You may have seen him around campus, emptying the trash or with a broom in hand. But Matt Maeda’s hands are capable of much more than cleaning.
Dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt, sitting at a table doodling, Maeda will tell you, “I’m pretty boring. I just draw, cook, and I help people.”
What he doesn’t mention is his lightning-speed gift for illustration, or his apprenticeship with some of the island’s top chefs. The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind.
In 2007, Maeda graduated with a computer animation degree from Kapi‘olani Community College. Currently, he needs only one more class to fulfill an AA degree from WCC.
However, Maeda said he didn’t realize how difficult it would be to make a living in video game animation. He explained how he “lost interest” because it takes a lot of people just to do one small aspect of a piece of animation. Therefore, he found a reliable and steady income on the WCC janitorial staff.
“I had to learn that not all ‘dream jobs’ generate money that can support you,” said Maeda. “As a student, I thought that if I could become this 3D animator, I could do something that I love and get paid for it. In my case, I found out, no, that wasn’t possible.”
Maeda grew up in Mānoa, then later moved to Aiea. Due to a learning disability, he attended Assets School for special education and gifted students. Maeda said that the school provided two teachers for each class and would tutor students for all the lessons.
He explained how he became passionate about graphics because they provided an alternative way to communicate and learn.
“Graphics are an important communication tool in working towards a goal of total literacy,” said Maeda. “Using graphics to support words helps in both offices and in community groups.”
Maeda went to several community colleges on the island, including WCC, trying to find the one that best suited his needs. In particular, he said former WCC professor Snowden Hodges really influenced his education. Maeda took several classes with him, including the intensive Atelier summer program.
On the weekends, Maeda finds groups that help Hawai’i’s education system or other social, gaming, charity and “random food” groups and creates logos and graphic designs for them. He has also provided graphic designs and logos for WCC’s Upward Bound, intramurals and Ka ʻOhana.
“When I help people with graphics, a lot of it would have to come from imagination because it’s all visual,” said Maeda while still doodling on a sketch pad in front of him. “It’s a very fictional approach.”
As much as Maeda enjoys designing graphics, he enjoys making people smile more. He doesn’t charge people for his work.
“My main goal is to make Hawai‘i a better place. Real simple,” he said.
Maeda gets his passion for helping people from his upbringing. He explained that his family runs on “very old value systems from the old plantation days.” He believes families should be able to depend on each other without expecting anything in return.
Maeda spent some time in California to look for new opportunities; however, he said he didn’t like it. Therefore, he plans to stay in Hawaiʻi for the time being.
“Needed more aloha in my life, too little aloha out there,” he explained.
Yet, he wants to help others beyond the islands. Maeda applies his talents on the Internet as well by providing support in gaming and anime communities.
Besides graphic design and helping others, Maeda likes to cook in his spare time. He has worked at Kuru Kuru Sushi and Whole Ox Butchery & Deli. His first experience in a kitchen wasn’t the best. However, he was employed at Whole Ox in Kakaako and met “life- changing figures” such as top chefs Bob McGee, Mark Noguchi, Paul Zarate, and Alejandro Briceno.
Another project Maeda has picked up is writing a cookbook with themes based on Hawaiʻi’s cultures.
“Many people from today’s modern audience can have a renewed interest in Hawaiian cuisine through the old ideas with modern touches of flavor, appeal, and variety,” said Maeda.
He feels that the kitchen corresponds with his family values.
“The chefs left me with valuable lessons that a good kitchen is like family,” said Maeda. “The ingredients are our life. Where they come from, the land, and the people who bring them to us need to be cared for.”
Does Maeda have a five-year plan?
“My life is as predictable as the waves,” he said and laughed. “You never know which set you’re going to get every day.”
by Elizabeth Voltz, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter