Watching Tangled inspired Syed’s choice of career: “I wanted to work at Disney and help make meaningful movies like these that could inspire people, and I was ready to do whatever it took to get there.”
Aiming to become a visual development artist, she moved to Canada and found a job, but dropped out after suffering increasingly from anxiety.
After recovering, she applied to more jobs but was rejected repeatedly. Although she had developed a sideline as a freelance illustrator, she turned down big gigs in this area in order to keep focusing on her animation career. But while she faced specific obstacles — for example, she didn’t study at a major school like Calarts — she came to realize the main problem was that her portfolio wasn’t up to scratch.
Syed became depressed, falling into “a horrible jealousy pit” as she saw friends get jobs she coveted. Still she found it hard to give up: “I kept going, purely out of pride and spite, because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I wasn’t meant to work in animation.” She worried she’d be seen as a “loser.”
Eventually she reevaluated her priorities and decided that what she ultimately wanted was to “create works that mattered.” This she could do with picture books. Realizing this, she quit animation at last and became a full-time illustrator. “This is my dream now.”
Syed was fortunate to have another career at the ready, and one she happens to be very good at: she has won an award for her work and illustrated a book written by Karamo Brown of Queer Eye. Still, her experience will ring true for many artists who have struggled in the industry. And it gives the lie to the idea, beloved of Hollywood, that dreams should always be followed.
In 2018, Syed addressed this subject, much more briefly, in a couple of tweets that went viral.