Benson Shum enjoys creating and telling stories through animation and illustration. He has worked in the animation industry for seventeen years with various studios including, Sony Pictures Imageworks, DHX Media, Rainmaker, Atomic Cartoons, Bardel Entertainment and Sesame Workshop. Benson is also an Animator at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios, where he was a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana. His inspiration comes from his love of children’s book illustrations, and observation of the little things in life. I met Benson at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
For what age audience do you write?
I like to write picture books for young readers. No specific genres. If I find something inspiring, I’ll try to write something about that!
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is HOLLY’S DAY AT THE POOL with Disney-Hyperion. It’s about a little Hippo called Holly, and how she overcomes her fear of the water.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope the readers take away that we all can be brave even when we are scared. We can find the courage within.
Henry: Ah, my LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH has the same theme.
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
What I find most challenging when writing or illustrating is when I can’t quite find the story-telling pose for the character, or find the right words to describe a situation. But when you do find it, it’s really satisfying.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
That’s a hard one. The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from this book is actually after the book was done and seeing how the kids reacted. Whether through your illustrations or words, to see how a child reacts or attaches themselves to the characters you create is pretty amazing.
Henry: Yup, that’s the money shot.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
I would say try to create a story with one drawing. If you can, then you are half way there. A drawing can say a thousand words.
Henry: I’m only an author. Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I heard this quote from my teacher a long time again. He said KISS – Keep it simple stupid. I try to apply to my work whether when I’m animating at Disney or writing and illustrating. I think it’s a great idea! Haha. Simplicity is key.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
If I could have one superpower, it would be to fly! so I can travel the world! Haha
Henry: Free airfare, and very green!
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would love to sit down with JK Rowling, Quentin Blake and Mary Blair. I probably wouldn’t say anything, as I’ll be super nervous, haha, but would love to hear their story and process.
Henry: Wow, some unusual choices. Wikipedia helpfully offers:
“Sir Quentin Saxby Blake, CBE, FCSD, FRSL, RDI is an English cartoonist, illustrator and children’s writer. He may be known best for illustrating books written by Roald Dahl. For his lasting contribution as a children’s illustrator he won the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2002, the highest recognition available to creators of children’s books. From 1999 to 2001 he was the inaugural British Children’s Laureate. He is a patron of the Association of Illustrators.
Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, was an American artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for The Walt Disney Company, drawing concept art for such films as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. Blair also created character designs for enduring attractions such as Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the fiesta scene in El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Several of her illustrated children’s books from the 1950s remain in print, such as I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss. Blair was inducted into the prestigious group of Disney Legends in 1991.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Mermaids would be one my favorite creatures. The idea of a person and a fish, is pretty incredible. There is a whole other world in the ocean that we don’t know about and I find that fascinating!
Henry: Mermaids aren’t real!? Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to paint, sketch, hang out with friends and watch mindless TV!
Where can readers find your work?
At my website, http://www.bensonshum.com, or on Instagram/Twitter: @bshum79
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Benson.