Professional Character & Prop Designer, Titmouse
“I'm a rare breed, since I was born this is always what I wanted to do. I just knew.''
- Maya Lior
Maya Lior is an established professional character and prop designer currently residing in Upstate NY. Lior works for an award winning independent animation company known as Titmouse. They have been creating animations for over twenty years out of three locations, New York, Los Angeles, and Vancouver.
What is it that Maya Lior does? A character designer is someone who creates the cast for an animation. Oftentimes, this comes completely from scratch or from a pre-existing character in a book or an object (like a toy). It is then reimagined and manipulated to become a character for on-screen productions. Designers develop the character as a whole while breaking down each individual section of their body, not just physically, but also who they are and what mannerisms they possess. Prop design is very similar, as you create the tools that the character is equipped with.
Although Lior knew her whole life she wanted to be an artist, it didn’t come easy. Growing up in Israel there weren’t many outlets for her to be artistic. She lived there during a time of political unrest while there was war, conflict and corruption. She was always drawing. She says she was a bad student because she always drew in class during lectures, at restaurants on napkins...she would even pause the television at home and draw characters. For her, art was and still is, a form of self expression and therapy. It’s how she understood life and it helped her to view the world.
“I guess I just grew up with a very different childhood than a “normal” kid in America. My normal, which is super sad, was going to school with a gas mask, staying in shelter bombs when we were under attack, experiencing terrorist attacks almost daily but with all that crazy I had a happy and beautiful childhood.”
When Lior was 14, her mother (an American) decided to uproot the whole family to the United States to be closer to relatives. Lior was exposed to art classes for the first time. Originally, they moved to Arizona for about a year, and then they had to return back to Israel. Eventually they came back to the United States, and this time it was for good. They moved to a cultural area outside of Boston, MA in the town of Brookline where an animation class was offered in her High School. Lior was ecstatic and she excelled.
Lior is incredibly thankful for her mother as she understood her children's needs. She provided them with the best opportunities she could, and she knew what Lior needed; which was an outlet to be creative.
The High School art program opened doors for her and she was accepted to MassArt, Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, where she completed a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts. Here, she learned everything from animation to illustration, and she was able to broaden her artistic exploration. After graduating, Lior quickly learned that animation wasn’t necessarily the route she wanted to take her career in.
She realized she preferred to develop and create characters, instead of being an animator.
Since then, Lior has worked with many acclaimed companies. To name a few, she held jobs at Ghostbot, Inc. where she was a character and prop designer for Disney Junior's Show, Whisker Haven Tales with the Palace Pets. She also worked for Bento Box on Comedy Central’s show, Legends of Chamberlain Heights, as well as projects for companies such as Shadow Machine and Nickelodeon. Most recently, Lior worked with the company Huawei Designs on developing a robot. Her repertoire is both impressive and extensive, which does not come with ease. She has worked very hard to get to where she is. Lior said there are many tribulations trying to break into the industry, but it is important to never stop, never give up.
“Networking is key in this industry.”
Lior says to put your personal work online and that social media is an excellent way to get noticed. Never stop producing and always show your art. It is incredibly hard and you need to do a lot of networking. Learn who your colleagues and mentors are. Meet them and develop relationships. It has been incredibly helpful for her through the years to attend conventions and seminars. She mentioned attending conventions like “Lightbox Expo” in Los Angeles.
When the pandemic first happened, Lior questioned if it was a good time to be taking on a new project. She decided it was important for both personal growth and for her family, which led her to accept her current job. Being a mother to a two year old, Lior is figuring out ways to juggle her career and her home life successfully. Making sure her child is happy is just as important to her as her job. Through Daycare and co-parenting with her husband, she has managed to find a good work/life balance.
During the COVID - 19 pandemic, children haven’t been able to socialize nearly as much as they should, which is an important part of their development. Lior was noticing a shift in her daughter's behaviors. After taking on the new job, she put her daughter in a daycare program and has already began to see an impact. She is flourishing and adapting to the positive change. Lior has faced many challenges and tribulations which has given her strength and an empowering outlook towards life. It has made her adaptable.
“I can't say that this experience (Israel) made me stronger but it definitely made me more aware of things and I am able to adjust to change that's not exactly pleasant, like COVID. But I think that the world today is already so different. After 9/11 everything changed! Plus the marathon bombing in Boston (I lived in Brookline when it happened and usually I go downtown to the finish line but that year I had to work. So when it happened I was working at an animation studio in Watertown). I feel like it was scarier for me to see it happening in other places other than Israel. Let's hope things get better.”
Although Lior couldn’t give much information about what she is currently working on, what we do know is that it is for Titbox and it is an animation geared towards children where she is the main character designer. (She can’t wait until her 2 year old daughter sees it!) There was a bit of a gap between her last project and this one, so she is incredibly happy to be back working. She says,
“If you stop drawing, it's like ‘Oh I'm rusty.’ It's like a muscle, you have to keep working out.”
People need to continually try to master their craft and develop the necessary skills, no matter what industry it is that you are in. It is important to always keep learning and grow within your field. The animation industry has a wonderful community. Companies support their artists and provide a positive network and tools for everyone.
“A lot of us love to inspire each other.”
While the community is super helpful all the work comes from doing it on your own. Not only do you need talent, you need to be incredibly professional and diligent. She recalls the days where she applied everywhere and continued to push her work until she started getting noticed. With the nature of the industry having so many facets to make a project complete, the work is a huge undertaking and collaboration between everyone. All artists work together. The animators, storyboard artists, character designers, the director...everyone has a hand. Since the pandemic she feels like the industry and its community is stronger.
“COVID made it possible for a lot of people to freelance from home. People need entertainment.”
Walt Disney animation studios is about to release the first film (Raya and the Lost Dragon) ever that was completely finished with all staff working remotely. Lior says COVID-19 is allowing for new/effective methods of working to flourish, and that we will see a shift in the industry for the better. It allows professionals to be able to work from anywhere, which in turn generates accessibility. It widens the range of the industry's abilities. Lior says there are a lot of new projects underway. Animation is booming and the pandemic is only making the industry stronger.
“People are addicts to certain things. I feel good when I draw. I want to create all the time. I need to keep doing it to feel good. It makes me happy.”
There was one point in Lior’s career when she almost gave up on her career dreams. She was living in Boston and at the time and had a good job, she was comfortable. Then there was this moment; she was looking at Brittany Lee’s work online, a visual development artist at Walt Disney. (Lee was a character designer for productions such as Frozen and Tangled.) Lior gained so much inspiration that it became undeniably clear to her that she needed to take a risk and follow her passion. She packed up her life with her husband and moved to Los Angeles, where she continued her career in Character Design and has never looked back.
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." - Walt Disney
Through the years she has gained a lot of inspiration from her mentors and the industry's leaders. She idolizes artists like Mary Blair, a revolutionary, who had a huge impact on the movement of women equality in the film industry. Blair worked on productions such as, It’s a small world, Lady and theTramp and Alice in Wonderland. She was a true mastermind and really influenced the way the world looked at animation both then and now.
Another mentor for Lior is Frederick Gardner who is a production designer and, as she put it, a ‘legend in animation.’ In the beginning of Lior’s career her short film, The Boarder got into Comic-Con where Gardner also had a film screening from his short film, The Mouse that Soared. After they met at Comic-Con he invited her to see him work as a background designer on the movie, Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes at Warner Brothers Studios. He has worked on projects with other companies such as Laika and Netflix. Lior has learned so much from him and holds him with the highest regard. He became her art mentor in animation.
“Always follow your dreams. Never give up on your dream. That's something I almost did and glad I didn't. Don't let anything stop you.”
Lior will never stop pursuing the path of her childhood dream. She stresses how important it is to listen to yourself and do what makes you happy. One day Lior hopes to work directly for Disney, Dreamworks or Netflix. Although she has worked for companies contracted through them, she hopes to land a job working as an employee.
“Everything I work on, I'm happy. I learn and grow from it. So that’s important.”
This attitude has such a large impact on her career and her general outlook on life. She is thankful for all the work she has had and is incredibly grateful for where her career is currently. After speaking with Lior there is no doubt in our minds that she will be working for Disney in no time! This woman has so much Moxxi, so much passion for her career and a whole lot of talent. We at Moxxi are excited to follow her professional journey!
Q + A with Maya Lior
Q: What is one thing you recommend people do when life is a bit of a struggle?
A: “Take a little break to recharge yourself and don't give up. I always like to remind myself that when things are bad the only way to go is up! So focus on the positive and good things will happen.”
She said one of her favorite Walt Disney quotes is, "If you can dream it, you can do it."
Q: How do you take your coffee?
A: Every day she goes to her favorite local cafe (Saratoga Coffee Traders) and gets an Almond Milk Latte. She says,
“I am a horrible person. I have the Keurig and the espresso machine, and I still go out for coffee (Hahahah)."
Growing up in Israel, her and her mom would always go out to get coffee, it’s what people do there. She has continued this daily routine. She says it’s good to get out of your house, it makes you happy. It sets the day for her and gives her motivation.
Q: What does the word Moxxi mean to you?
A: "Bubbly, fun and bold."
Q: What inspires you?