If you’ve ever met an architecture student from Syracuse University, you’ve probably heard about the long gruesome studio hours they endure over the course of the semester. Students are often gulping down Red Bulls and coffee and pulling all-nighters just to finish their work.
Born in Nonthaburi, Thailand, Thitaree Suwiwatchai, or Jenny Su, as her friends call her, is nearing the end of her first semester in the architecture program.
Despite taking on a heavy academic work load, Suwiwatchai still finds a way to express her creative side through her passion: animation. She creates characters that inhabit dystopian worlds and develops intricate plotlines and narratives for them.
She’s found inspiration in many others’ works, picking up stylistic choices and techniques here and there.
“While we do have different phases, as an artist, I started out [with] drawing anime because all the animation culture in Thailand is inclined towards the Eastern style, Japanese style [such as] manga, or the Chinese style,” she said. Most of the Thai drawing community derived their styles from Japanese manga and anime. Suwiwatchai has grown to develop her own unique style.
When asked about animators that inspire her, she stuck with the classic American animator, Walt Disney. As she dove into her passion for animation, Suwiwatchai became more interested in conceptual art. Her favorite artist of all time is Helen Chen, the concept artist for many modern contemporary Walt Disney movies, including Wreck-It Ralph (2012).
“I feel like she tells more narrative and more story than just a single character design of an anime,” said Suwiwatchai.
Scrolling through Suwiwatchai’s art Instagram: @jimster_glider will give you a taste of the distinctive beauty and creativity that she incorporates into her illustrations and animations. She uses a cohesive palette of colors to establish different and complex characters, plots, and narratives.
Currently, she is thinking of starting a webcomic called That King and I, about an advisor in a fantasy world who falls in love with a king. It is a love story set during a raging war where the protagonist, Vidaar, tries to negotiate peace with the powerful King Anderon. It’s a narrative focused on negotiation and compromise, themes often found in her animation narratives.
Upon reflection, Suwiwatchai feels that her style of work isn’t directly affected by her culture, but her narratives are.
“The main focus of my stories always revolves around the idea of one trying to fight for their own freedom, which is really hard to get in a culture that is family-oriented,” said Suwiwatchai, “But in the end, they always come to a compromise with their family.” She feels that it reflects her own life. Her parents supported her drawing animation as a hobby, but not as a profession or career path because the design industry in Thailand does not guarantee financial stability, even if one graduates with a degree.
“My parents support me— to an extent,” Suwiwatchai said.
While Suwiwatchai has an ardent passion for animation, she hasn’t found the same joy in architecture. She said that Thai culture stresses following what your parents expect of you, and Suwiwatchai’s parents expected her to go into a more traditional and financially stable career. There is very little emphasis on individual freedom or creative ability.
Still, the most impactful learning experience for Jenny is at the architecture school. She realized that time management was crucial to balance a tough work-schedule and heavy homework load. Although Jenny has come very close to pulling an all-nighter, she still manages to get a few hours of sleep in.
“I’ve never felt so tired before in my life,” Jenny articulated. Though she’s functioning on an unorthodox sleep schedule, similar to many architecture and college students, Jenny has managed to navigate her way through Syracuse University’s opportunities and challenges. She has developed communities and friends within the architecture major and the people on her floor that identify her with her cheerful spirit and awe-inspiring animations.
On her very first trip to the United States, she visited the NASA space station in Houston, Texas, during a school summer camp when she was around 14. She was still considering a career in engineering or aerospace and was fascinated by space and the concept of extraterrestrial life. However, she recognized that she was more interested in the theories and myths about space rather than the science and logic behind it.
For Suwiwatchai, that first trip to the U.S. painted a picture of opportunity, acceptance, and individual freedom, and that was a distinct contrast from the culture back home. She compared her impression of America to one of the modern Disney animation movies Zootopia.
“It’s a big country and anybody can be almost anything, like if you consider Zootopia. Zootopia for me is like America,” she said, “When you come to America everybody accepts you for, mostly, whatever you do; you can be anyone you want.”
While that part of the American lifestyle presented as a big culture shock to Suwiwatchai, she found that the most overwhelming cultural obstacle was navigating the way Americans speak and act around different people in such a diverse nation.
“Things are different, the way you speak, the way you act around different people, because it’s so diverse,” she said. She recounted that back in Thailand, she’s clear about the norms of what is accepted and what to say to other people because the country is majority Thai.
“But then coming here, we have different races, different people with different mindsets…different classes, and then you’re all in this university together,” said Suwiwatchai.
She feels that this exposure and these new experiences have definitely shaped and changed her as a person. This is not necessarily good or bad. She explained that she’s able to find this “freedom for the first time,” which is a feeling that many freshmen can relate to. She also feels that she’s found independence and has been able to stray away from the obligations and others’ expectations of her.
Suwiwatchi explained that back home, she would always “follow what other people said”, always doing what people expected of her. “Coming here, you feel [that] you should fight more for yourself if you want to maintain that comfortable lifestyle.” She said that “the thing that changed about me the most is that I grew up more and I learned [that] the world doesn’t revolve around me — There are people that are affected by what I do or what I say.”
A picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s one of the many reasons photography freshman Marijke Pieters-Kwiers fell in love with the medium of photography. Each week in Eye on ’Cuse, she will use visual narratives creatively to voice the stories and identities of students on campus.