How This Malaysian Went From Living In A One-Bedroom Apartment In JB To Working At Pixar

We spoke to Kiki Poh, a shading and grooming artist, who's the first Malaysian to work at the Pixar Animation Studios.

Cover image via Kiki Poh via The Walt Disney Company (M) Sdn Bhd

"A dream doesn't become reality through magic - it takes sweat, determination and hard work."

Kiki Poh's story is true to this quote by American politician, Colin Luther Powell. Like him, she came from humble beginnings and eventually, rose to great lengths through hard work.

Kiki's passion for the animation industry was actually born out of her love for cartoons.

"Growing up, I used to love watching cartoons. I mean who doesn't right? I would wake up in the morning, pick up the newspaper and actually circle all the cartoon programmes for the day, just so that I wouldn't miss any of it.

"Disney was my favourite. The cartoons were so beautiful and fun to watch!" she told SAYS in an exclusive interview recently.

As she grew older, her love for cartoons developed into an interest in drawing. Eager to learn and sharpen her skills, she would use books as reference and kept practising.

"My parents didn't have the money to send me to drawing classes. We lived in a small one bedroom apartment in Johor Bahru, but none of that stopped me from pursuing my dreams," explained Kiki.

The only thing she wished for back then, was perhaps better access to painting and drawing resources, visits to art museums or exhibitions that could have helped to further inspire her.

However, she refused to dwell on the downside of things. Cartoons didn't just serve as an catalyst for Kiki's ambition, they also got her through difficult times in life.

"Remember Doraemon? When things got tough, I would think of the robot cat who would do everything in its power to save his friend Nobita from bad situations and bullies in school. It always found a way."

"Somehow, that served as an inspiration for me to believe in the impossible. No matter how difficult life got, I never stopped dreaming and making new ones."

Kiki went on to study computer animation in Taiwan after completing her secondary school education at the Foon Yew High School in Johor Bahru. She came back to Malaysia in 2000, but to her surprise, there weren't many job opportunities here in the 3D animation industry.

Eventually, she got a job opportunity in Shanghai, China. There, Kiki worked on TV commercials, among other things.

In 2008, she packed up her bags and went to the US to get a master's degree in visual effects in Savannah, Georgia. The decision transformed her life.

Pixar came into Kiki’s life in the form of an internship. That eight-month period was when she was given the opportunity to work on Toy Story 3!

"When I saw my work for the first time on the big screen - it was an indescribable experience. When the movie won the Oscar, I was so happy I couldn't stop crying! I'm so proud and lucky to have been part of that team," said Kiki.

The internship turned into a job offer in 2010 and Kiki has been working at Pixar ever since.

With sheer determination and hard work, the talented young woman has turned her dreams into reality.

Today, Kiki Poh is a shading and grooming artist at the Pixar Animation Studios.

Kiki with her co-workers at Pixar.

Image via Kiki Poh via The Walt Disney Company (M) Sdn Bhd

As a shading and grooming artist, Kiki is in charge of working on the look of the characters, including their colour, texture, and material properties in the movies. To date, Kiki has worked on some amazing Pixar movies such as Toy Story 3, Finding Dory, Monsters University, Inside Out and the most recent one being Cars 3.

"I think I always knew animation was my passion, but it was when I watched Jurassic Park for the first time, that I realised I wanted to be in this industry. I remember the exact moment when I saw the giant Brachiosaurus on TV. I was stunned.

"I felt like someone was able to truly make something come alive. Instantly, I knew I wanted to be like these people who could make things from our imagination come to life," said Kiki, reminiscing about the time she discovered her passion.

"After years of believing in my dreams, my passion for creating animations has come true. No dream is impossible. Be positive, set a goal for yourself, and focus on achieving it."

Kiki with her nephews who are huge fans of Pixar's Cars movies.

Image via Kiki Poh via The Walt Disney Company (M) Sdn Bhd

"Remember, failure is just a temporary condition. If you keep working hard, you can turn failure into success."

Kiki Poh is truly an outstanding and talented person! She has proven that anything is possible with hard work and passion.

Image via

Watch Kiki Poh talk about her journey to Pixar and the importance of believing in your dreams:

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