Chen Mengqian (aka Dream Chen) is a children’s book illustrator and animator from Hainan, China. After graduating from the Communication University of China with a bachelor in animation, she moved to the United States. Dream continued her studies in Minneapolis where she is still currently based, at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and eventually received her MFA in Visual Arts there. Dream’s illustrations tends to blur the boundaries between commercial work and artistic pursuit, and the playful dreamscapes she creates seems to have the power to captivate the imaginations of readers.
Dream Chen’s parents were both artists, and the creative energy of this household undeniably played a huge role in her trajectory as an artist. Naturally, she chose a creative major like animation in college. After graduating from CUC, she worked at an animation company for a year before deciding to continue her studies in the United States. However, Minneapolis is quite different from Los Angeles – there are no major animation studios in Minnesota and the state of the entire industry is underdeveloped when compared to that of L.A. She created a children’s book and a short stop-motion film as her thesis for her MFA, and after graduating, she began to submit her work all over. But she was unable to find a full-time position at any animation studios, and she was instead offered a position at a children’s book publishing company that took notice of her work. This led to several collaborative projects, and the success turned into more ongoing collaborations. Dream admits she never thought she would become a professional children’s book illustrator, but that taking this path actually allowed her to maintain her personal aesthetics and she feels like it’s an even better way to make a living.
Her illustration books and animations always drew influence from one another. Creating with one medium would spark ideas for the other; for example, when she made her stop-motion animation, it inspired her to create a three-dimensional doll book. Then during the process of making that book, it started generating ideas for her next animation project. Familiar with both mediums, she feels like there’s more room to play around with ideas when it comes to animated works; but at the same time, the tangibility of printed illustration books makes her feel like her artwork is even more real in a sense. She adds, “I don’t know how many times my hard drive has failed, and resulted in me losing my digital files. But when it comes to printed books, there’s never any concerns about losing my work.”
For Dream, the creative processes behind making animations and illustration books are very different. They do share some similarities, in that they are both storytelling mediums, both have a rhythm in how a story can unfold, and both involve characters. When making animations, she is able to use sounds, music, and movements to establish the mood. Illustration, on the other hand, is a bit more like a silent film by comparison. It has its own distinct characteristics and unique qualities of course – such as the bookbinding, which acts as a separator for the individual frames, but at the same time is also what connects all these frames together. The storytelling aspect is what compels Dream Chen the most. She says, “I am really interested in telling stories. I want people to laugh, to feel sad, to look back on my book and reflect.” Dream tells us that she also likes to hide small Easter eggs in her illustrations to surprise the detail-conscious viewers.
Making animations can be immensely time consuming however. The characters that appear in the story also need to maintain consistency throughout. Compared with animation, illustrating a book is far more laid-back in that sense. Dream feels the whole act of making an animation is a challenging endeavor that really tests the artist’s determination and patience. When asked about her approach to the time-consuming, repetitive animation process, Dream says that she studies the details of the character’s movements, and through practice she is able to maintain the same sense of focus throughout the creative process.
Dream is currently planning to create her next independent animation The Island. This will be her first animated project since graduation, and it will also be her first project that doesn’t involve any dialogue. Dream says, “My animated works before were only for kids. This time, I want to challenge myself, and create a story that explores adult themes.” She recently received a Film, Video, and Digital Production Grant from the Jerome Foundation, which will provide the financial security for her to put sole focus on her work for the next few months. Dream feels like this project will give her the momentum to propel her further along in her artistic journey.
目前，梦牵正在计划做她的下一个独立动画《The Island》。这将是她第一个无对话、面向成人的动画，也将是她离校后的第一个动画项目。她说: “我之前的所有动画都是儿童友好的作品。但是这次，我想挑战一下，尝试做一个带有成人课题的故事。”梦牵最近刚收到Jerome Foundation的艺术家基金，这能让她接下来几个月不用担心收入问题，全心专注投入在动画创作上。更重要的是对她来说，这可能将带她进入创作的下一阶段。