With a three-inch pink binder snuggled in the crook of her left arm, she enters the school doors and heads towards her locker. In her other arm, she clutches her charcoal black iPod and sets the song “Not in Love” by Crystal Castles on repeat.
Junior Michelle Lam may seem typical in the hallways, but she leads another life online. Lam is an artist, and she shares her art with the world.
Lam has been drawing since the age of five and began animating when she was in fifth grade. “I didn’t really go on the Internet a lot at that time, so I always played on MS Paint and Windows Movie Maker. I just played with those programs long enough to realize that I can create several images to create an animation, bringing those images to life,” she said. On March 17, 2007, she joined YouTube as “mewDoubled” and a year later—at age 11—began uploading animations. She started out with about 50 subscribers—now she has nearly 10,000, and her videos have collectively received over two million views.
“It’s nice to have a lot of followers, I guess,” said Lam. “It’s nice to know that there are people out there, around the world from other countries who either appreciate what I do or can relate to what I do. It’s not the number that matters the most to me, but the fact that I have a connection with people who live miles and miles away and that I’m able to leave an impact or inspire them.” Lam herself was inspired by animators all across YouTube.
One of Lam’s biggest inspirations, however, is music. Whenever Lam likes a particular song, she sets in on repeat and tries to imagine what the song would look like as an animation. She’s created animations so far for songs including “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” by Coldplay and “You Are My Sunshine” by Oliver Hood. But when she’s not animating for a song, her animations might tell the story of a joke between friends.
“I love drawing and animating because it expresses who I am,” Lam said. “I think it’s quite obvious to many people who just know of me that I don’t talk a lot, and I’m usually very quiet. Drawing and animating allows me to demonstrate what goes on in my mind that many others don’t know about.”
Lam usually uploads videos about once a month, though she doesn’t set a rigid schedule for herself. “I like to create videos during my free time and it’s not something I like to force upon myself,” she said. “Unless it’s for a special occasion.” For example, she’s made videos to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and she’s made some tutorials for anime drawing at the request of her viewers.
But the process isn’t always smooth. “There are times when I lose inspiration for some videos,” Lam said. Sometimes she becomes frustrated when certain scenes don’t look the way she wants. Sometimes her software unexpectedly quits and deletes her unsaved work. Sometimes people leave rude comments on her videos. But she always reminds herself of these words from a professional animator: “When you animate or do anything you love, you have to realize it will take time and patience. It’s not something that will happen overnight. Obviously, there will be a point where all motivation is lost, but you have to remember that one moment—that one night or that one second—an amazing idea appeared in your mind. And you want to work your way to create that amazing idea and show people that amazing burst of ideas you had then.”
Lam dreams of working in digital art or animation for companies such as DreamWorks Animations or Pixar and also of bringing back two-dimensional animation, which she believes is being overshadowed by the increasing popularity of three-dimensional animation. She was first inspired by the two-dimensional animated movies she watched as a child, and she hopes to animate her own TV series someday.
“If art is your passion, just keep going for it, and never give up,” said Lam. “Over time you will only get better. Never compare your art to someone else’s because what you create will truly reflect who you are.”