Sony Talent League by THU is empowering future artists today

Artists, animators, musicians, game developers - we’ve all got that one magic idea. It’s the project you’re most excited to work on, the one you’re always daydreaming about, the one you’re convinced is destined to be a pipe dream without expert guidance. 

This is where Sony Talent League by THU comes in; Trojan Horse was a Unicorn (THU) is on a mission to empower creators through access to opportunities and inspiration. It also organises one of Europe's leading art events, encompassing the fields of visual effects, concept art, gaming, animation, illustration, VR, and beyond.

Since its inaugural challenge in 2020, creatives between the ages of 18 and 35 from all over the world have been pitching multi discipline projects to Sony Talent League. Three finalists receive funding and ten weeks of remote mentorship from industry professionals while working towards bringing that pipe dream to brilliant life. And then, the winner of these three also gets a full-ride to the next event by THU (opens in new tab).

This year’s winner will be announced on 25 March. In the meantime you can follow each team’s creative journey through the Sony Talent League (opens in new tab) weekly blog and video updates. Plus director and producer at Sony Pictures Animation Kris Pearn will be hosting Instagram Lives (opens in new tab) throughout March. 

On 14 March, Kris Pearn will be speaking with illustrator Marc Simonetti about freelance work from 17:00 GMT (12:00 EDT). Then on March 18th, Kris Pearn will be joined by storyboard artist Shannon Tindle for a conversation about the creation process, from start to finish, from 18:00 GMT (10:00 PDT) onwards.

We chatted to Kris Pearn and fellow Sony Pictures Animation director Tyree Dillihay about participating as two of Sony Talent League’s mentors. We also spoke with two STL mentees, Dilruba Tayfun, who last year brought digital brush sharing platform Togather to life, and Jide Johnson, who is currently working on the adult-humoured animated series Family Britannia (opens in new tab). We asked all four creatives about this life-changing experience.

The value of mentorship


Artists gather to learn from industry professionals (Image credit: THU)

Creative Bloq: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from participating in Sony Talent League?

Kris Pearn: To listen. To not allow my experience to overwhelm their voices. I think it's so important to be respectful and open minded to any creator's intent, but only by truly listening is it possible to become a cold audience for the mentee's vision. To receive and hear an idea is where the experience often comes into play - not only as a filmmaker, but as an audience.

Tyree Dillihay: What I learned and continue to learn is a great lesson in Humanity - we need each other. I love this quote that says, “if your dream just involves you, it’s not big enough.” Creatives and visionaries have ‘BIG ideas,’ ideas so big that they’re impossible to accomplish alone. With a game plan and an experienced tour guide who's been where they want to go, holding that lantern in that dark tunnel, to finally reaching your goal is the joy and pain of the process.

Committing to making something come to life with others is a process enveloped in imperfection (Dilruba Tayfun)

Dilruba Tayfun: Believing in myself and learning to collaborate. [...] The final pitch for Togather was in reality the fruit of 10+ people’s efforts. It was the surprising outcome of a fusion, blending my original vision with all the other avenues [explored by] so many hands on deck. 

Committing to making something come to life with others is a process enveloped in imperfection. I needed to accept that. There were some moments during the league where I doubted myself and that trickled down and affected my collaborators. The moment that I took better care of myself, listening to my creative needs and starting Twig Reportson on YouTube (opens in new tab), which were almost daily a couple of weeks into the League, I became a better leader and collaborator also.

Jide Johnson: Sony Talent League has been a super learning experience for every part of my development as a TV Producer. I've been producing adverts for the last 10 years, so learning how to tell entertaining stories for an adult animated series is the most valuable thing - Who, What, When, Where and Why. [STL mentor and multidisciplinary artist] Vani Saraswathi Balgam has been instrumental in helping me understand what's important to prioritise at different stages of pitching.

The fun of working together

An art teacher is surrounded by students at THU

Learn from some of the industry's most talented creators (Image credit: Sony Talent League / THU)

Creative Bloq: Mentors, why did you choose to participate in STL to begin with?

Tyree Dillihay: I’m a director at Sony Pictures Animation and I’ve known about THU from afar since its inception. I’ve always been a fan of their dedication to fostering camaraderie and education in the creative community. So when they asked me if I’d like to participate as a mentor, I gladly accepted. I stand on the shoulders of my mentors and my hope is that my mentees can stand on mine.

Kris Pearn: It is always an honour to be asked to participate in these events. I feel grateful for the opportunity to share ideas and see stuff get made by talented people. I always learn so much from these experiences.

It helped to sift through and extract what the project really needed on the weekends (Dilruba Tayfun)

Creative Bloq: Mentees, how has being mentored through Sony Talent League helped you?

Jide Johnson: Constant reinforcement of what TV executives and producers find important in a pitch for a TV show [has been extremely helpful]. Being surrounded by successful senior TV producers and executives has helped me prepare my ideas to actually launch my show professionally, with a strategically aware pitch. Now I have an abundance of information I didn't have before.

Dilruba Tayfun: Being mentored allowed me to have multiple accountability partners, [as well as] a solid backbone of support and commitment. Experienced artists that share their input and experience with you at the consistency that I experienced during STL can be overwhelming because you take so much of their input directly to heart and want to implement everything as soon as possible. It helped to sift through and extract what the project really needed on the weekends. To have someone that gets the tumultuous creative process actively listening and giving you feedback is invaluable.

Creative Bloq: What have you most enjoyed about working with your mentors?

Jide Johnson: Getting myself more organised for my pitch and production. [STL mentor and Vice President of Training, Outreach, and Artistic Development at DNEG Animation] Kara Oropallo is a superwomen for helping me understand how to reconsider what's realistic when creating my Gantt chart for my deliverables. Also Catarina [Jacques at THU] is lovely. Always checking in on me helps keep me on track and stay highly motivated. These regular conversations make the biggest difference.

Dilruba Tayfun: Building a friendship beyond a project - a creative exchange. For example my mentor Kris Pearn and I got to do some plein-air painting in Portugal at the THU main event. During STL Kris made my team a care package of his gatherings from around his farm in Ontario, sending back a box that contained everything from feathers to branches and even the jaw bone of a withered deer. He added a sketchbook with his inky tests and a little story of his whereabouts. Some of my mentors got very hands-on and participated in gathering and inking with their family members. All of this brings me so much joy.

Words of wisdom for young creatives

A man paints a picture while others watch

STL empowers creators from all artistic fields (Image credit: Sony Talent League / THU)

Creative Bloq: Mentors and mentees, what general advice would you offer to aspiring artists?

Tyree Dillihay: Spend more time creating and less time consuming, not the other way around.

Kris Pearn: Be curious and don't be afraid to fail. You can make every mistake ever on your journey to make something... the more mistakes you make the more you learn. Always be looking for the punch you can't see. The act of making is a learning game - How fast can you learn with the least amount of "burn"?

Dilruba Tayfun: A childhood friend shared this one experience of him practising the drums to a Stevie Wonder song and nearly losing himself in a trance. He said he left the zone when he recognised he was in it - so lean into it. There’s nothing more attractive than somebody who’s just in their element creating energy without judgement of what they’re doing. It’s magnetic and the right people will notice you and can meet you halfway, so you can at least relieve some of the effort of reaching out to people for opportunities.

Jide Johnson: Try and speak to people in the industry who have done what you are trying to do before. There's many schemes and programmes like the STL to help with this. Just one conversation with a professional may change your outlook on what it takes to do what you want to do. It may also make you realise you want to do something slightly different to what you thought. Even if you can't find that person, try to get experience in your field of interest, whilst continuously learning new skills based on your chosen craft.

What's next?

Artist sit down to eat together after a day of learning

Learning from the best will develop your project and art (Image credit: Sony Talent League / THU)

Creative Bloq: Mentors, what would be your advice for artists looking to get serious about their dream project? What should they consider?

Kris Pearn: Passion. Audience. Medium. And Cost. All those things play into each other... but if you've got the most interesting story ever about taxes, and there's no easy audience for a story about taxes, then you've got to have Passion to find a medium and cost to justify winning that audience. But if you can think of your niche and your hook (the simple grab on an idea) then you can package your pitch accordingly. For example, is your story about the "boat" or the "shark"? I'd argue that Jaws is about the shark, whereas the story of the Indianapolis that Quint tells in Jaws is kinda about the boat. Depending on your dream project's needs, being mindful of the hook is a worthwhile exercise.

Tyree Dillihay: Being able to fully submit your ego, time, and energy will get you far.

Creative Bloq: And what about that all important pitch? What should creatives bear in mind?

Tyree Dillihay: [Find] the balance between conciseness and entertainment.

Kris Pearn: Keep it simple and make sure to communicate clearly the EMOTIONS. Even when dealing with logistics, finances, or stats, simple motivations and clear emotional intent is what sells to a pitch audience. Simple is all about the stickiness of a soundbite or idea. Write and Rewrite until you can say it outloud, hold an audience, and have them understand your vision. This is why it is important to practise on strangers and friends (not necessarily in that order).

The creative journey (always) continues

Artists sit around a table smiling

Develop your own ideas at Sony Talent League and THU (Image credit: Sony Talent League / THU)

Creative Bloq: Jide and Dilruba, what are your plans for after STL?

Jide Johnson: [I’m going to] start using animation to tell my own hilarious stories about characters from marginalised backgrounds. Including Unreal Engine in my kitbag of software is also a big focus (real time production, virtual production, and incorporation of VR, too).

Dilruba: [I’m going] to give input to Togather’s next steps as an artist, using the brushes and then re-envisioning the needs of this platform as a user of these digital brushes. This is important to me because in managing the collaborations and leading the project in the league, I felt I didn’t have as much time to create and test the brushes. Our friends are also continuing to upload their artworks using the brushes into the [website’s] gallery. 

I’m currently creating a body of work for my first solo show in the park in April, which is entirely fuelled by Togather. [I’m] also involved in a children’s book collaboration that is directly inspired by the project. Our main character is a young girl who is an explorer, gathering things she finds on her path [so] for the book we collected objects and made a collection of brushes for the illustrations.

Creative Bloq: Finally, Kris and Tyree, of all the advice you’ve received from mentors throughout your own creative careers, what were the most valuable words of wisdom given to you?

Kris Pearn: Audience is never wrong. Casting is king. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Things are rarely as GOOD as you think they are, or as BAD as you fear they are. Stay calm (because anger so rarely works). Always be kind... or try. Trust your base skills (drawers gotta draw and writers gotta write). Ego is the enemy.

Tyree Dillihay: I couldn’t possibly rank the bag of gems from my mentors. But across the board in all craftwork what will forever ring true is ‘you get out the game what you put into the game.’ So if you’re not where you want to be, it’s time to get real with yourself.

Find out more at the Sony Talent League website (opens in new tab).

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Jess Kinghorn
Freelance writer

Jess is PLAY Magazine’s games editor, and is known for championing the weird, the wonderful, and the downright janky. A fan of cult classic JRPGs and horror, her rants about Koudelka and Shadow Hearts have held many a captive audience. Outside of writing about all things PlayStation, she’s also a lifelong fan of Nintendo’s handheld consoles. Having whiled away most of her college years playing The World Ends With You on the original Nintendo DS, she’s looking forward to uncovering all of NEO’s secrets too. Beginning her career as Official PlayStation Magazine’s staff writer in 2017, she’s since written for PC Gamer, SFX, Games Master, and Games TM.

With contributions from