It All Begins with a Pencil

By Marcia Faye
Maimuna Binta Antoinette Venzant

Whether a graphite nub or a sleek mechanical model, the style of sketching instrument matters little to Maimuna Binta Antoinette Venzant (TCOM ’16), whose anime-inspired illustrations are often as poetic as her name. A pencil and the passion to power it—with direction provided by both a childhood friend and an Illinois Tech advisor—helped to earn the amateur artist a slot in the Master of Fine Arts in Animation program at Savannah College of Art and Design.           

Venzant began on her artistic path in the fifth grade when a friend whose sketches she enjoyed offered to teach her the basics. Venzant was a quick learner and added to her skillset through senior year of high school, when she decided to put aside her “hobby” and instead focus on her pre-med biology major at Illinois Tech. Her courses seemed daunting and not quite the right fit, and Venzant wondered if she could convince her parents, who had a huge appreciation and drive for science and technology, to allow her to pursue a career in art. Venzant tried out computer science for one year and still felt frustrated until she spoke with her advisor, who thought that technical communication would satisfy Venzant’s pull toward both science and the humanities.

“Technical communication required that I take a lot of web design courses, which were electives in the computer science major. I learned that I really enjoyed designing websites,” she says, noting that she also felt that she was moving toward the right career path of choice.

Venzant built up her online portfolio while completing her Illinois Tech degree, occasionally taking on small commissions such as the art she produced for the IIT Magazine spring 2017 feature “Two Can Play That Game.” Her aesthetic for the story relied upon equal parts head and heart.

“I looked at what idea would need to be conveyed in a specific situation and the emotions that should be expressed,” she says, noting that it helps her to determine how much darkness or shadow she should use. “Narrow angles depict a more threatening message; a more rounded and brighter depiction signifies a calm state. I rough sketched the first thing that came to my mind. When Carly [Kocurek] described falling down in yoga class, I thought about how that would make me feel because it’s a similar feeling for everybody. I have a lot of art books and movies that I like, so I think of a favorite scene, how it was directed, and why the director did it that specific way.”

Other than a pencil, Venzant does all of her work in Adobe Photoshop, including colorization. Nonetheless, she longs to see the film and television industry return to 2-D animation, the traditional process of one hand-drawn image following the other at 24 images per second. Much of the industry has adopted 3-D animation, with computer object-models replacing frames. Even though the 2-D process is more laborious, it immerses her in what she loves doing and allows her to better know the character she is creating.

“I’d much prefer to work on shorts or films rather than computer games,” says Venzant, whose dream is to one day own a small animation company where she could give her staff the freedom to experiment outside established industry standards. “There’s something about seeing a film on a huge screen that makes me feel completely enveloped by it.”