Malaysian animator in the Big Apple

Sara Zarul Azham in front of Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New York.

The city of New York is now home to Sara Zarul Azham; the Malaysian is making good progress in the animation industry.

Since May last year, the 29-year-old has been working in Brooklyn as a layout artist and animation assistant director. She has high hopes of becoming a successful animator in the future.

Sara relies heavily on the subway to travel around New York. It takes her 30 to 40 minutes to commute to work in Brooklyn from her home in Manhattan.

She has been in the United States since 2011, which was when she studied animation for a year at the Art Institute, Washington DC.

She then transferred to School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, where she studied film and animation for three years. While at SVA, Sara worked as a teacher’s assistant to her professor.

In 2015, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and was regularly asked by the school’s animation department to be a guest speaker to talk to new students.

She then worked as an intern in a studio in Brooklyn for five months prior to being hired for her present position.

Sara in front of Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New York.

By nature, Sara simply loves to draw. At 16, she took an interest in animation, having grown up watching films such as The Road to El Dorado, Mulan, Wallace And Gromit, Muppets, The Animaniacs and Pokemon.

Her maternal grandmother was also an influence.

“Growing up, I used to go on family holidays to Disney World with her. She loved cartoons and would take me to see animated movies.

“She also bought a bunch of cartoon shows and movies for me to watch. She once said she could foresee me working for Disney one day!” reminisced Sara.

Outside work, Sara has an Internet following on Tumblr and Twitter.

“I draw mostly for fun and submit my art on social media,” she said. Over the years, people have come to recognise her by the alias, sara-wawa, for her style.

She even “took her hobby to a whole new level and started exhibiting” her art at comic conventions. “Setting up my own online shop and selling my wares at conventions have also been great fun,” she enthused.

In August last year, she displayed her first table at Otakon in Baltimore, exhibiting her merchandise of fanart from her favourite games, cartoons and shows.

She said: “I sell keychains, posters, stickers and phone charms, which I design. After the success of my first convention, I’ve tried to take part in as many conventions as I can.”

Sara has also tabled at Animazement in North Carolina in May and Otakon in Washington DC in August this year. She is now prepping for her debut at Anime NYC (Nov 17-19) in New York.

Sara had her primary education in SRK Sri Petaling in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, until Year Four (1998), before her parents transferred her to SMK Sri Bestari in Sri Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, where she completed her Year Five. She then studied at Elc International School (2000-2005), where she completed her General Certificate of Secondary Education.

Some of the merchandise designed by Sara.

In 2006, she enrolled at Lim Kok Wing University College of Technology in Cyberjaya, where she learned the foundations of graphic design, photography and animation. After three years, she graduated with a diploma in design and animation.

She then did an internship at a local production company which worked on animation and documentaries for television.

“As animation students, we’re required to produce short films for our third year and graduating year. I did two short films, Cassette and Ups And Downs,” she said.

Ups And Downs won me a grant from SVA and earned me a nomination in the character animation category in the Dusty’s Film & Animation Festival.”

Life in the Big Apple “remains eventful” for Sara.

“I juggle between my fulltime job and online shop as well as maintain my social networks,” she said.

“I hope to work with more reputable studios and hopefully, bring back my experiences to help elevate the animation industry in Malaysia.”

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