Kejun Zhao is a professional illustrator, concept artist, and storyboard artist. She has won numerous competitions such as the Creative Quarterly 41, 44, and 45. She has also worked on TV shows and video game trailers including being a storyboard artist for “The Last of Us Part II” trailer that took home a Clio Grand Award for Best CGI Trailer in the Games Category in 2021.
Painting and drawing seemed to be ingrained into Kejun at a young age. She doesn’t remember when she started, but she does remember that it always came naturally to her. So, she pursued her desire to paint and draw and continued to learn new skills, and she slowly began to develop her own style.
Wanting to professionally pursue a career in art, she enrolled in a college and majored in graphic design. She started to learn more about digital painting and various graphic design programs. Kejun also learned how to best communicate with clients when given a project.
After taking on some professional projects as a graphic designer, she realized that her freedom to be creative was severely limited. Instead of being given the freedom to create, she was given very specific briefs and requests from clients.
It wasn’t until her junior year that a new “door” opened before her. She did some illustrations for her book as well as a package design. Greatly enjoying the work, she decided to take on more projects as a professional illustrator.
She started to do more and more illustrations and decided that it was time to take it to the next level. So, she enrolled in Syracuse University to pursue an MFA in Illustration. After getting her MFA in 2015, she moved to Los Angeles and worked full-time as a freelance illustrator.
Kejun then began to work as an illustrator on some commercial projects such as movies, TV series, and she even did some conceptual photo shooting—which found themselves on promotional pieces such as physical posters, billboards, bus wraps, bus shelters, etc.
Her main role in the projects that she takes on is to follow the general direction of the creative department. So, she may be given an assignment to “Have the group of our characters standing straight forward, heroic, and determined.” It is then up to her expertise to figure out the accurate poses of the group, the angles, the expressions, the outfits, the environment, the “vibe,” etc., and then draw it.
She also worked on storyboards for advertisements, music videos, animations, game trailers, films, and TV series. She explains that the key point of storyboarding “is to figure out the angles, the actions, and the number of frames needed, in order to help the director and the production crew to visualize the whole video and calculate the budget.”
She also continues to do professional book illustrations, and she decided to also write her own book full of her unique illustrations—as a way to continue to develop her style and showcase the type of work she can do.
Throughout her career, she has played key roles as a concept artist in multiple films and TV shows such as Season 5 of “Money Heist,” “Over the Moon,” “Klaus,” “The Willoughby’s,” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.”
Kejun was a storyboard artist for the Netflix teaser trailer, “Lost Session” and, as mentioned, “The Last of Us Part II” trailer which won a Clio Entertainment Award. She also has a long list of recognitions and awards for her illustrations that began all the way back in 2014.
She notes that one of the most challenging parts of her career was learning how to tell a story through her illustrations. She explains: “As an illustrator, I can use my own way and style to visualize and convey a feeling, a complicated idea, or a dramatic scene. And it has a practical use. Most of my illustrations are used for paper media, production industry, advertisement campaigns, etc.”
She goes on to say that the difference between a fine art painting and an illustration is that illustrations are always narrative in nature—whether it communicates an abstract or conceptual narrative. She explains that it’s always a joy to see the ideas accurately take form in her illustrations.
A highlight and challenge of her career have been being able to fulfill commercial needs while maintaining her unique style. For commercial projects, she keeps her more personal “clean and fine-line style,” but she also draws the characters and environment more realistically to show action and expression more clearly.
She also enjoys using dramatic light to give the whole image more depth and a dynamic atmosphere.
In the future, she plans to continue working in the entertainment industry and work on her own projects such as her illustration series: “The Moth.”
Overall, Kejun Zhao’s artistic expertise and skill have led her to be an expert and rising talent in the entertainment industry. Her unique style adds an innovative “touch” to all the projects she works on, and her work as an illustrator will continue to influence the entertainment industry for years to come.