Danni Fisher-Shin is a talented illustrator, cell and 2D animator with a strong passion for intersectional feminism, empathy, and empowerment through art. Having produced work for Google, Netflix and Procreate, she is currently an Art Director at Scholar, where she helps produce work driven by substance and supported by style.
Hi Danni, how’s it going? Where are you based and how long have you been drawing?
Hi hi! Thanks so much for having me. It’s going pretty well. I’m based in Los Angeles, and was born and raised here. I’d say I’ve been drawing pretty much all my life, but nothing very good until the last few years. I took some regular in-school art classes as a kid/teenager and then went to an art school for college, where I got my formal training. Since then I’ve been illustrating and animating professionally for around 6 years now. Wild to think it’s been that long.
You are a very multi-talented artist, where did you learn all your skills?
Thank you! I definitely dabbled a lot as a kid and in college, partially out of interest in a lot of different areas, and partially because I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally until I was 2 years away from graduating art school. As a kid I’d spend most of my free time either reading or making some sort of craft project, so I’ve always been interested in all the different ways to be creative. I took some sculpture, painting and drawing classes in high school, got a “foundation” year of training in traditional art in college, and then took some concept art classes before landing in motion graphics animation and illustration. It was definitely a meandering journey, but I’m so happy I’ve been able to explore a lot and have fun with different mediums. I think that’s really important to my creativity. Honestly though, a lot of my learning happens through practice and trying new things on the job. I definitely advanced much more in the last few years compared to how I was in school even while going through full-time training. Trying out different interests has been really fun and rewarding when I get the time.
With 3D animation being the norm these days, what made you lean into 2D and cel animation?
I’ve never felt as connected with the 3D process as I have with more direct, hand-drawn mediums, so I think I naturally gravitated towards 2D work instead. I originally wanted to make concept art for 3D-animated movies, but I wasn’t very good at it, and didn’t enjoy the process as much as I did the more fast-paced, smaller and more diverse projects I found in commercial animation. I think I just really enjoy the feeling of directly drawing something, with all its imperfections and inherent humanity. I especially love how direct cel animation is in that way, and how free you are to literally draw whatever you want and not be restricted by the parameters of a program in a lot of ways. It’s so fun to see how playful and weird you can get.
A lot of your work seems to have a deliberately limited palette of bold solid colors. Do you find you work better with a few restrictions in place?
I definitely do - I’ve always struggled with color, and I find that limiting my palettes helps a LOT, especially in the beginning phase. I’m always trying to make sure my values read really clearly, which is super important in the impact of a piece. I find joy in paring things down to really succinct stylized shapes, so having limited colors naturally followed that development in my style. I love seeing how beautiful simplicity can be, plus it keeps me from overworking my drawings to death, though that definitely can still happen because I’m a perfectionist and get caught up in it. I think it’s partially to keep myself sane.
Strong females feature heavily in your work, what draws you to this style of character and what do you enjoy most about drawing them?
I find that women and femme people in general tend to be interesting and aesthetically pleasing subjects. I think we have such power and inherent strength, and that’s not depicted as much as I’d like, so I like to manifest that as much as I can to make it more normal and to remind myself it’s true. I grew up mainly seeing women depicted through the male gaze, and it really heavily affects how we’re perceived and how we perceive ourselves when we grow up with that kind of influence from all sides. I think it’s really important for us to be able to see ourselves through each other’s eyes, and appreciate how amazing and interesting we are, despite and because of the world we live in. I think it partially functions as self-expression and wish fulfillment for me, which I find really fun.
You’re a fantastic tutor with a very natural and engaging style. When did you discover you were a teacher?
Thanks so much! I honestly didn’t think I’d be a good teacher at all, but I have always wanted to be able to share resources and things I’m passionate about with others, so I think it came pretty naturally from that. I used to TA (teaching assist) in school and would love helping other students with their work if I knew anything helpful. So I think it started a while ago, but only recently became a fully fledged activity for me. I’ve always felt so appreciative and connected with the good teachers I’ve had in my life — they make such a huge difference. - so being able to share that and hopefully fill a similar role for somebody else at some point is a big point of happiness for me. Hopefully I can continue trying and get better as I go.
You worked with some stellar clients in your time, are there any pieces of work that stands out as favorites and why?
Honestly I love working with the team at Savage, because you all are so supportive of the artist’s vision in all your commissions and really let me explore and play, which is all I could ask for in a client project. I’ve also had a lot of fun in my studio work, especially when I get to do a lot of cel animation and character work. It’s like choosing a favorite child, but there are a few close to my heart like the Fighter girl, the Neema Namadamu bio for Google, the Welcome to the IFS manifesto, and the Love Death and Robots episode, mostly because we had an amazing team and a ton of fun during that one! With my studio work it’s always a balance of team-building, interesting client briefs and freedom of creative expression that makes a project really fun. Even if a project isn’t as creatively satisfying, having the right team can make it just as fun to work on. I think my true favorites are always the ones that have a message I really align with, whether I conceptualized it myself or not, because I always feel more inspired and personally connected to those.
What’s on the horizon for Danni Fisher-Shin?
I have a couple of still-secret projects from last year coming out hopefully soon that I’m pretty excited about! But mostly, just some self-care and relaxation. I’ve been working on several side projects at once while at my full-time art directing job lately, and it’s been pretty taxing especially with the US still experiencing so much of the pandemic and living alone in lockdown. I love doing all of the projects I’ve been doing, and am so wordlessly grateful that I continue to get the opportunity to do them. However, my current main goal is to get myself to chill out and explore other hobbies, and get outside when I can. I think doing other creative things and seeing the sun more helps me so much with my creativity in general. After soaking that up for a while, I’d hope to get into some more illustrative personal work that pushes my style boundaries a bit and allows me to play around, and maybe even a mini animated short one day (famous final words). Always happy to do more teaching as well, I definitely see myself leaning into that if the opportunity arises.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators looking to get into animation?
This is a hard one, but mostly just practice! Sometimes trying new things doesn’t come naturally at first, but a lot of my personal progress emerged through just testing things out and seeing what stuck. It also helps to get used to a program and then gradually build your way up from the basics, like learning waveforms for motion paths, basic animation principles with something super simple like a box or circle, and just letting yourself play around and have fun with it. Definitely don’t pressure yourself too much to make anything perfect on the first try. Most of my work is trial and error and going back and fixing things up as I go.
What’s your favorite Procreate feature, and what do you enjoy about using it?
Is it too obvious to say the Animation Assist feature? I remember being SO excited when I first heard it was being added, as I already loved the app and felt it was the main missing piece for my full workflow to be available. Being able to animate from a coffee shop on a whim has been such a game-changer, but then again so has Procreate as a whole. Before that I was also very happy with the layer/clipping mask capabilities and ColorDrop feature, all of which I use constantly. I’m a big fan of working non-destructively, so the former gives me a lot of peace of mind, and the ColorDrop with threshold control saves me so much time illustrating.
If you could add one feature to Procreate what would it be?
I’ll selfishly say animation layers so I’d be able to animate similarly to my other desktop programs. I know it would be a completely different and probably technically impossible feat, so I definitely don’t expect it, but I can dream. Honestly though, I’m amazed by what’s already been done in Procreate and I still am constantly discovering cool features that make my workflow so much faster and easier. Even just having a full design program with the existing animation capabilities has completely changed my ability to do personal work. It’s so accessible and easy to use from anywhere, which has made all the difference for me.