Matthew Tcheng

Read about the animator, animal lover, and storyteller and his journey at Evergreen and Cartoon Network

By
Evergreen Staff
Date
Category
Animation
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Portrait of Matthew Tcheng
Alumni Programs is denoted as AP and Matthew Tcheng is denoted as MT in this interview.  

AP: Tell us about yourself, who is Matthew Tcheng? 

MT: I am Matthew Tcheng. I am a Chinese American cis man. I am a guy who loves stories and creative pursuits and learning. I love animals, art, video games, and DnD. I live in Duarte, CA, in the Los Angeles area. I was born in LA, so this has been a homecoming for me. I work out of the Cartoon Network studio in Burbank, CA, but have the flexibility to work from home. My wife, Heather, and I are cat parents. We have two right now, named Mochaccino and Kahlua.

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Heather Hickman–Tcheng and Matthew Tcheng
Heather Hickman–Tcheng '15 and Matthew Tcheng '15 at the Close Enough opening

  

AP: What brought you to Evergreen? 

MT: I never really jelled with traditional schooling, tests, and grades. I did fine but didn’t have a great time in high school. I wanted something different. I enjoy learning and applying skills, but I needed an environment that I could connect with. My mom did a lot of research to see if she could find something that might work better for me, and Evergreen came up. I looked into it, toured the campus, and everything clicked. I loved the school, the location, and sure enough, I loved every year that I was at Evergreen. Some family members of mine work in education, and they were all super supportive of Evergreen. The hands-on learning environment, cross-disciplinary subject matter, and the integrated approach to education were all just so cool. I also met my wife there during orientation week!  

AP: Were there any classes or faculty that inspired you while at Evergreen?  

MT: Yes, so many! Honestly, I was so lucky. Even classes that were not my first choice, I ended up loving and having great relationships with the professors.  

Animal Others and Image in Text, taught by Ruth Hayes and Anne de Marcken, was the class that set my whole life’s trajectory. That was the class that introduced me to animation. I initially went to Evergreen for creative writing, which this class combined with animation and animal studies. I always liked art and animals, but never thought animation would be for me. Instead, that was the part of the class I connected with most. I fell in love with the magic of seeing things move and come to life. Those two professors set me on the path to where I am today.  

I also have to elevate these professors who had a huge impact on me and helped me get to where I am now: Peter Randlette and Aaron Kruse from the Evergreen Media Internship program, Ulrike Krotscheck and Caryn Cline from the Epic and the Everyday, Julia Zay, and Marilyn Freeman. There are so many others; every professor left a wonderful impression on me, truly!  

AP: Can you tell us more about your role working as a production coordinator at Cartoon Network?  

MT: Animation is interesting because the industry is set up where there is the art side and the production side. I work on the production side of things, where I am the equivalent of middle management in the machine that is the animation industry. Every studio does things differently with their coordinator positions, but at Cartoon Network, I work as a storyboard and design coordinator. It doesn’t sound particularly exciting, especially when I described it as “middle management” earlier, but it is! I get to work with super creative and exciting people, and there’s still room to flex my creative muscles. 

For example, as a storyboard and design coordinator, I conform storyboards to animatics (the stage of production where everything is timed out but not animated yet). I edit storyboards to ensure they match up with the animatics we are sending to our animators. I also set up animatics for our editors by importing and lining up storyboard panels with audio tracks.  

Some creativity also comes into play when “breaking down” a storyboard. In this process, you take the characters, props, and backgrounds from the storyboards and note when they appear in a process we refer to as “call outs.” There’s a lot of room to figure out when to call out an asset, when to find something to reuse, and when you might be able to tweak or cut something to smooth the design process out. From there, I work with my show’s art director to coordinate which artist will design what assets, gather the assets into an assignment list, and send those off to their respective artists. Other duties include coordinating the shipping of materials, tracking the creation of the art, making sure deadlines are being hit, and sending enormous packages digitally to the animation studios. 

It is an interesting job; it's not as glamorous as drawing things, but I have been surprised that I gel with this the most. There is a lot of clerical work rolled into this, but getting to work so closely with the artists and experiencing the creation of a show from the ground up is super exciting. It’s hard to capture that feeling into words. 

AP: What project you have produced has been your favorite to date? 

MT: It’s tough because you love everything you have worked on. Everything is special for distinct reasons. That said, three projects in particular stand out. 

The first: Close Enough, a JG Quintel show (JG Quintel is well known for his animated series, Regular Show), which is about young parents in their late 20s trying to live in LA. It perfectly coincided with where I was in my life, so that connection on top of the humor of Regular Show, makes it one of my favorites.  

The second is: Driftwood, a movie that was sadly canceled. It was a sci-fi space epic about mice living in organic spaceships. It had an art direction that I have yet to see matched. The ships were trees, with glass cockpits being replaced with resin, and there would be pinecone wheels on motorcycles. The movie felt super unique and the crew was remarkably close. People in the industry are super chill usually, but this production crew was exceptionally special.  

The third is: Craig of the Creek, the show I am currently working on. This is a show I was a fan of before I was even working at Cartoon Network. I would watch it when visiting my in-laws. It is a sweet, wholesome, show about kids growing up in Maryland who spend their days having adventures in the creek by their homes. It’s a fun slice-of-life, adventure, show, with a lot of heart and loveable characters. What’s not to like? 

AP: What challenges have you had to overcome working in the media/production industry?  

MT: There have been a few. The biggest challenge was getting my foot in the door. Once in the industry, every position has required me to learn new skill sets and work with an extremely high level of organization. It has been an adjustment learning to work at such a highly organized level, since I don’t work that way naturally at all, but it has helped me quite a bit. Another challenge in the industry right now is with studios shutting down animation departments/shows or being bought out by larger companies. That’s been difficult to witness. I am truly fortunate to be in a relatively stable position at Cartoon Network. 

AP: Who opened doors for you? 

MT: The biggest person was Katie Shaughnessy ’15. We became friends Freshman year and worked closely in Senior year when she was taking Media Works and I was sort of TA-ing as the Animation intern. After graduation, Katie moved back to California and got a job in the animation industry. Every time a job opened, she would tell me and ask for my resume. She did this for five years. I owe everything to her because she really advocated for me and tried to get me into the industry. When I finally got my foot in the door, Katie was working at Nickelodeon and got me an interview for a production assistant role. I guess I nailed the interview and would have gotten the job, but the show was gutted and sold to Netflix. Then, a few months later I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize and for some reason I chose to answer it. It ended up being a producer at Cartoon Network, who asked me if I was interested in interviewing for a position with the show Close Enough. Of course, I said “yes.” I reached out to Katie immediately, and sure enough, she had recommended me to her roommate, who worked on Close Enough as a production coordinator. She put my name out there based on Katie’s recommendation and that’s how I got the job! Katie was the main mover and shaker, but shout-outs to Ashleigh Lauren-Perez and Ryan Slater for giving me a chance!  

AP: What impact do you hope to make through your work? 

MT: I just want to make cool things and inspire people. I want to entertain and amuse people of all ages. I like telling stories and being a part of that is exciting. I hope the work I do leads to stories people enjoy.  

AP: What advice would you give current students studying at Evergreen today who will join you as alumni? 

MT: Evergreen is an amazing school because of the unparalleled access it gives you to your education, but because of that you need to stay on top of your studies and remain driven and excited by your work so you can make the most of the opportunities the school offers. That helped me as a student. Because I ended up falling in love with animation but not every class was animation orientated, I was able to bring animation into other classes. The intersections of study at Evergreen are what allowed me to do this. So don’t be afraid to try something new or find ways to bring what you love into your studies. 

Lastly, grab a hold of the reins and use the resources you have available to you so you can get to where you want to go! You can do it! 

AP: What is your superpower? 

MT: It would have to be luck. I am an incredibly lucky person. I met my partner during the first week at Evergreen, happened to go there at the same time as my friend Katie, and was lucky that Katie’s friend got a producer to reach out to me for a job I never applied for. That honestly felt equivalent to winning the lottery without buying a ticket. I’m also incredibly lucky and privileged enough to come from a good background that encouraged me to go to a great school.