2 Minutes With … Lisha Tan, Creative Director at The Mill L.A.

On her work for Dua Lipa and Garena Free Fire, plus her side hustle in ceramics

Lisha Tan is a creative director at The Mill in Los Angeles, where her passion for illustration and story-driven character animation consistently leads her to create captivating, award-winning work. Prior to joining Mill+, Lisha attended the College of Fine Arts in Sydney. She simultaneously worked as a designer and animator at boutique VFX studios, where she discovered her love of mixing traditional techniques with digital animation.

Lisha has directed eight of the electrifying Respawn Entertainment Apex Legends season campaigns, which has garnered over 20 million views. She has also been profiled in Billboard and Rolling Stone both for her work on Jay-Z "The Story of OJ" and recently directing the music video for Dua Lipa's smash hit "Hallucinate." Lisha also runs her side hustle ceramics brand Lil'Chotchke. It is a fun way to keep creating characters and design pieces away from the computer. 

We spent two minutes with Lisha to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired.


Lisha, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in both Singapore and Australia, but now I live in Los Angeles. I moved to Australia at the end of 1999 to attend boarding school and stayed for 13 years. I moved to L.A. at the end of 2010.

How you first realized you were creative.

I grew up in a creative household. Mum was always into arts and crafts, and my dad is a naval architect who was always dabbling in painting, etc. There were always loads of art supplies at our house, and I was always making little characters out of air-dry clay and painting them, etc. I guess I realized I was good at it because I'd always win the art prize at school.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

The author Roald Dahl. I loved all his books growing up, and I think I have read just about every single one. I admired his storytelling and how he could just transport me into this specific little world.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

A high school language teacher had said to me, "ART WILL NEVER GET YOU ANYWHERE." That is a moment that resonates with me. I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. It taught me to believe in myself, and art has taken me from my home in Singapore to having very interesting careers and adventures in Australia and Los Angeles.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

I admire Björk. She is just a consistently captivating artist, musician and performer. I admire her music videos because the visuals and concepts are just like no other. This is an artist that I've followed since the beginning back in the '90s when I was obsessed with watching MTV. She is one of those truly 360 artists, from her fashion and costumes to the visionary directors she chooses to collaborate with—Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, to name a few. 

For me, the music video Chris Cunningham directed for "All Is Full of Love" (1999) was in my teenage mind the coolest thing I'd ever seen and a huge influence in wanting to work in VFX and animation. I am also a huge fan of the music video "Wanderlust" (2008) directed by Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch with large-scale stylized puppets and stereoscopic worlds. The visuals are simply just stunning and out of this world. I've had the luck once to have front-row tickets to one of Björk's shows at the Hollywood Bowl, and it was one of the most mesmerizing experiences I've had.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

Arcane on Netflix. I really enjoyed the show because it is so special to see an animated TV show with such high-end visuals end to end. The storytelling is awesome, the characters are compelling. You can pause on any frame of that show, and it looks fabulous. Every single shot is considered and has amazing color, composition and lighting. I just loved the world they created as well as the unique illustrative style.

Your favorite fictional character.

I love E.T. I was just captivated with E.T. as a child—my mind was blown. When E.T. came out, I was at that age where I thought he was real. This probably later led to my love of stop motion, animated characters, and the process of bringing them to life.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

@angelicahicks—illustrator Angelica Hicks. I get a kick out of her social media account, where she re-creates fashion/haute couture looks with random materials from around the house. She recreated an avant-garde fashion look with garbage bags and white tape to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. She finished the outfit with a cushion cover and whipped cream—truly ridiculous and unexpected materials. She is incredibly creative and a great laugh.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

Surprisingly, Covid offered me a much better work life balance. Just being able to have lunch or dinner with my husband is such a major win. Even if I must do a little more work, I'm not making anyone wait with just five minutes more and leaving the studio three hours later and a commute that is 45 minutes in rush hour. Just made the quality of my life better.

My days are so much more efficient, too. I can work much faster without all the distractions. I have no idea how I wrote so many creative treatments in a buzzing open plan office. I also like that I can work globally. I've done quite a few projects with the London office, and it is so nice to make connections with the team there. It's also connected me to people in our other offices I chat to frequently, and it's nice to have a sense of this bigger global community.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

One of my favorite projects was with Dua Lipa for her song "Hallucinate." I directed the music video in the height of the pandemic, everyone was afraid and confused, and we were all in lockdown so we could not see anyone. Everyone was reeling, and this job was a ray of sunshine in the moment of darkness. We went from seeing hundreds of people a day to staring at the four walls of our homes. I was lucky and was able to work with a lot of my friends and longtime collaborators on this project. Many of the artists said to me that the dailies were the highlight of their day, being able to connect and chat and share ideas. We all felt so lucky being able to throw ourselves into doing what we love in a time when everyone was stressed and scared. Being able to connect with people from London, Paris and Los Angeles brought a sense of togetherness that crossed time zones and creative focuses. We really figured out how to collaborate remotely after that; we ran countless character jobs smoothly. It was cool to be able to form relationships and connections with so many artists around the world.

A recent project you're proud of. 

I love the piece I did for Garena Free Fire. The piece was a creative challenge because we had to find a way to show the character from many different ages, in different environments and vignettes while also working on super tight timeline. For the project, we also worked with the team in L.A. and London, and we were able to run the job smoothly and collaboratively in two different time zones. We ended up telling the story through these frozen moments in time in order to capture everything in the game. It was a short piece and I thought it was impactful to tell the story in several diorama type scenes.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

I used to spend ages watching MTV. I would pinpoint Chris Cunningham's "All Is Full of Love" music video for Björk as a big "this is it" moment where I knew I wanted to make music videos someday. 

Someone else's work you admired lately.

I'm a big fan of the work that comes out of Fortiche. Seeing their visual style and storytelling grow over the years has been inspirational and captivating.

Your main strength as a creative person.

My main strength is my ability to work within constraint. I am very good at tailoring creative, style, storytelling technique that is doable within the budget and time that has the maximum impact. It is a fun creative challenge for me, and I have created some of my favorite work this way. It has made me a great problem solver.

Your biggest weakness.

I always do things 1,000 percent. It might be the most demanding job or the most confusing creative, but I try to make it the best it can be. While this may sound positive, doing things full throttle can bring unneeded stress or use up energy too quickly.

One thing that always makes you happy.

I love playing my ukulele and singing to the dog when no one is at home. It's a joyful moment of alone time.

One thing that always makes you sad.

I don't know how to answer this question, really. There is so much chaos going on in the world that I find that I must focus on the smaller, positive things. If we think about sad things, it is easy to lose perspective on the joys around us.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Being a full-time ceramics artist—I have been working on my brand Instagram @lilchotchke and started showing in galleries recently. I'd be so down to live the slow potter life in a sleepy town somewhere.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a contributor to Muse by Clio.

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