Posted 27 March 2024
Interview by Isabelle Cassidy
Mention Ian Chan

Golden Wolf’s 2D animator Ian Chan on the importance of staying curious

Growing up, Ian Chan went home every day and watched anime after school. Soon discovering that his beloved characters were created using drawings, it was in these fast-paced action scenes that Ian realised the possibilities of a career in animation. Years later, he navigated a choppy path to his childhood dream, and now specialises in traditional 2D character and effects at Emmy-nominated animation studio Golden Wolf. Ian draws on his early influences and an upbringing in Hong Kong to create work driven by compelling, meaningful stories and soulful environments. Here, Ian shares his varied journey as a freelancer post-graduation, how he secured the internship that led to a full-time role, and why he believes “engaging your curiosity” to be crucial for the growth of skills and knowledge as an animator.

Ian Chan

Ian Chan

Job Title

Junior 2D Animator, Golden Wolf


Lewes, East Sussex

Selected Clients

Golden Wolf, Blue Zoo

Previous Employment

Junior 2D FX Artist, Blue Zoo, 2021–2022

Place of Study

BA Animation Production, Arts University Bournemouth


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I work alongside my lead animator and fellow peers at Golden Wolf as a junior animator, initially starting as an intern before landing the full-time role at the studio.

As an animator, I specialise in traditional 2D character and effects animation. My role is to draw characters frame by frame, with small differences between each drawing. When played through quickly enough, these drawings create the illusion of movement, as if they move on their own.

I love this line of work for the potential these drawings have. No matter how rough the initial sketches are, with just a few well-timed drawings, you can portray just about anything: from an energetic boxer to a simple yawn, all the way to huge surreal explosions that you can’t normally fathom!

One of Ian's rough animation tests

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Like many others my age, I grew up watching anime every day after school. For me, it was the late Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z. I vividly remember loving the scenes where the characters would fly up into the air and exchange a few lightning-fast punches, before sending a crazy energy beam at each other that blows up the surrounding battlefield. When I learnt that these scenes were created through drawings, I knew that being an animator was where I would find my purpose.

“I also love compelling stories and soulful environments.”

My main inspirations are fast-paced, action-orientated scenes; ones that would have crazy camera moves and loads of environmental destruction. I’m driven by visually stunning scenes that make you go, “Wow, I wish my action figures could do that!” It’s a feeling I would love to give people through my work today.

On the other hand, I also love compelling stories and soulful environments. I grew up in Hong Kong for most of my life, and I can’t help but incorporate small things from the city into my work now and then. I love the aesthetic of Hong Kong’s streets and food stalls, and the culture around the diverse population. The relationships and community this city cultivates are where my soul inherently feels most alive.

Animation for client Lords of Water before compositing

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Not necessarily, I think an animator’s journey is determined by their drive to learn and focus on self-improvement. Whilst formal training helps establish a solid foundation, the animation field is so broad and diverse that even a master of the craft still has new things to learn.

The most essential skill, however, is to at least learn the fundamentals: the 12 principles of animation. They cover techniques like arcs and the ever so classic ‘squash and stretch’, where, for example, a basketball would be drawn squashed down when hitting the wall, before stretching out as it bounces away. Learning and mastering these principles will lead you far so long as you have the passion to explore new things.

I believe that to excel as an animator, you need to be able to adapt as it’s an ever-changing industry. I also learned the importance of observation early on in my career, and that’s helped me develop my skills at a very fast rate. In addition, communication skills and an open mind aid an animator’s arsenal.

Bouncing ball example by Richard Williams from The Animator’s Survival Kit. It demonstrates animation arcs, and squash and stretch

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?

My absolute favourite project so far has been the Halloween social project I animated at Golden Wolf. Other than it being visually appealing with a mysterious monster bursting out of a soda can, this project holds a special place in my heart for representing my growth at the studio.

I really wanted to make a piece of work that represented the skills I had gained up until this point. Throughout its development, I had a very creatively nurturing environment that gave me the freedom to explore different styles and references to incorporate into the vending machine’s design, harkening back to my Hong Kong and East Asian upbringing.

I got to learn more about the pipeline roles at a professional level, from designing to storyboarding, to animation itself and compositing. I had the opportunity to direct the sound designer on my specific vision and got to actively engage with my peers at the studio on a level I never had before.

Ian's Halloween 'Soda Can' social project for Golden Wolf

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I grew up in Hong Kong for 17 years with a background in painting, before moving to the UK for university. I studied animation production at Arts University Bournemouth, scoring the chance to co-direct one of our 12 student films for our final year after a successful pitch.

By graduation, I was lucky enough to be given two opportunities. I was invited to help on a project by a friend from Hong Kong. He had friends looking for a 2D animated music video for their band, which ended up being my first freelance gig. The next was my first professional gig, as a junior 2D FX artist at Blue Zoo for one of their children’s shows. A fellow AUB alumni had recommended me as a potential effects animator for the production, and after a rushed test on the train and subsequent interview, I had fortunately gotten my foot through the industry door!

After a year of semi-successful freelancing, I applied for an internship at Golden Wolf. I was offered the internship and eventually continued into a full-time role. With the new-found security, I went back to focus on my main weakness at that time, which was networking. Over the course of several months, I attended events like Annecy Animation Festival and reached out to several Hong Kong-based studios and animators.

The animation industry is notoriously small and intimate, even on a global scale. So like dominoes, things slowly fell into place, and I built up a network of people from both the UK and Hong Kong. Coupling this with the reputation I try to set for myself as an action animator, opportunities started to present themselves instead of me having to reach out.

Ian's desk at Golden Wolf. “I like having little figurines accompany me while I work!”

What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
My final year at university, where I co-directed my student film. It presented me with some of the biggest challenges in my journey but also led me to make a lot of better decisions during my job-hunting phase after graduation.

Some examples of these challenges included directing, leading a team, and communicating. On top of this being my first time leading a team, this was also during COVID-19, which led to a lot of production to be online rather than in person. Creative differences were often harder to communicate and resolve. In hindsight, if we were able to meet in person, these difficulties would have been a lot easier to overcome. Not to mention mental health being a key hindrance for students during the pandemic.

I took a lot from this experience. It taught me the importance of clear, effective communication and, most importantly, teamwork. Creative differences within a small team can hinder production massively, and my experience of resolving these issues on this production led me to strive to be a better team player for all my future opportunities. I would always keep this in mind when applying for jobs after graduation.

A shot from M.A, Ian’s co-directed student film. Doing the character animation and compositing for this shot, the story set in a Hong Kong inspired post-apocalyptic world won multiple awards at animation festivals

How important are social media and self-promotion to your work?
Very important! I believe the animation industry is actually only 30% drawing, with the other 70% of the field being networking.

I found that building a reputation for yourself and getting your name out there in the industry circles was extremely effective. It’s valuable to let potential recruiters know what you excel in, but it’s equally if not more valuable to let a wider social circle know too. People talk, and with how small the animation industry is, connections and eventual recommendations will inevitably happen as you expand your network. Engaging yourself and getting in touch with people will always pay off in the long run. It’s worth letting people know you’re available and interested in work. And despite rejections, keeping in touch with an email and updated showreel every three months can help.

“I believe that actively engaging your curiosity nets you rapid growth in your skills and knowledge as an animator.”

What are three things that you’ve found useful to your work or career, and why?
I believe that actively engaging your curiosity nets you rapid growth in your skills and knowledge as an animator. Firstly, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams for anyone who’s remotely interested in animation. It covers the 12 principles of animation and is about everything you need regarding training to start your animation journey. Another resource that has helped my journey recently is the Point Character Drawing books by TACO.

Secondly, I love maintaining a healthy dose of inspiration, whether it be through films, YouTube, or even game cutscenes. One great resource for anime action animation is ‘Sakuga MAD’ videos, they’re usually a collage of animation clips that have a unique focus, such as water effects, or running. Another is Sakugabooru, a website with bitesize clips of notable animation scenes, tagged with their respective animators and those involved in that specific scene’s production.

Last but definitely not least, just have an active drive to learn. I have an innate curiosity to grow, which drives me to pursue new learning opportunities. I integrate my interests with what I want to study, as it helps motivate me. I would recommend doing this to anybody wanting to learn new skills, as using your inspiration tends to be a good driving force to learning.

A sketch demonstrating the character run cycle

Have there been any courses, programmes, initiatives or access schemes you’ve found helpful or would recommend to get into your sector?
As previously mentioned, getting your name out there through social media is extremely valuable as a first step towards the industry. Networking on sites like Instagram, LinkedIn, and even Twitter is something I wish I had known more about during my first year of freelancing. Emailing producers and recruiters might help, but personally, a lot of my opportunities came to me because I put my name out there.

While I don’t believe you need formal training to become a great animator, it’s always a good starting point if you have the resources to go for a university course. I studied the full three-year course at Arts University Bournemouth because of how they approached their final-year films. While many other universities would have you create your own final film individually, AUB encourages you to specialise in a specific role in the pipeline and work in tandem with other fellow students. This overall structure of specialising in something alongside a team to create a film is very reminiscent of the actual industry pipeline. Familiarising myself with these roles whilst having the support of the university network, was an opportunity that helped me gain a clearer picture of the ‘real world’, and thus better prepare myself for the industry.

By understanding how to be a director, animator, and producer through my student film, I was able to communicate more efficiently in jobs because I already had relevant experience at a university level.

“Focus on networking, get yourself out there and meet new people, whether it be online or in real life.”

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Look after yourself and keep at it. Rejection sucks, but it doesn’t mean the time and work you’ve put in has completely gone to waste. Your overall work is cumulative and will always build up no matter what your rate of improvement is. Luck plays a huge factor in job hunting as much as skill does, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into a similar role?
Polish your fundamentals and show them off! Recruiters for animation know when something is just pure eye candy and when someone genuinely understands the work they’ve created.

Focus on networking too, get yourself out there and meet new people, whether it be online or in real life. The animation industry is extremely small, so every bridge you build will help you in the long run when it comes to job hunting.

Interview by Isabelle Cassidy
Mention Ian Chan