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Sophie Diao

Internet Illustrator

Just a few weeks after graduating from CalArts with a degree in character animation, Sophie Diao (Film/Video BFA 13) will display her work to a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions of people. As a full-time “Google Doodler,” Diao is joining a small team of artists that transforms the Internet company’s distinctive multicolored logo into creative illustrations on its search page, often celebrating the birthdays of historical figures.

Skills Gained from Character Animation Program

Like many of her peers in the Character Animation Program, Diao initially aimed for a career at an animation studio. She studied the human figure and how it moves, spent hundreds of hours drawing characters and background landscapes, and honed skills in other aspects of animation such as color and design and CG computer techniques. She created several animated films at CalArts, including As Small as a World and as Large as Alone, a fantasy set in a forest with a parade of tiny, imagined creatures floating along a stream.

“I’ve learned a lot at CalArts studying under incredibly helpful and inspirational teachers, like [Character Animation Program Director] Dan Hansen and [Character Animation faculty member] Phil Rynda. I’ve met amazing people.” 

Landing an Important Internship

Diao’s career trajectory took an unexpected turn on February 7, 2012, when her eye was caught by an elaborate illustration marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birthday on a Google search page. It featured drawings of a dozen or so Dickens characters—including the Artful Dodger, Oliver Twist, and Ebenezer Scrooge—intertwined with a handwritten version of the Google logo. Diao was so struck by the image that she tracked down the artist on-line, and sent him a piece of fan email. He soon responded, and their further conversation resulted in an invitation to Diao to apply for a new internship in the Google Doodle department.

Diao submitted her portfolio, and interviewed first over the phone, and then at Google headquarters in Mountain View. In the spring of 2012, Google offered her a paid summer internship as a doodler.

Illustrating the Olympics

Diao’s internship coincided with the Summer Olympics in London, an especially busy time for the illustrators. During those two weeks, the crew produced a new Google drawing each day, celebrating different sports. Diao contributed illustrations for the shot put and table tennis competitions. She also produced other drawings over the summer, including those marking the independence days of several South American countries.

A few weeks after the internship ended, Google offered Diao a full-time job.

“It was really great to be part of the team and learn from more experienced artists. It was very exciting, since we were right in the hub of Google’s corporate headquarters.” 

Thrilled to Join the Team at Google

While character animation students at CalArts typically perfect a personal style, at Google, Diao says, “the illustrators have to work in a bunch of different styles. If you’re drawing an illustration for a particular country, the style must reflect its culture. Google encourages its doodlers to be versatile.” Diao says she’s thrilled to join a company that helped change the world in the Internet age, and to draw for such a wide audience.

“We’re a small group of creatively inclined people in a huge tech company. It’s going to be a great experience.”

Last edited by rsdavid on May 06, 2014
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