An animation student — and three-time novelist – News@Northeastern

Smiling student

Aisha Samake is a fourth-year animation student who got to learn different aspects of marketing during a co-op at a tech startup in Maine. Aisha Samake courtesy photo

Aisha Samake grew up hooked on Pokémon because of the story lines. When it came time to look for a co-op, the fourth-year game art and animation major naturally thought about doing a stint with an animation company in California. But with travel restricted by the pandemic, she found herself at a tech startup in Maine. Then things got really interesting.

“I actually got to work alongside the CEO and co-write a book that he actually published,” she says of Luke Thomas, founder of the Portland-based remote work company Friday.app. The book is called The Anywhere Operating System, and Samake’s name appears on the cover next to Thomas’s.

“We decided to do this in like a month,” she says of the fast writing project. “I’m really proud of what we were able to do.”

She credits her co-op adviser, Jen Guillemin in the College of Arts, Media and Design, for introducing her to Thomas. Samake decided to let fate play itself out from there because of the opportunity to indulge two interests at the same time.

“I had to live in Portland, Maine, during that time, but it was going to be fully remote,” Samake says of her co-op. “While I do like animation, I also have a passion for writing too, so I wanted to show my skills in that way as well.”

Did she ever. 

Her first writing project on the marketing team entailed comparing Friday’s software product to competitors’, and writing about the company in a positive way that would entice customers to buy its product. She also learned about search engine optimization, an effort to increase traffic to a company’s website.

“It was really interesting to learn that because I’m an animation student and I got to learn different aspects of marketing,” she says.

Where her heart truly lies, though, is in video games, especially the story-driven versions such as the zombie thriller The Walking Dead. Samake’s favorite character is Clementine, a protagonist voiced by Melissa Hutchison. “We see her when she was a small child and then when she’s an adult,” Samake says, “so seeing her grow up, it’s kind of like I’m growing up alongside her.”

For Samake, games with a script, a plot, and character development hold more appeal than their phone-based counterparts designed to kill time.

“Let’s say you play a game like Candy Crush or one of those phone games where you can’t really get to know the characters. You just get points, win, and you move on. But these characters I can grow alongside, so they really inspire me. I love a good story.”

Gina Izerel has learned how to create computer-generated landscapes and highly-realistic wolves during her global co-op at Cinegestix in South Africa this summer. The company provides special effects and CGI for movies, television, and commercials.

Samake got to tell one of her own―three actually―when, at 15 years old and in her first year of high school, she self-published her first book―70,000 words in all. Faultless was released on the self-publishing platform Blurb in 2015, followed by Optimal in 2016, and Prime two years later.

“The reason I chose those titles is because they all mean different ideas of perfection, and that was kind of the story I was going for,” says Samake. “I read a lot of dystopian novels growing up and I could really connect to the main characters of how they tried to be themselves, not trying to attain that idea of being perfect.”

Each of her works has multiple characters, allowing for different personalities and points of view. Some personalities are strong and confident, others soft-spoken and reticent. The mix was intentional. “Growing up, I had all those things, so it was perfectly OK to have them” in her stories, she says.

Her writing was also shaped by global experiences. Born in the United States, Samake and her family later moved to Ghana, where her father worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The time spent overseas added another dimension to her writing.

“I saw a different perspective than what I had been used to,” she says.

Samake plans to write more books and pursue a second co-op, most likely in animation. Landing a job at Pixar, the animation studio owned by Walt Disney Co., would be the ultimate.

“I really would love to work there,” she laughs. “That’s kind of been a dream for me.”

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