The man behind the happy meal toys: 2015 Taylor art graduate Yeqian Zhao.
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The man behind the happy meal toys

Taylor graduate Yeqian Zhao lives a life marked by creativity

A day in the life of Yeqian Zhao, Taylor 2015 graduate. (Photograph provided by Yeqian Zhao)

A day in the life of Yeqian Zhao, Taylor 2015 graduate. (Photograph provided by Yeqian Zhao)

By Abigail Roberts | Echo

In your next 1 a.m. run to McDonald’s take a moment to notice the display of Happy Meal toys you once eagerly begged for as a child.

Yeqian Zhao, a 2015 Taylor art major, has always lived a lifestyle marked by creativity. He currently works at The Marketing Store, North America, an international design agency with clients such as Nissan and McDonald’s, where his title actually is “the creative.”

Browsing the aisles of Toys R Us, drawing dozens of Pikachus, playing with children’s toys and visiting Chicago art museums is just another typical workday for Zhao.

McDonald’s is one of The Marketing Store’s clients. With 14,155 restaurants in the United States and a further 22,744 international locations, McDonald’s leads as one of the biggest fast food chains in the world.

Set to produce more than a billion toys this year, The Marketing Store is currently the biggest toy company in the world.

“We design their Happy Meal toys, Happy Meal products and their Monopoly game materials,” Zhao said. “Most of toys that are going to be in McDonald’s I have created or at least touched.”

Zhao’s latest released Happy Meal toy designs. (Photograph provided by Yeqian Zhao)

Zhao’s latest released Happy Meal toy designs. (Photograph provided by Yeqian Zhao)

After graduating high school, Zhao was planning on attending art school and had already put down a deposit. Suddenly, God called Zhao to take a leap of faith and instead apply to Taylor.

Despite losing the chance of focusing in specifically on his craft, Zhao knew that in the end what mattered most wasn’t his art.

“(I asked myself) what if I had lost my ability (to design), then I would have nothing left,” Zhao said. “Taylor really solidifies the (reason) ‘why’ you live.”

However, knowing that experience and risk would take him far in the art world, Zhao jumped right in spending the summer of his freshman year interning at the the Art Institute of Design in Pasadena, California. Their clients include Pixar, Apple, Disney and more.

Not stopping there, Zhao also interned at Parson’s School of Design in New York City the following summer.

Adding a marketing minor gave Zhao focus. The 3D concentration gave him creativity and the ability to really show off different sides of his craft.

Zhao considers Professor Jonathan Bouw one of his most influential professors of graphic design. Much of what Zhao created in Bouw’s classes stand as essential pieces to his portfolio.

Zhao’s advice for aspiring artists and designers is to always push the boundaries.

“My personal statement is: ‘what if?’ and ‘Why not?’” Zhao said. “In the corporate worlds there are a lot of restrictions, but in everything I do I ask ‘what if?’ and ‘why not.’”

Zhao has been heading up the design and execution of all McDonald’s Happy Meal toys at The Marketing Store for the last year.

Working with producers of movies and children’s shows, Zhao generates ideas for toys by first sketching them on paper, then turning them into full scale products. The designs are then sent to Hong Kong and manufactured.

Zhao’s first pieces, Back to School Books, came out last month, and his next pieces from “The Lego Ninjago Movie” are coming out this month.

“It’s so crazy to move from Taylor to now having my work all over the world,” Zhao said. “My advice to current students would be always immerse yourself. Creativity is not a job, but a lifestyle. As an artist you can’t not be creative.”

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