New York animation production studio expands its roster with illustrator and animator from Guangzhou, China via London and Central Saint Martins.
As a child, drawing created an inner sanctuary for Du that quieted any of the outside elements closing around her. When she was four or five years old, typical of a Chinese education, Du was pushed to learn everything: piano, drawing, dance, etc. Her mother found that when Du was drawing it calmed her, so the piano and dance gradually fell away yet the drawing stayed. As a teenager, drawing turned into a drive, so she attended a Fine Arts High School where she took technique and drawing classes and rose to the top of her class, received the best mark and, ever ambitious, she went into animation.
After high school, Du attended university at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts where she studied character design and CG techniques, and, alongside her boyfriend, together they were striving for the ultimate Pixar look. Midway through, that relationship ended, the CG team disbanded and Du returned to her roots. At this pivotal moment, she focused on what she loved and really embraced what she excelled at: drawing. She changed her course of study to book illustration and design and found inspiration and excitement in this new medium and style. Her graduation piece was a black & white hand drawn 2D film that was her first exploration into liquid motion and transformations... a spark was created to learn more.
Du applied to Central Saint Martins and moved to London, where she spent the two-year program working on her short film Way Out, based on her home city Guangzhou. Growing up in one of the biggest cities in China, she saw the shift from writing down everyone’s number in her paper phone book to messaging friends on social media with smart phones. Way Out is about the relationship between humans and technology. Du found London exciting and refreshing and began to play with color in her work. She found it revelatory that in China her work was primarily black & white with hints of yellow, but Way Out was the first time color was introduced.
Du’s ability to look within, recalibrate and reset to really get to the core of her craft, is an exciting process. This self-awareness is what propels her work to evolve. When asked what is next on the horizon she responded, “Right now there is quite a crafted and hand drawn quality to my work.. I would like to move into a cleaner, tidier refined style that is more defined and strips away the roughness and clarifies the detail.”
The inspiration for Du’s work lies somewhere in the dichotomy of Impressionism, the dash of lines and layering of dots to create a surface, combined with a love for the simplistic and geometric structures of Brutalism. This makes sense when looking at her short film An Anthology, a personal project with a limited color palette and focused aesthetic that is a bit of a departure from her existing style but a direction she would like to play in more. Du is already the recipient of many awards including D&AD New Blood Wood Pencil.
“Yukai’s work is like reading through your favorite book over and over,” Hornet EP Hana Shimizu commented. “Once you are allured into her world there are so many rich layers of meaning and tone. With every new viewing, I take away something new. It’s a big, bold universe she paints while still incredibly personal and intimate. Once you get to know her history this all starts to make sense and you see every bit of it permeating through her work. She offers such new perspective to who we are and excited to have another female voice on our roster.”