Animator Momo Wang on writing and directing her new brief movie, Penglai

Read Time:9 Minute, 36 Second

2022-12-08 08:09:00

Chinese language animator Momo Wang is one thing of a multi-talented marvel. In addition to working as an animator and inventive director for the leisure studio Illumination Leisure, she’s additionally an writer whose image books have often topped the charts. On prime of that, she’s additionally the mastermind behind Tuzki, a lovable bunny character she created throughout her research on the Communication College of China who has grown into some of the recognisable mascots on the earth.

And as if that wasn’t sufficient, Momo is taking issues additional. In her upcoming brief movie, Penglai, she combines her knack for animating, storytelling, and creating relatable characters to provide a heartbreaking story that is dropped at life with uniquely gorgeous visuals.

Telling the story of a younger fisherman dissatisfied along with his life after catching a wierd fish with ten torsos, Penglai follows him as he searches for the promised land – from which the movie takes its title. Alongside the best way, he will get shipwrecked in a storm earlier than being rescued by a mysterious lady who appears to have otherworldly powers. Believing her to be a manifestation of the divine Buddha, the person shortly makes a profound realisation in regards to the human spirit and hope for the longer term.

Narrated by Scarlett Johannson and produced by Chris Meledandri and Gail Harrison, Penglai is already producing a whole lot of Oscars buzz. And by wanting on the trailer, it is not arduous to see why. Its one-of-a-kind animation model weaves collectively numerous kinds, strategies and cultural imagery to inform a distinctly Chinese language story with worldwide enchantment.

We sat down with Momo to study extra about what went into making Penglai, what else audiences can anticipate from the movie and her trailblazing profession that has not too long ago led to her being inducted into the Asian Corridor of Fame.

When did you first know you needed to get into animation?

I believe my earliest spark for animation was once I was about 4 years previous. I painted an image of a goldfish and hung it on my wall. After I awoke, the fish was swimming throughout my partitions.

Working in animation is an evolution of the journey I have been on since I used to be a baby. My mum labored a number of jobs to help us, so I used to be left to my creativeness and creativity. At school, my major research have been positive artwork drawing and portray. I additionally had a group of over 200 manga. And I’d watch anime each time I may at a buddy’s residence.

The place did the thought for Penglai come from, and what made you wish to make it?

The thought of Penglai as Buddha’s legendary residence is predicated on conventional Chinese language lore. The truth is, the precise metropolis of Penglai is the place of magic and immortals in lots of Chinese language tales. Penglai is my grandparents’ hometown, and I grew up listening to these tales.

I needed to reinterpret one in all these tales in a contemporary means for a brand new viewers. It is a acquainted story of 1 man’s pursuit of a legendary place. He is confronted with battle, magical creatures, and an alien. It is an epic and cautionary story that I felt was relatable and related right now.

Inform us in regards to the distinctive artwork model of the movie

Penglai is a mixture of totally different artwork kinds. I grew up learning conventional Chinese language drawing. I additionally love anime. For this movie, I used to be impressed by the advanced visuals within the Tibetan Thangka scrolls. I actually needed to push the visible boundaries of 2D animation. Luckily, I labored with very artistic groups within the U.S. and China. It was essential to us that the visible language in Penglai be a part of the storytelling course of. 

Equally, with the soundtrack, we began with conventional instrumentation after which reworked it with my composer and a number of DJs to infuse digital and hip-hop components. Penglai’s total model is an expression and reflection of who I’m and the multicultural world I dwell in.

Penglai mixes each animation and puppetry. What made you wish to mix these two kinds?

We used fairly a number of totally different methods and kinds in Penglai. We designed the movie utilizing shadow puppets, bodily fashions, and numerous hand-drawn footage.

For instance, shadow puppetry in China is a really conventional type of leisure. I had shadow puppets made by one of many final Chinese language masters. We play-acted with the puppets to dam out components of the movie. They’re utilized in a montage to convey the passage of time. Working with the puppets was an natural approach to work on and develop the story.

We then illustrated the shadow puppet scene in 2D animation. By beginning with conventional artwork varieties, we have been in a position to honour the supply materials and create one thing new.

How did your background as an image e book and graphic novel writer put together you for coming into the world of animation?

I’ve at all times needed to do animation, and I’ve labored to study from the very best. Nevertheless it was the luck of making the Tuzki character after which the arduous work of rising him into a worldwide enterprise that modified my life.

That platform allowed me to writer graphic novels and books. Writing books has improved my animation work. Graphical books are nice as a result of it is advisable go deep with character growth, and also you get to artistically visualise the story.

I’ve additionally labored in different media, which continues to construct my expertise. For instance, I’ve collaborated with style manufacturers on streetwear collections. I’ve additionally created CryptoKitties NFTs and constructed VR experiences. One upcoming venture I am enthusiastic about is a gallery present of my positive artwork. 

As essential as all this different work is to me, I’m first a director with love for animation. 

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Which animations encourage and fascinate you essentially the most?

I like the Astro Boy manga and anime. In a single story I learn as a baby, Astro Boy should struggle and destroy one other robotic. He then opens the door to his personal coronary heart to have a look at his battery. At that second, he realises that in the future he can even die. It was an awakening for me. Anime has the facility to precise pleasure, pleasure, and even deep reflection.

The traditional Chinese language cartoon Legend of Sealed E book is one other favorite I’ve watched numerous occasions. I like using conventional Chinese language portray methods, which I’ve additionally woven into my work.

Extra not too long ago, I have been an enormous fan of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It has very imaginative characters. And the visible design is a lovely mixture of 2D and 3D kinds.

Penglai honours historic Chinese language artwork and tradition. What do you hope Western audiences study from it?

I look to Chinese language historical past, tradition, and artwork as inspiration for my work. Many Asian artwork varieties and tales are nonetheless unfamiliar to Western audiences. But, these tales share themes and values widespread to all of us.

Within the movie, I needed to create a window into the traditional Qin Dynasty. This period was as nice as any of the grand empires in historical past. This era additionally ushered in a transition from the non secular to the materialistic.

We see the identical tendencies repeated right now. There’s a polarisation of beliefs. People will go to nice extremes to implement their view of the world. You do not have to be Japanese or Western to grasp the hazard of this.

My hope for all audiences is that they benefit from the movie. I hope it is relatable and contemporary. Plus, it could be nice if the movie uncovered new audiences to Chinese language artwork and tales.

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How is making your personal brief movie totally different from engaged on franchises like Minions and Despicable Me?

I’ve made many brief movies all through my profession. Nevertheless, Penglai was the primary movie I wrote and directed for a serious studio. In some methods, Penglai is just like the bigger movie franchises I work on as a result of I get to work with unbelievable skills, akin to Scarlett Johansson, who narrated my movie.

Whereas I directed Penglai, I’m additionally an animation and inventive director at Illumination Leisure. I work on particular initiatives for our blockbuster movies. I create authentic animations and content material that amplifies our manufacturers.

For instance, I used to be the animation director for the music video Flip Up the Solar by Diana Ross and Tame Impala. This music video was an extension of our function movie Minions: The Rise of Gru.

You created the world-famous Tuzki and now a fish with ten torsos. What’s your secret to creating distinctive characters?

The viewers decides if a personality is distinctive or essential. As storytellers, we should create characters which are greater than pixels on a display. Nice characters have wealthy and significant lives.

Tuzki is a black & white line drawing. The ten-torsoed fish is wildly vibrant. But, they’re related. All my characters come from my interior voice and alter ego.  I do not suppose there’s a secret recipe to the method. I attempt to be sincere with who the character is and the world by which they dwell. I am lucky when this resonates with an viewers.

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What are essentially the most difficult and rewarding components of directing animation?

I like creating characters and tales. Animation permits me to convey this to life and share it with others. Animation can also be very sophisticated, laborious, and time-consuming. You could like it to do it. And I do.

Directing is a studying course of. You are a creator and chief. You bear a whole lot of accountability. It was superb working with expertise who’re masters of their respective fields. We produced Penglai throughout Covid, and we bought hit with obstacles at each step. I needed to study to handle the complexities and persevere by the challenges whereas staying true to my imaginative and prescient. In the end, it’s essential to put together, do the work, and imagine in your staff.

Congratulations on not too long ago being inducted into the Asian Corridor of Fame! How did that really feel?

I used to be stunned and honoured. The inductees are mavericks and masters of their craft. For me, it was inspirational to be included as a result of I hadn’t considered myself on this means. All through my profession, I’ve targeted on creating the very best work potential. Receiving this honour made me pause and acknowledge that I’m on the appropriate path. The expertise additionally offered me with position fashions that I look as much as and may now name associates. 

Penglai is a celebration of the human spirit and hope. What offers you hope, and what are you hoping for sooner or later?

I’m hopeful and constructive in regards to the future. After all, each venture I do has its challenges and triumphs. However the course of at all times renews my ardour for creating nice work. What I’m particularly hopeful about proper now could be the work I am doing towards directing my first function movie.

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