TJ LaLonde

Exploring LGBTQ+ Experiences Through Art

TJ LaLonde’s [’24] creative works span a range of artistic mediums—from 3D modeling, animation, and illustration, to graphic novels, film, poetry, and prose—and have been featured at artistic festivals and in literary magazines.

TJ LaLonde '24


South Burlington, VT

What drew you to this field of study?

The first and most enduring aspect of my creative practice has been fiction writing—from the chapter book I penned in second grade to the novels I work on yearly. While I have moved into the world of visual art, this basis of storytelling guides me: I still see my work primarily as a conduit for stories. When I arrived at UMass Amherst, I wasn’t sure how to combine these interests and started out on the College of Humanities and Fine Arts’ exploratory track. I soon realized that majoring in animation would let me pursue many passions at once; I can craft narratives, draw and model characters and environments, consider camera angles and viewer experience, and engineer soundscapes—all through one established medium. I also discovered at UMass that I really enjoy the technical aspects of animation: becoming familiar with software and creation pipelines, particularly in the medium of 3D animation.

How do you conduct your creative activity?

I find it most fruitful to explore a breadth of media and a depth of content, to experiment with what is gained and lost when transitioning between avenues of storytelling. How does a narrative feel when it is presented just as the written word? What about as a rendered three-dimensional environment? A hand-drawn character animation? A comic book or graphic novel? I have explored all of these forms in depth, using skills I have learned at UMass as well as through personal research into how to best implement them. I get lost in the creative process, spending hours drawing on my iPad, modeling on my computer, and developing stories in many forms. I have acquired a real proficiency in various art and animation softwares by experimenting over those hours of creating, and I am always looking forward to the next possibilities.

What do you see as the impact—or potential impact—of your work?

My own identity as a queer artist has informed my work for years, and I have found it a fruitful space to explore my experiences. The representation and acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities, in art and beyond, is a pressing and personal issue. We are at a cultural crossroads right now, with both dangerous legislation threatening our rights and an unprecedented visibility. I've seen this conflict illustrated in negative reactions to recent animation featuring queer content, as animation is often perceived as a kids’ medium.

Art provides an avenue to normalize intersectional diversity, and it is personally important to me to use that avenue to shine a light on queer and trans stories. My in-progress graphic novel features a lesbian as its noir detective protagonist, and other recent illustrations explore a world where the boundaries of gender are blurry and undefined. Still, these narratives aim to subvert the assumption that the characters’ queerness defines them and their stories. In the same way, I refuse to let that assumption pigeonhole me or my work, and hope that my art may communicate something of this inclusiveness to its audience.

How does your faculty mentor support your research?

Working in tandem with Assistant Professor Hallie Bahn as a teacher’s assistant this semester has been a wonderful experience. Her support and trust in my ability to work with other students have bolstered my confidence. In addition, her role as faculty advisor for the UMass Animation Collective has been crucial to our success in maintaining the club, and I greatly admire how much she has done for our school’s animation program.

Associate Professor Jenny Vogel’s guidance in class and beyond has meant so much. She has helped me plan a viable career for myself in the arts, learning skills such as showing in galleries and understanding the opportunities available after graduation. As we share an interest in 3D computer animation, I have worked closely with her on improving my work and hope to continue learning from her.


Art provides an avenue to normalize intersectional diversity, and it is personally important to me to use that avenue to shine a light on queer and trans stories.

TJ LaLonde ’24

What do you find most exciting about conducting your creative activity?

In creating my art, one of the most exciting aspects is the process of taking an idea from concept to final execution. Similar to research and scholarship in other academic disciplines, I still identify questions, gather information, and analyze results. For example, in my 3D modeling internship with a small video game company, I discuss what they are looking for, often in great detail. I create multiple concepts, then model and work with my managers to hone my art into something just right. My work here may include becoming familiar with game industry standards for assets; investigating the utility of what I am creating virtually (for instance, exactly how tall does a chair need to be?); wrangling the software to figure out how to get the effect I want; and iterating often to ensure quality and precision. In the end, my work—including hours of trial and error—enables me to take an idea (mine or someone else’s) and realize it, which is an incredible feeling.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the ways in which I have been able to engage in the greater artistic community of UMass—such as acting as a teacher’s assistant, participating in a group independent study animation for Baystate Medical Center, co-running the UMass Animation Collective, and co-hosting the first UMass Animated Film Festival to show off students’ work. I jump at less formal opportunities to work with my peers as well, whether it is creating 3D models for a music video, acting in a thesis film, or giving notes on a pitch deck. My collaboration with fellow UMass artists, as well as taking on leadership positions, have encouraged me to build communities and recognize the worth of sharing knowledge, effort, and experience. While the arts may seem a competitive field, we can always do more together than alone.

How has your creative activity enhanced your overall educational experience at UMass?

My interests in a broad range of media have guided me to pursue each course I have taken with intentionality and enthusiasm; I can pinpoint what I hope to gain from each for my own practice while allowing surprises as they come. Each project I undertake at UMass Amherst does not exist in a vacuum, but rather builds on my past works and inspires my future initiatives. Even classes that may seem to stray from my artistic discipline open avenues for expression that I had never before considered. Two semesters of computer science courses, for example, sparked an interest in coding for games; an honors seminar on utopian architecture jumpstarted worldbuilding for a story of my own; and a class field trip to MASS MoCA opened my eyes to the opportunities of virtual reality through Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang’s The Chalkroom.

What are your plans for the future?

I have struggled with striking a balance between seeking commercial and practical applications of my skills to earn a living on one hand, and exploring the more esoteric and personal aspects of art on the other. Diving headfirst into both worlds, though, has taught me that the decision does not need to be black and white. The experiences of co-running an organization and production through the UMass Animation Collective, as well as running a virtual freelance business, have prompted me to take classes such as Art Entrepreneurship and Professional Practices. All of this has strengthened my confidence in maintaining both a sustainable and fulfilling artistic practice of every shade. Specifically, I hope to preserve the storytelling and breadth of study I am passionate about while continuing to take on freelance work, applying for grants, collaborating with fellow artists, and working with smaller studios.

Why would you recommend UMass to a friend?

UMass has been a great environment for me to learn in, with strong bonds formed both within my discipline and with students from across many areas of study. The professors I have studied with have been deeply interested in bringing forth the best from each student. There is a wealth of options in the course catalog, even without taking into account the access to the Five College Consortium that UMass provides. While I only need to complete my thesis to graduate, I am still filling up my spring schedule with classes I would hate to miss! For someone specifically considering a career in animation, or interested in pursuing art as a hobby, our program has undergone some amazing improvements even in the short time I have been here. 


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