Episode 147 — Bobby Chiu — Schoolism — PART II


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Episode 147 — Bobby Chiu — Schoolism — PART II

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 147! I’m speaking with Bobby Chiu from Schoolism. This our second interview together: allanmckay.com/130/. I wanted to do this part separately. In it, Bobby shared a lot of amazing insight.

Let’s dive in!



[-1:08:34] Please check out my new website at allanmckay.comI wanted to build this giant resource for you. Before, you would have to join my Insider’s List. Now you can find everything in one place here: allanmckay.com.

This isn’t just everything to do with VFX. There is an area to filter out any subjects, including those that are not VFX related. You can also find a lot of free guides there. This is just the beginning!

And if you want to sign up for the Insider’s Circle list, please go to allanmckay.com/inside/.

Feel free to shoot me an email with any suggestions for my website: [email protected].


[-[1:05:30] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. Typically, we go on job interviews; and when asked what we charge, we either shoot ourselves in the foot by saying we charge less than we’re worth and getting the gig — but indirectly leaving tens of thousands of dollars accumulatively over time, on the table; rather than actually asking what we should be charging. At the same time you don’t want to alienate your employer by asking for too much and leaving yourself out in the cold.

I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. This is something I’m going to continue to build and flush out over time.

The key thing is: I don’t want to just showcase how much you should be worth — I want to hand you the tools to grow beyond that and learn:

– to negotiate better;

– to ask for the right amount of money in the right way;

– lots of other additional tools!

The information is FREE! Check it out: www.VFXRates.comPut in your information and you will get instantly notified with how much you should be charging per hour, as a VFX Artist.



Bobby Chiu is an Artist, Teacher and Motivator. He started his career in digital art at the age of 17, designing toys for Star Wars and Pixar. One of his first jobs as a Character Designer was on Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. After that, he worked on films Men in Black 3 and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Bobby shares his talent through teaching up-and-coming artists, making tutorials and interviewing other artists. Over a decade ago, Bobby co-founded Imaginism Studios. Since then, the Studios have worked with clients like Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Riot Games, Blizzard and many others. He also founded Schoolism, an online learning community for artists.

In the second part of his interview, Bobby talks about the failproof recipe for success: practicing discipline and common sense while putting in your best effort. He also discusses the importance of constant learning as an insurance against becoming irrelevant.


Imaginism Studios: http://www.imaginismstudios.com

Bobby Chiu’s Profile on Imaginism Studios’ Website: http://www.imaginismstudios.com/artists/Bobby%20Chiu

Schoolism’s Website: https://www.schoolism.com

Bobby Chiu on ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/bobbychiu

Bobby Chiu on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3492061/

The Perfect Bait by Bobby Chiu on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kG55UXhEgZs

Bobby Chiu on Instagram: @DigitalBobert


[-[1:04:07] Allan: With Schoolism, when did you decide to start that? What are the origins of that?

Bobby: When I graduated college, I couldn’t get a job. I knew I needed to get more knowledge. On a trip to the San Diego Comic Con, I had dinner with one of the artists I really looked up to: Stephen Silver, a Character Designer and great friend. Back then, I didn’t know him that well. At dinner, I pitched him this idea. Back in the day, you would buy these textbooks from famous artists. You would mail the assignments back and a professional artist would have drawn over your stuff. I said, “Now we have the internet and now we can build our version of the Famous Artists Course [where] people can learn from an artist directly.” That was the first of its time. I explained this to Stephen. He got it right away. I was just started my career and he didn’t have much reason to believe in me. I feel like when somebody is so driven, even though they have no evidence they’ll complete what they’re saying, you know they’re going to make it. It’s those kind of people that you have to look out for. That’s something that I had from the early beginning — and I still have it.

[-[1:00:51] Allan: I think that people’s passion is contagious. If you believe in something, people are going to believe in you. If you’re unsure, people see right through that. I was reading a book yesterday. It said something like, “It’s usually not your idea that fails — but that your faith in the idea wasn’t there in the first place.” As long as you have that fire, that’s what drives other people to believe in you and get fired up as well. 

Bobby: Let me add to that a little bit. Before, I would tell people, “As long as you’re putting in the effort and using your common sense, you can pretty much accomplish most things in life.” Then I started thinking about it: A lot of times, people’s common sense isn’t right though. There were times when common sense was that slavery was cool or women couldn’t vote. So now I say: As long as you’re putting in the effort to the best of your ability and use your logic, you can do anything! You could climb that latter as fast as you can, but what if it’s up against the wrong building? So you can look at where you were and what you’re headed towards, count up the years / days and see if that’s where you want to be in 20 years. Another way to sort out the logic: If I were talking to the 50-year-old Bobby, what decisions would he want me to make now? That’s always a big one. Now you’re talking about the long-term. It eliminates the short-term gains. We want to be artists for the rest of our lives. Always aim for the long game!

The other thing: I manage a lot of things and work on films. There can be a lot of pressure. One thing that I adopted this belief: It doesn’t matter if your project does well or if your client likes your work. All that matters is: Did you put in your time and effort — and are you using your logic? If you do those things, they you’ve succeeded. Some people may be bummed about losing a job because they didn’t do their pre-vis in color. Did you succeed? You’re always trying to use your logic and you’re putting in the effort. What will happen in your career, if you’re always putting in 100 percent effort and constantly thinking if you’re going in the right direction. If you do those things, you will have a successful career! You will! Even if you have some bumps in the road, you can’t let those things determine your success. They aren’t within your control. The effort and the logic are the things that we can do.

[-[55:47] Allan: That’s amazing advice! Anything I do, I always look at what I can take away from it. It’s always about moving forward. Looking at that job we lost, that was a valuable lesson: You need to present things in different like or explain the process. It helped shape the work I’ve done since. 

Bobby: The other part, if I may: Even when you put in the time, the logic, the effort — life will still throw shit patties in your face. Everybody needs to know that as well. You might get hit in the face when you’re trying to do your best. Things will pop up when you’re doing everything right. That’s life’s test. That’s the other thing I believe in! When I’m going super hard and something horrible happens, it’s life saying, “Now how do you feel? Do you still want to keep going?” Really, all you need to do it look life in the eye and say, “Yeah, I’m going to keep going”. If you get hit by something, if you get depressed, it will affect your work. If you smile because you’re getting closer to the finish life, it will change the overall result! It will make a night-and-day difference. You have to expect those things. You’re always there, you’re going to pass the test and keep going. You have to adopt the belief you’re getting even closer. The prize is even bigger and better when you reach it. If you think that all the time, what will happen to your overall results — is that it gets better and better! You’ve tried your hardest. I would be proud of that.

If that doesn’t move you, I’m going to add one more thing to that: If you’re not trying your hardest, if you are not using your logic, life will still throw bricks in your face. It doesn’t mean that good things won’t come. It only means that you aren’t trying your hardest. If you look at nature shows, life is tough. It is not kind. If you’re not trying your hardest, if you were an animal or an insect — you’d get eaten. That’s another reason to try your hardest.

[-[51:04] Allan: I think it’s about the resilience. The more you’re able to have those downfalls, the more you’re exposed — but the more you’re able to pick up and keep going. You become resilient. I think getting exposed to struggle and embracing makes you a stronger human being and artist. I’d love to talk a bit about Schoolism more. You have so many amazing speakers. I know Craig Mullins was one of the people who inspired me when I was young. Do you think that students need to have that discipline themselves, to learn? A lot of us, expect to get force-fed the information. To make the most of your career, you need to step up.

Bobby: It is way more difficult to grind and develop your skills now. There are so many things out there that are looking to entertain you and waste your time: video games, etc. It takes up your time. When I was a kid, I didn’t have an iPad. I would be bored for days on end and I had no choice but to draw, to entertain myself. You could do a million things these days. A lot of the best of ideas don’t come from your mind being full of stimulation. They come from an empty mind. A mind where you’re just being. That’s how I came up with Schoolism. I was staring at the city of Toronto from far away. These cities look like ant hills to me. If I had my ant hill, how much more could I do. That translated into a website / a hub where people could converge and learn. If I were watching a movie, I wouldn’t have thought of this stuff, probably. It’s harder because everything is readily available to us. People that are more and more into meditation, practicing their will power — these will be the next outliers.

[-[46:01] Allan: That’s so true! These days, it’s so hard to do nothing. Going for a walk or sitting down and doing nothing takes discipline. Having moments away from any feedback or stimulation are so hard to accomplish!

Bobby: When I was learning digital painting, there was no internet. I had to think up my own answers. That’s the other thing that happens when you’re by yourself. You think of new solutions. It’s a double-edged sword again: These days, if you have a problem, you can just look up the answer. But an answer may not be the right answer because someone else had done it. Then you’re building off this wrong answer over time — climbing up the latter against the wrong building. When you’re always looking on Google for the right answer, the right answer may not even be there. It’s because no one has thought about [the right answer] themselves. If you sat there by yourself, you’d have a far better chance of coming up with the answer no one else has thought of.

[-[43:20] Allan: I think that’s so critical! You can come up with a better solution. If you’re following everyone else’s solution, you’re adopting others’ way of doing it.

Bobby: As you grow, as you start your journey in life, don’t you notice that we’re doing so many things wrong? If we just thought things out, the world would be a different place!

[-[42:32] Allan: On that subject, how important is it to do personal work?

Bobby: So important! I schedule that stuff in so much! I could go home, but so much of the growth comes from my personal work. I could post my own stuff and increase people’s awareness of me. None of us need to do personal work. But personal work is the stuff that opens up new doors for you and new opportunities. The growth happens the most in things that you feel are important, but you don’t necessarily need to do them. Your life works fine as it is. You don’t necessarily need to learn Zbrush. But you do learn those things, those are the doors that will open new opportunities for you that you’ve never had before.

[-[41:03] Allan: It’s always about passion. You wouldn’t be doing these things in a limited time you have. This will benefit you in the long run. Your heart may not be in your commercial work all the time. For you, in terms of your personal work, do you want to paint a small picture in terms of everything you’re doing. You have a lot on your plate. How do you manage your time?

Bobby: I manage my time carefully, I’m disciplined on organization.

– Schoolism has the online stuff and then there are the different instructors and the live part, and then there is the Lake House. I have other people who help with running the workshops. I work with them to make sure everything is running properly.

– There is also a tv show I’ve co-created for Amazon Prime (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3952772/?ref_=nm_flmg_prd_1). A lot of these things I do with the exit plan, knowing how I’m going to get off the treadmill. If you do it right, it can do amazing things. Schoolism has changed so many lives over the 10 years. The show was the first show to win an Emmy for a children’s animation series, from just the pilot episode.

– Then, there is the movie stuff I got to work on.

– Then, there is my personal work. I’ve been playing with the idea of creating an art book.

– I also do the Jim Bob Drawing Show with Jim Bryson: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcXlxUZF3FqiN81WKMsAvLg. That’s just for fun. We draw stuff together.

– I interview all these artists on a weekly basis.

– I meditate for an hour every day. I exercise.

How do I manage all this stuff?

[-[37:29] Allan: No! How the fuck do you manage all this stuff?! Do you have a process?

Bobby: I pretty much have two things: a to-do list and a calendar. The calendar will tell me what’s immediate and what’s far in the distance. Everything is scheduled in time blocks. I schedule those things the day before. The schedule is open to all the other people who work at Imaginism. They can add their appointments with me on the calendar. I’ve already organized the schedule for tomorrow — today! That way I can come in and do what’s on my schedule, with no disruptions. The last thing I do is have a theme for every year. Last year, it was to work on Schoolism online. Next year, it’s about Schoolism off line. It’s going to be traveling a lot more. I’m focus on groups of things, [rather than] many things happening at the same time. I try to have other things be managed by other people.

[-[34:56] Allan: I love so many things you’ve mentioned! Saying no has definitely become a massive part of my life. 2015 was my year of saying no to everything. It changed my life more than any other year. I have such a notorious history of saying yes to everything. I’ve tripled my revenue and had time to do things I wanted. When you theme your years, how far into the future do you get?

Bobby: I have ideas. The further it is, the more adjustable it becomes. I just keep moving forward and thinking, “Is it logical to keep moving in this direction?” There are all these people that tell you to put in the effort and never give up. What if you’re doing the wrong thing? That’s why I keep bringing it back to the logic. Is this the right direction?

[-[32:39] Allan: It’s like boiling water: It needs to reach the point of boiling temperature. Anything past that — you’re just wasting your energy. There are so many things we’re doing on which we’re wasting time. You’ve got a set amount of time per day, how do you want to allocate it? 

Bobby: A lot of times fear and logic are close in feeling. When you feel it’s not logical to do that, that’s fear in disguise. So you have to think about it: Is this logical, that’s why I’m walking away? Or, is it because of fear? If it’s logic saying it’s not the right direction, it’s time to stop.

[-[31:09] Allan: There is a big thing about fear of failure which prevents people from not trying things. People don’t want to do things that they’re amazing at because they’re afraid of succeeding. If you think: What’s the worst thing that could happen? Is that the worst thing the world? If it is, what safety guards could you put in place? The biggest thing that holds people back — is themselves. 

Bobby: Agreed!

[-[29:39] Allan: Do you have any advice for people on how to stand out, be it on social media or things they could do to get their names out there? 

Bobby: Yeah! Number one: The long term plan is to always learn. Don’t let the job get in the way. You do learn on the job, but there is no better fast-forward if you take a lesson or read a good book. That’s the ultimate fast-forward! When you get to the point of being successful and still be learning — how many people still do that? I’m already in a position to look for more job, I still go to workshops. That is the ultimate forcefield against being unemployed or irrelevant:

– You’re creating your personal art.

– You’re increasing your knowledge.

– You’re able to share it with the world.

I’m saying things because it’s been 20 years of being a professional artist, I’ve seen great artists have a 10-year career — and then become irrelevant. When you get older, you start to understand the power of it.

[-[26:58] Allan: That’s so critical! A lot of people feel they do enough to get into the industry and they think, “I’ve arrived”. By not learning, it is a sure way to become unemployed. I was reading the other day: 10% of the people yearn to learn more. 90% get to the point of getting the job and stop learning. It’s exactly what we’re talking about it! There is so much information out there and there are so many things on YouTube that could be the wrong thing. And you don’t know whom to trust! That’s why you need to latch on to courses or schools.

Bobby: Look at what kind of art do those people do that you want to learn from? And when did they do this art? 10-15 years ago or 2 months ago. I know of this teacher and I saw a nice drawing on his desk. He said, “Oh, that old thing.” He did it 10 years ago but haven’t done any new stuff [because] he was been busy teaching. I thought he was probably teaching the wrong thing. It’s easier to learn how to be a successful artist — from a successful artist. A teacher should be a rockstar of the world! They have to have something invaluable to give things to the world! They would teach to give back. They would be teaching because that were the ultimate goal — in the ideal world.

All you hear every day is revisions. You aren’t meeting the people you’ve affected. If you did hear from those people, you would be more willing to give back. I just put out this book on YouTube (it’s free for everybody) called The Perfect Baithttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kG55UXhEgZs. It sold out for a few years ago in 2011. I want people to be better and achieve their dreams. I want to see people be affected by it. Since the book, I’ve been able to meet so many more of my artistic heroes, travel the world and win an Emmy.

[-[20:49] Allan: So it’s been proven and tested!

Bobby: Yes! I encourage everybody to look it up and listen to it. That’s the only thing I’m trying to do here: Affect people in a positive way. The last thing is: How to stand out or get noticed? I gave a convoluted answer of having the long term gave. There are some actionable things you can do right now:

– ArtStation is the thing you want to be on for games, animation, live action films. When you post something, take the time to cruise through and comment on other people’s stuff — in a genuine way. Try to look at other people who are at your level and a bit higher. Those people are likely to respond. What do you think about what’s going to happen? That person’s followers are likely to look at your stuff.

– Instagram: It’s an “instant” “gram”. The more instant it feels, the more traction it will feel. If I’m drawing, I’ll take a picture when the image is not done yet. If the same sketch has a picture of my hand in it and the other picture doesn’t, the one with the hand will get more traction.

[-[17:57] Allan: Absolutely! People want to see the insight, the immediate stuff.

Bobby: These are logical things everyone can do.

– On Facebook, if I post a purple and an orange unicorn, the orange one will get more traction. Facebook is predominately blue. To know these things will help you.

[-[17:15] Allan: I could be a dick and talk about Facebook’s algorithm and how it can share different colors more than others. On the one side, you have what people respond to. But also, these days, to have your voice heard, you have to work within the bounds of those platforms.

Bobby: Sure, learn about those algorithms as well! Those are the things I’m very interested in as well. If I post of video to my fanpage, I’m going go upload the video to Facebook instead of YouTube. Because the algorithm won’t be as kind to the YouTube post. I wouldn’t direct people away from Facebook.

[-[16:12] Allan: Those things are so critical! It’s the same with Facebook Live, Facebook will encourage you and share your notifications. The more you get into it, the more you realize the rules. I’m seeing the difference between people who get two likes vs hundreds. You want to get noticed.

Bobby: The other thing I want to mention when starting off and you want to get noticed: What do you do at a live event? How can you network?

ONE: Get there early. If you invite me to a party, I usually get there 5 minutes early. It’s a habit I’ve had since I started. Say, if Iain McCaig shows up early, who else is going to be there? His friends haven’t arrived yet. You will get to meet Iain McCaig in a genuine conversation; and for him, [it’s a chance] to remember you, it’s as if no one else is in the room.

At the San Diego Comic Con, I went to this Disney party. I got there early. There were only three people there and one of them was the Head of Story on Frozen 2. I didn’t know him — now I do. That was the best chance to talk to him.

[-[12:58] Allan: You’re absolutely right! You get that face time by removing the noise. Do you have other networking tips?

Bobby: I have a bunch! The other one is: Where do you go to talk with people?

– Generally, I’ll choose where it’s happening the most in the room. I will go right in the center of that, with a big smile on my face. Be happy! You could be in a worse place right now.

– If you’re a total newbie and look for the most bored person in the room — and go talk to them. If you’re nervous talking to people, that’s a good practice. That person will be very thankful to have someone to talk to.

– Look for the non-artist spouse of the artist. Don’t talk with the professional. Let the spouse introduce you instead. At these events, if Kei (Kei Acedera, my lovely wife) comes over and tells me, “You have to meet Brian” — I’ll say, “Okay.”

[-[10:55] Allan: I love it! That’s great advice! You have someone on the inside. This has been really awesome! For anyone who wants to find out more about you, where can they go?

Bobby: They can go to www.Schoolism.com. The main thing I use right now is Instagram: @DigitalBobert. I don’t know why I chose that [handle].

[-[10:02] Allan: I’ll definitely leave your links in the show notes. This has been really awesome, thank you!

Bobby: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you, Allan!


I want to thank Bobby for taking the time to chat. Please share this Episode and leave a review on iTunes, if you’d like.

I’ve got a lot of great Episodes coming up:

– I have an Episode coming up with Terryl Whitlatch, the artist who created the first sketch of Jar Jar Binks, as well as other characters.

– Next Episode will be with Kevin Baillie from Atomic Fiction talking about how he got started and how to run a successful visual effects studio. Kevin went to work for George Lucas straight out of high school. I’ve always been really excited to work with Kevin! He is such an innovator!

[-07:02] I’m going through a rebranding of the Podcast. I want to go back to the roots of the Podcast and do a lot more solo Episodes, which always get most of your input. I will also be tying the content to my YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjgqdaigk7VSDqqqkHkcNTg

I also want to gear it more toward all of us who are taking to take our careers to the next level! It’s time to cut the bullshit and put in the effort — and raise the bar. That’s what this Podcast has always been focused on! The industry keeps changing for the better. And I want my message to be clear: This is for those who want to step up, in an innovated way, in a very over-saturated industry.

There are a lot of things aligning right now. I will leave it there! Check out my website at allanmckay.com.

I will be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!



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