By: Meng Hui Xian
Not only do the elements of freewheeling fantasy and whimsy in animation bring entertainment and imagination, but they also convey meaningful and thought-provoking messages to people.
As the creator of animation, an animator tends to be the one determining the final look of the work visually. They are responsible for designing the characters and bringing them to life, meanwhile working out on plots, scenes, frames, colour scheme, and audio that align with script, among others. In addition to artistic ability, good expressive skills and a fertile imagination, animators are required to have familiarity with animation software and techniques, so as to combine arts and technology in creating works that are witty yet touching.
As animators who are also animation fans, how do they look at the sense of calling experienced in the career, and the power of animation? Animators Wong Si Ying and Daniel Chen are here to share their stories.
Wong Si Ying (animator and part-time lecturer): Watch a lot and constantly learn new techniques
Wong likes drawing since she was young. When she was in secondary school, it happened to be the days that animation began to flourish. While animated films like Chicken Little, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story caught the eyes of a large number of audiences, they were also keeping her company throughout her youthful years. Since then, she has been longing to express her world view through animation someday.
After finishing high school, Wong pursued the Film and Animation degree programme at Multimedia University (MMU). She then worked for a post-production house. After leaving the company, she threw herself into the education industry, and started her own studio Seeing Artelier about two years ago. Now she is an animator and part-time lecturer.
To every animator, aesthetic sense and aesthetic intelligence are the basic requirements that take a long time to cultivate and train. As such, Wong usually watches a great deal of animation, and shares the latest films, pictures and techniques with her colleagues.
“When we saw something beautiful, we did not just pass it over. Instead, we would think of the factors behind the beauty, or look at the foreground and background as well as the colour composition of the work, and so on. The reference sources and materials that have been collected all along will serve as a useful guideline and spark inspiration when the jobs come to you, which enable you to come up with design ideas within a short time steadily.”
When asked how to define a good animated film, Wong said with a smile that she just follows her heart. It can be a good one as long as the story can move the animator and touch the viewers’ hearts while imprint the images on their minds. Hence, when creating her own animation, she always tells herself that “it should first impress yourself before you can impress others”.
“There might be a profound implication in the animation where it would be great if the viewers are able to have a grasp. Otherwise they can watch it as something relaxing. It is appealing enough to me as long as the animation can set me thinking and inspire me.”
Daniel Chen (animator and illustrator): Being imaginative and innovative
Daniel Chen loves cartoons since he was a kid. Watching animation like Superman and Batman has been his entertainment during his childhood and adolescence, and this has made him decide to pursue a career in the field of animation, making his own cartoons one day. After completing high school, he studied the Digital Animation degree programme at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). Today, the 25-year-old animator is also a freelancer and illustrator.
Animation production is all about teamwork. Producing a movie or an animated film is not something that can be done single-handedly. It needs collaboration efforts from numerous professionals. Many animation production companies are split into different departments in order to handle different tasks. For example, the staff at the Animation Department only focus on the making of animation. They are not involved in the processes of script writing or character concept design. Good communication and coordination skills are needed to work with such a huge team.
In comparison, freelancers often have to finish the whole job by themselves, from the stage of pre-production to production to post-production. Chen said, currently working freelance allows him to have more freedom and flexibility in terms of working hours and work environment while seeing an increase in workload.
He pointed out that working against time is one of the greatest challenges faced by animators. They have to work overtime in most cases. Whenever a new task is given to him, Chen will set a progress schedule to ensure the work is delivered on time, and also communicate and negotiate with the clients immediately if necessary, so as not to cause delay in the project.
In his view, in order to design the character with a soul, as well as produce the animation that makes the audience feel something, being imaginative and innovative are the essential qualities of an animator. In addition to that, they need to keep pace with the times by learning various animation softwares and tools, such as After Effects, MAYA, Macromedia Flash, Adobe Illustrator and many more, to improve their skills and artistic ability at all times.
【An encounter with World Vision】
Every year, World Vision will collect materials and stories from communities across the globe where anti-poverty programmes have been carried out, which includes making a number of documentaries. However, filming is unable to take place this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the scriptwriter hopes that telling story through the form of animation may provide an insight into the challenges faced by the children in those impoverished communities, meanwhile honour the spirit of never giving up which the protagonists hold onto.
With senior and friend pulling strings, Wong and Chen were offered by World Vision Malaysia to produce an animated short film each, Surviving in Troubled Waters, and From Survivor to Community Hero respectively, for the charitable 30-Hour Famine.
Erphan collects bottles to raise his family
With a running time of 4 minutes and 30 seconds, the animated film Surviving in Troubled Waters tells the story of a 10-year-old boy in Myanmar, Erphan. Just like many children from all over the world, Erphan is struggling in the abyss of poverty. By collecting bottles for a living, he takes the initiative to raise his family. His positive attitude, capability to smile in trouble and the strong spirit of survival are something worth learning for many people.
“I was quite worried when taking on the task at first. Fortunately the script was written in a very detailed manner, as if I was reading a storybook. By just looking at the text, I already have the things like composition, flow, visual vibes, music and rhythm arisen in my mind,” Wong said.
She spoke frankly about the significant difficulty that she faced during the pre-production stage in relation to designing the character. She was unable to depict the temperament of Erphan despite attempts were made for almost half a day. She said, “I just could not draw it. It didn’t feel right. No matter how hard I tried, it was always someone who seemed to be the chubby kid from a wealthy family without having to worry about the next meal.” After seeking advice from a colleague, she eventually drew the character that felt right for her, which is the model of Erphan we see today.
When watching attentively, one can find the common thread running through the film – bottle. Wong explained, “Because the bottles are an important element to support their family. As he was said to be a bottle collector at the beginning of the film, so in the process of fleeing violence, I used bottle and sea as the imagery to narrate the displaced family.”
At the end of the film, Erphan does not return to the home where he lived. In fact no matter where he is, as long as having family by side, that is his home, a complete home. Wong was deeply touched by the story behind.
“If there is anything I hope to achieve with the film, it would be touching the lives of people who watched it. Provided someone is touched and willing to do something for these kids, I think that would be enough. We can hardly make a difference as an individual, but if we are united as one, there is strength in numbers.”
In regards to the sense of calling as well as accomplishment, she candidly said, “I used to do something pleasing to the eye, until I was given the chance to create this animation for World Vision. It made me realize that it does not matter how my work will look like, it matters whether the content can deliver a positive message, rather than merely the pursuit of beauty.” She aspired to create more meaningful animated films in future that not only bring happiness to, but also inspire and help more people.
Akhi dropped out of school to work in a shrimp processing factory
From Survivor to Community Hero, the animated film that Chen was engaged in the production, featuring a girl in Bangladesh, Akhi. Her father is unable to work due to poor physical health. In order to feed her family, she had to quit school and work in a shrimp processing factory along with her mother and sister. With the aid of World Vision, Akhi managed to break away from the life of child labour, meanwhile explore her interest in tailoring and thus generate income for the family. After the pandemic outbreak, she helps the community solve the mask shortage problem by utilizing her sewing skills, which turns her into the community hero.
“When I was reading the script, I found myself deeply moved by the story. I could imagine the frames that I wanted to do, so I chose this script over the others.”
As the animated film brings out the topic of “urban poverty”, he went through numerous related articles and pictures to understand the environment around the protagonist, so as to design the plots and scenes that are more in line with reality based on the script.
He weaved the imagery of seed and tree into the plots subtly, as if it represents the role and fate of Akhi with a profound implication where a sufficiently watered seed gradually grows into a tree nurturing others.
It took about three to four weeks for Chen to complete the 4-minute animated film. From the initial concept to the completion of the entire work, seeing the animation grow out of nothing made him deeply feel the sense of accomplishment and significance of becoming an animator. Although it is a short film, expressing the profound theme through a concise content allows audience to see the whole picture. Smiling contentedly, he said that it was hoped to convey the fighting spirit of Akhi and motivate people not to give up in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic through the form of animation.