DPP Home Profiles Yu Tsai: Fearless

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yu Tsai: Fearless

From Taiwan to Indiana to California to shooting a campaign for GUESS, Yu Tsai’s clarity of vision and dynamic style put him on top of the fashion and beauty world


This Article Features Photo Zoom

An image from a GUESS campaign
DPP: There’s a tradition of photographers doing great journals in Africa. Were yours along the lines of Peter Beard and Dan Eldon?

Tsai: That’s right! Another instructor introduced me to the work of Peter Beard. In Africa, you end up pressing plants, smearing animal blood on your pages—all these natural processes of creating a journal creates a work of art. My sketchbook was reminiscent of those of Peter Beard. She made a copy of my sketchbook and submitted it for me to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and I got a full scholarship. I thought it would be a relaxing two years studying art, then I would go back to Veterinary Science. I find every opportunity precious. I think that’s why I’ve had so many different journeys in my life. I’m a story-gatherer. I thought I would do medical illustration so I could still stay true to what I thought was my life’s calling. But there was no program for that.

DPP: What did you end up studying?

Tsai: I went in as a Fine-Art Illustration major. At the time, everybody wanted to be an illustrator for Disney. But then the technology changed. CGI came in. All these computers came on campus. So I jumped on the computer bandwagon, becoming one of the first people to work on Macs doing Photoshop and After Effects. But I was a horrible illustrator. I can art-direct and articulate what I want as a final painting, but I wasn’t technically able to execute them because I didn’t have the foundation of an artist who had been drawing all his or her life.

The second year at Art Center, an Illustration professor named Peter Liashkov told me, “You need to change your major. You’re great at what you do. You need to do what you were meant to do. Get into art direction, become a creative director, hire a painter to paint what you want them to paint.” I’m so blessed; I’ve always been incredibly supported by my teachers. I consider myself an old soul. My professors are my friends.
 
I thought it would be a relaxing two years studying art, then I would go back to Veterinary Science. I find every opportunity precious. I think that’s why I’ve had so many different journeys in my life. I’m a story-gatherer. I thought I would do medical illustration so I could still stay true to what I thought was my life’s calling. But there was no program for that.
 

Actress Mila Kunis
One of my instructors recommended that I meet with director Tarsem Singh who had come to the Art Center campus looking for help for the visual development treatment of a movie that would eventually be called The Cell. So I did. Tarsem started telling me the story of the movie, that it was going to be a psychological thriller involving a woman going into a trance set of dreams, and he told me his ideas and thoughts on the visuals, then he asked if he could see my portfolio. I said, “I can’t paint those things and I can’t draw those things. But I can tell you that the problem with your script is that it’s driven by all these visuals, not driven by psychology—the actual core of what this movie should be driven by.”

He’s an amazing visual developer. I walked away thinking I didn’t get the job, but four hours later he called, telling me to assemble a team. I didn’t know what a producer was, but I was producing without knowing it. We dissected the script. I incorporated my English literature and psychology studies, my nightmares from the malaria pills I took to go to Africa, and my logical thinking in the sciences and physics to redefine and reinterpret the script. We took three or four weeks to build the visual treatment for Tarsem. This was one of the most confidence-building and industry-learning experiences for me. After the treatment was sold and made into a film, I was sought out by a lot of directors to visual-rewrite commercials, as well as do three days of consulting for DreamWorks on Minority Report. I was also asked to consult on visual billboards. After I graduated from Art Center, Microsoft became my first client as a visual consultant. I also started directing commercials. I love to do branding. All this became the foundation for my career in photography.

 

Check out our other sites:
Digital Photo Outdoor Photographer HDVideoPro Golf Tips Plane & Pilot