March 31, 2016

SFU Alumnus, Trevor Lai, Illustrates His Way to Shanghai


By Alisha Pillay

It’s an inspiring story that changes direction with almost every page. Having published 15 books, become an award-winning author, illustrator and entrepreneur, Trevor Lai is certainly no stranger to turning blind corners in pursuit of his goals. As founder and CEO of UP Studios, Lai currently focuses on developing and producing content and merchandise for children and families.

Splitting his childhood between Vancouver and Burnaby, Lai’s work has led him from SFU all the way to Shanghai, which has been his base for the last ten years. His exceptional talents have helped him garner a three-book series deal with Macmillan's Imprint and his first book Tomo Explores the World will be published this October. A TV-series based on the book is currently in development at UP Studios.

Lai’s passion for reading and drawing was sparked early on in his life, citing Robert Munch as his favorite childhood author. An ESL student, his parents would take him to the library every day to practice reading. By the age of four, Lai was already developing ideas for storybooks; by age eight, he was writing books and stapling them together; and by ten-years old he was working on comic books. Lai’s impressive work caught the attention of his elementary school teacher who then printed off copies of Lai’s book for each of his classmates  – a small but meaningful gesture that provided the encouragement Lai needed to pursue his love of literature.

By the time Lai enrolled at SFU, he had already published his first children’s book. Some of his favorite memories at university included being able to see his own books on the shelves at the SFU bookstore and watching classmates purchase copies. When asked why he chose SFU, Lai explained that he wanted to go to a school that understood the mechanics and the future of publishing industry. “I was literally learning skills in the day, and applying those same skills at night”. Some of his favorite classes in publishing included the ones where he learned about book design and layout.

While visiting SFU on a recent trip to Vancouver, Lai was enthusiastic to share some advice for current students thinking about the future:

The number one challenge students face is that they don’t know what they want to do, or they want to do ten different things and can’t settle on one. If you are interested in publishing – take an internship and see if it’s something you like doing. I was interested in film at one point so I got a job on set and learned that I loved directing. You learn only through experience. Take risks; put yourself out there; and do the research!

And the story clearly has a lot of pages still unturned with multiple projects on the go. Lai’s picture-book series for his character Piggy in Love will be published worldwide in December by Bloomsbury - the same publisher that brought us Harry Potter. The animated emoji of the character has been already been downloaded over 70,000,000 times in China and he’s received significant interest about developing Piggy into a feature length film. To see more of Lai’s work check out or connect with him on Instagram at @upstudiosworld.