online with a portfolio,” she says.
Samm at work in her studio. She directed three episodes in Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’s debut season.
“For this role at Disney specifically, after working on Netflix’s Centaurworld, a friend of mine introduced me to the supervising director of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. I showed him my work and he hired me as a story artist. One episode in, I was promoted to Director,” she says.
Wei Choon is a part-time lecturer at ADM, an experience he relishes.
He says: “I get to talk to the final-year undergraduates, just before their graduation, on the real world and what awaits them. When you are in school, you’re in a coral reef protected by violent tides of the outside world. I want to be the senior to them that I wish I had.”
And in the real world, innovation marches on relentlessly, creating exciting new opportunities for those quick enough to seize them.
For Samm, her role is an exciting, everchanging one, and she believes it is vital that learning and education doesn’t stop.
“The winds of change may bring plenty of uncertainties, but we choose how to define our future. I encourage you to be prepared to never stop learning, even after graduation,” says Samm.
“Hone your craft and be open to learning new skills outside of the career you have planned. Are you a story artist? Try learning more about writing, designing, team management or even producing. Keep up with new ideas and challenges that are coming out. And it doesn't stop with technical skills. Live purposefully. Be adaptable, versatile, mentally fortified, compassionate, and brave. Fall in love with trying new things and be open to the idea that where you start in your career's journey may not be where you end up going. Life is beautiful that way.”
This article first appeared in issue 3 of U, the NTU alumni magazine.