Young Chinese storyboarder wins big on social media with fantastic comics
Dream come true
Published: Feb 19, 2023 08:09 PM
Lei Yumeng

Chinese storyboarder Lei Yumeng, who is known by her online handle Mi Lei Photo: Courtesy of Lei Yumeng

Driven by strong curiosity about the world, Chinese storyboarder Lei Yumeng, better known by her online handle Mi Lei, travels between reality and fantasy cartoon worlds. She can be a fashionable and modern lady, the protagonist of a Miyazaki Hayao manga or a girl from a Chinese fable who dresses in traditional clothing and plays with dragons… In the world of cartoons, Lei has 10,000 ways to live.
Many viewers have been amazed by the freshness of her works, calling them "very cool." Almost every work she has posted on social media has been a hit. So far, the Chinese artist has earned 6.14 million and 1.54 million followers on short video platform Douyin and video sharing platform Bilibili.

"I've never thought I would be an online influencer one day, but it just happened. I guess this good luck came from my diligence," Lei told the Global Times.

A drawing created by Lei Yumeng Photo: Courtesy of Lei Yumeng

A drawing created by Lei Yumeng Photo: Courtesy of Lei Yumeng

A turbulent road

Born in 1994, Lei's talent for painting was first seen when she was a child. However, since she was studying dance, she didn't realize painting was her true passion until high school. 

Since she started later than others, she had to study hard to hone her art talents and catch up with her peers.

Lei had met many outstanding students during her studies. She often stood behind one girl to watch her paint, thinking to herself that she would never be able to draw so well. Perhaps it was this sense of "inferiority" that motivated her to try even harder. One day, when she was concentrating on sketching, she noticed that the girl was standing behind her. 

"You draw very well," she said. 

The compliment was a huge confidence booster, making her realize that there is no upper limit to hard work and that diligence would eventually bring sweet rewards.

Lei's second "starting from scratch" experience happened while she was perusing her painting dream during her master's studies at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where she found a new direction - storyboarding. She was immediately attracted by this category as pictures can tell stories just like words, while also presenting rich details and vivid emotions. Thus, Lei changed her major from visual development to storyboarding. 

The learning process of changing majors is much more difficult than imagined. 

She needs to learn many professional courses such as live-action film, animation and advertising.

Once again, since she was starting later than everyone else, she could only catch up by putting higher demands on herself. Lei said she often set extra work as homework for herself. For example, if the teacher asked students to create a single anime character, she would create at least 100 and finally choose the best one for submission.

"Teachers give strict ratings, only when they feel that your work is comparable to theirs will they give you an A, so my goal was to draw better than them," she said.

However, after graduation, Lei's passion and hard work did not seem to help her land an ideal job as a storyboarder in the competitive animation field in the US. 

A drawing created by Lei Yumeng Photo: Courtesy of Lei Yumeng

A drawing created by Lei Yumeng Photo: Courtesy of Lei Yumeng

Diligence pays off 

A turning point came in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lei explored some new creations at home, such as dressing up as a model, filming herself for reference and then creating a short animation set to music. With the encouragement of her friends, she took a shot at posting her works on social media, where they ended up becoming a huge success. Her fresh drawing style quickly earned her a flood of thumbs-up online. 

Sometimes, Lei will draw inspiration from her followers, who often share some interesting and touching stories with her. According to Lei, one of the followers who made a deep impression on her is a young woman diagnosed with leukemia. She shared her touching story with Lei including how her family and boyfriend took care of her, and how she found the courage to fight the disease after watching Lei's works. 

Lei's work has been gaining more and more attention, including from one of her senior alumni, Zhang Wenli, whose work was once nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 2019. 

A drawing created by Lei Yumeng Photo: Courtesy of Lei Yumeng

A drawing created by Lei Yumeng Photo: Courtesy of Lei Yumeng

With the increasing number of Chinese students studying arts overseas, more Chinese names have appeared at major international animation award shows. Many young Chinese artists are using their hearts and youth to engage in art creation.

Lei said she has met a lot of excellent fellow students from her school while studying overseas, and she believes that Chinese animation can go further than ever before powered by young blood.

Becoming an internet influencer has been a beautiful surprise for Lei. She said she feels very grateful for the support she has gotten and wants to continue creating more diverse works full of passion in the future. 

She said she really likes something Miyazaki Hayao once said: "Doing anime is the ultimate hassle… But if you said, 'Why don't you quit?' I'd just say, 'Shut up.'" 

Chasing one's dreams is never easy, but Lei believes that "if you have the passion and spare no effort to purse them, you will make them come true."