TNC INTERVIEW 2021
There You Are
After her mother dies, a teenager, Su, feels estranged from her father who seems to have already moved on.
Hi, Rui thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Hi, thanks for having me. I have to say there were both positive and negative impacts on me. On one side, I found it was an excellent opportunity for me to work more efficiently. Since I saved commuting times and had less socialisation, it helped me focus more on the project. But sometimes, I felt stressed and a little bit depressed staying at home for a long time.
Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Yes. I reached out to some great artists in the industry during this time. They were very supportive and willing to help me. We talked about my film through online meetings a couple of times. I am very thankful I got so many good suggestions from them, which inspired me to make my film better.
What has it meant to you to have your film There You Are part of the 2021 FirstGlance Film Festival?
The FirstGlance Film Festival is the world's longest-running bi-coastal truly indie film festival. I am so happy that TYA could be a part of the festival in 2021. It is my first 3D animated film. Being selected by FirsrGlance means an appreciation of my work. And this year, FirstGlance will bring the live film festival experience back. It is very encouraging to see the film screening in front of audiences in person. And FirstGlance provided me good marketing strategies, including different social media tips and press opportunities. It is very helpful to promote my film and reach more audiences. I really appreciate this chance.
Can you tell me a little bit about how There You Are came about, what was the inspiration behind your film?
My teammate and I decided to make a film about unresolved grief before the Covid pandemic. Because we all experienced family members passed away in the past five years. But in our traditional families, adults usually avoid talking about grieving in front of young people. It seems like grief is a monster that could hurt us badly, so adults try to protect us by hiding it. When I grew up, I realised grief is inevitable in our life circle. Why could not we teach young people to face it properly, even though it is frightening and suffering? With those thoughts, we came out with THERE YOU ARE. The story is about a teenager, Su, who is forced to deal with her unresolved grief after her mother dies. And she feels estranged from her father, who seems to have already moved on. I got inspiration from the experience of my friend. And I witnessed how her childhood bereavement changed her mentally and behaviourally. Her experience inspired me to make this film. Because I hope to address the importance of the grief process for young people, especially children and teens. They are an especially vulnerable group, and how adults lead them to deal with grief influences their whole lives. My teammate and I did some research about the theme.
In 2020 Spring, we started our research stage. Three key questions guided us: What is unresolved grief? What helps people move from the grieving process? And how does childhood bereavement change the child mentally and behaviourally? And then, we mainly focused on storytelling and visual design. Since we are a small team, and we have very limited time. We narrowed down our project to a six-minute animated short. At the same time, we also created a narrative game based on the same story.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing There You Are to the screen?
At the very beginning, I had struggled with visual design. Since the film topic is relatively severe, choosing a popular cartoony style would not be suitable. So, I took references from the cinematography of live-action films. I mimicked the realistic lighting rather than using more bright animation tones. Then I made my characters look like stop motion figures. So, they don't have too many exaggerated performances or facial expressions. Instead, they look more natural and authentic. Finally, I wanted to take advantage of animation techniques. So, I came out with the idea of combining the paper cut animation with CG. The memory part is all paper cut style, which created a visual difference in the film. And another big challenge must be teamwork. I am fortunate to have my team members help me with the project. But they are from different places all around the world. Sometimes we need to conquer the time zone differences when we have meetings. But luckily, we finish the project on time. I appreciate I have a professional and productive team.
How much does your background as a designer influence your animation and how would you best describe your style?
I came from a background as a concept designer in the game industry, and both my bachelor's and master's degree are art. My sense of colour, lighting, and design formed my style and supported me in controlling my film's look. So, I was responsible for concept art, design, shading, lighting to rendering for my animation. Honestly, I do not know how to describe my style accurately. I love colourful and children-illustrated paintings and vintage gadgets. I will keep working on my next project. I hope I will form my unique style soon.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes, of course. I love watching and analysing films from visual and story perspectives. THERE YOU ARE is my first 3D animated film. I spent almost a year developing it. I did not know there were so many aspects I needed to consider before I started. After finishing it, I felt like it was more like a learning process than filmmaking. So far, THERE YOU ARE has got selected in many film festivals worldwide, which brought me more confidence. And I will keep my passion for visual design and storytelling.
What would you say has been the most important lesson you have taken away from making There You Are?
The teamwork. I cannot imagine how I can make it work without my team members. And communication is also essential in a team. Good communication could generate creativity. Sometimes when I was stuck at some point, I would talk to my team. They usually contribute great ideas. Last but not least, trust. Having trust in your team members will make your team tighter.
"It is never easy to find reliable and talented people to join the team."
Is there any advice you would offer someone about making their first film?
Yes. In my opinion, building a good team is the most important. It is never easy to find reliable and talented people to join the team. Another piece of advice would be to make a detailed and reasonable production schedule. Then stick to the schedule to make sure we can deliver the project on time.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from There You Are?
I hope to leave audiences knowing more about unresolved grief for young people. Grieving is a process of growth in our life. It teaches us to cherish the time being with each other and have a tolerant and open-minded attitude to look at the circle of life.