August 2, 2021
Alumni Spotlight: Kaitlyn Yang '11
From founding her own company, Alpha Studios, to being named as one of Forbes “30 Under 30 in Hollywood & Entertainment,” Kaitlyn Yang '11 has done it all at such a young age. Kaitlyn graduated from USC’s animation program and continues to use her education in her career in visual effects. Her portfolio is impressively extensive including works such as Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Doctor and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Today, Kaitlyn utilizes her skills to be a strong, passionate advocate for underrepresented communities, pushing to create a more diverse space in the industry. Through her resilience and hardship, Kaitlyn is such an inspiring story, and she joins us to speak on her experiences and her journey as an artist.
What led you to study animation at USC?
I saw Star Wars when I was nine years old and it captured my curiosity in a profound way. I had to find out how they got their cameras to outer space! So, I set out to discover the magic behind it and this led me down the path of visual effects and animation. Fast forward ten years, I knew USC Film School was the best choice for my college education, my interest in movie magic, and the city I want to live in long term. I ended up receiving the big envelope acceptance package from SCA on my 19th birthday. It was a full circle moment and one I’ll always remember.
You have a career in visual effects, having founded your own post-production company, Alpha Studios. What is something in your career that is often overlooked or not recognized?
I didn't realize how challenging it was to go from a freelance visual effects artist at a major visual effects company and working on shows like The Walking Dead, to opening my own visual effects company. I had to start all the way from the bottom, almost overnight. By working on smaller projects, to building up our company showreel. In the end, it has been so rewarding, delivering movie magic for my favorite shows.
How have your life experiences shaped you as an artist today?
As a wheelchair user, often I have to meticulously plan out my day. Drive here to park there; get gas before this time or the gas station attendants won't be able to assist me with filling up my car. This proactive way of life translates really well into post production. I can easily map out which tasks we have to start on what day, to be able to deliver ahead of deadlines.
How do you keep yourself creatively inspired and motivated?
Whenever I'm in a rut, I love to unwind with an audiobook. Or, I watch a show and let others’ art help me connect the dots free-floating in my mind, and hopefully lead me to new ideas.
You’ve been a vocal advocate for diversity in the entertainment industry, not just for on-screen talent or leadership roles, but for below-the-line roles as well. Part of those efforts include co-founding 1IN4 Coalition, which focuses on increasing representation and employment opportunities for disabled people in Hollywood. Can you tell us more about 1IN4’s current work and how we can aid in efforts to ensure that accessibility is not forgotten when thinking about or acting towards creating more inclusive work environments?
After a year of racial reckoning, many conversations about diversity are still leaving out disability. According to the 2020 census, one in four adult Americans identify as disabled. 1 IN 4, that’s 25%! That’s a quarter of our country. That means we are the largest minority group in the US. Hollywood exports shows; and in that, we are exporting culture acceptance and awareness. Hollywood can quickly change the outdated stigma about disability with a change in attitude towards those with disabilities. Like race, skin color, and gender, disability is part of the lived experience. Without disability-centric stories, every fourth potential audience member and customer is being underserved. Because it's human tendency to hire people who are similar to them, the quickest way for change is to hire disabled people as gatekeepers in Hollywood, so they’ll hire more disabled filmmakers. This will naturally add more authentic stories with disability representation in the mix.
How can others support underrepresented communities, especially if they do not identify with them?
Education. Keep updating your knowledge on the ever changing world around us.
Watch films that tell an experience that's different from your own. Crip Camp on Netflix is great. Read books, like Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. We have these recommendations, as well as shorter content like Ted Talks by disabled artists on our website, 1IN4coalition.org, to help others upgrade their attitudes towards those from underrepresented communities.
What does community mean to you in this industry? Why is it important?
The visual effects community is great. We understand each other's struggles of fixing things in post, and celebrate each other's technological and visual advancements. It's important to have this second family, because we often spend more time at work than at home; so, supporting each other is very important. I also learn the most from my peers. When we are all working on various shows or films, we even lean on each other to create unique solutions. In the end, it’s all about doing what we love to do, and taking care of each other in the process.
What advancements in visual effects do you hope to see in the future?
What drew me into visual effects at a young age was that it was at the intersection of art and technology, two passion areas of mine. In the future, I have no doubt that we'll see more use of LED virtual production stages, and more crossovers into virtual reality. But, the area that I'm most excited to see advance involves the people behind all of these ideas. I'm one--if not the only--woman of color, wheelchair user, visual effects supervisor currently working. It's 2021, how many years must go on before the people who craft the images we see on screen, also mirror the diverse world that we are all in?
What words of advice do you have for current students or alumni who are interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial career in the entertainment industry? Are there things that you know now that you wished you knew then?
Take an improv and business class if you have the opportunity to. It's useful for every kind of career. Watch and listen to leaders, especially those who are leading in a crisis. Those who can keep their calm under stress are most likely to not pass down the stress to their teams. Something I would tell my younger self is to not rush through any experience. Growth happens during the process, not necessarily after you have arrived at your destination.
What’s next for you and the Alpha Studios team?
Keep a lookout for the animated preschool series Ada Twist, Scientist, for Higher Ground Productions and Netflix. It's an educational show, perfect for little ones if they want more educational screen time. For those into dark comedy, be sure to watch The Shrink Next Door on Apple TV in November! We had many USC Trojans on this show.