This Artist Makes Her Dreams Her Masterpiece

“The longer I stare at my dreams, the more I find myself staring back at my reality.”
– Cassie Shao

Visual artist, Cassie Shao tells us that her dreams provide inspiration for her work.Shao has been a practicing animator for roughly 3 years, and is continuously working on new projects.

Shao’s most recent work is an animated music video, for I’m Not Ready, written by Maggie Dave. She animated and directed this video, with colour inspo from artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Ken Price.

We chatted with Shao to uncover more about her dreamy reality. Enjoy!

THE PLUS: Hi Cassie, we’d like to start by getting to know you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Cassie Shao:
I am originally from China, currently based in Los Angeles by way of schooling in New Zealand and attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) for my undergrad. I just graduated MFA in Animation from the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts at the USC School of Cinematic Arts this May and have been mostly freelancing and planning for artist residencies since. My focus is mixed-media animation that combines both digital and analogue techniques. I mostly animate my dreams. I’ve made several short films and music videos, as well as projection mapping and interned at television animation studios. My favourite things are bathtubs and unsolved endings.

TP: How long have you been working as an animator and visual artist?
I started learning about animation during my undergraduate studies at SAIC, and began freelancing and interning shortly after graduation, continuing into my studies at USC. In all, about 3 to 4 years.


TP: As mentioned on your website, you tend to create based upon your own dreams and contradictions. Can you tell us more about this?
My primary inspirations come from my dreams. I dream almost every night, almost always about strange scenarios. If I like them enough when I wake up, I immediately write them down in my dream journal. As I work, I’ll refer to this journal constantly for visual ideas. After paying this much attention to what I dream about, during my time as an animator, I’ve begun to see a pattern with how my emotional responses are in this “other world.” I’ve discovered I’m equal parts sincere, yet detached from the situation by ten feet. Nothing is ever solved, space distorted, and moments contradict each other.

The longer I stare at my dreams, the more I find myself staring back at my reality. As I create these animated experiences to take audiences through these dreamscapes, I’m inviting them to consider reflections of me. Perhaps through these reflections, reflected others. I have been both naturally and deliberately developing this visual storytelling style over time, where the reality of life is conveyed through dream imagery. I try to displace time and space, visuals and sound, as well as distancing characters from the qualities of the character itself; I willfully steer the viewers a bit away from designated emotions to create a feeling of contradiction.


TP: You animated and directed the video for Maggie Dave’s, I’m Not Ready.Can you tell us about this process? Where did your inspiration come from, for this particular animation?
It is mainly based on a dream I had, where I was patiently waiting for a train that kept on getting delayed with no signs of ever arriving. The train station was underground in a cave-shaped station, and I kept on waiting knowing there’s an answer to all of this, but not quite sure what. The train attendant later approached me and informed me that, “Only after you run across, will the train come.” So, I took the advice, ran across the rails to the other side, and the train immediately followed in.

I thought it was quite an interesting and somewhat suitable concept for a song about not being ready or not wanting to be pushed to face the world. A sort of “only after I decided to, then the whole world catches up” scenario. Other than that, I took various elements from other dreams, like the 8-bit pond and a bird token getting stuck in a flower-shaped hole.

I storyboarded to the song and started the animation process thinking of making it mixed-media as always but wanting to experiment and take the use of analogue mediums up a notch. I also wanted to play with the feeling of stillness both in timing and against animated characters. So, I painted a lot.


TP: What does this animation explore or mean to you?
It definitely helps me gauge my painting skill. I haven’t painted much besides maybe abstractly for ages, so that was a helpful discovery. The animation is also a further exploration into the development of my personal style, both visually and conceptually. The experiments with animating on painted backgrounds provided a clearer pathway towards what techniques I will be able to include for my next project.

Although this animation was commissioned, Sean (lead singer & co-producer of Maggie Dave) gave me complete creative freedom and was extremely supportive throughout the production. To me, this is as much of a personal project as a short film I made. This is in general a very devoted music video, I tried something new and I liked what it became. That, I feel, is the best result one can possibly get.


TP: The colour pallette for this video is bright, washed with an antique tone. How did you decide upon these design choices?
I have worked with bright, saturated colour palettes a lot for my previous films. This project started out in a similar way, but I decided to try for a different look and forced myself to choose colours that I didn’t like to use before, namely most shades of green. I looked at painters such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Ken Price for colour inspirations and was intending a paper-under-natural-sunlight look. I wanted to tone it down and keep the colour palette matching the feeling of a painting, so that the whole world holds together.

At the same time, I wanted to make sure the character stood out a bit, thus, the bright minty highlights on his coat. In the process, I fell in love with orange and it sort of became the leading colour of the video, with all other colours revolving around it.

TP: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, pertaining to this video, or any other work?
Along with I’m Not Ready, the video, Maggie Dave has released more music and art on their website that’s worth checking out. It’s great! My MFA thesis film, There Were Four of Us, is currently touring the festival circuit, most recently it was at Dok Leipzig in Germany.