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 commonly topped the charts. On high of that, she’s the mastermind behind Tuzki, a lovable bunny character she created throughout her research on the Communication College of China who has grown into one of the recognisable mascots on this planet.
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 delivered to life with uniquely beautiful visuals.
Telling the story of a younger fisherman dissatisfied together with his life after catching an odd 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 concerning 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 variety of Oscars buzz. And by wanting on the trailer, it isn’t laborious to see why. Its one-of-a-kind animation type weaves collectively numerous types, 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 count on from the movie and her trailblazing profession that has just lately led to her being inducted into the Asian Corridor of Fame.
When did you first know you wished to get into animation?
I believe my earliest spark for animation was after I was about 4 years outdated. 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 toddler. My mum labored a number of jobs to help us, so I used to be left to my creativeness and creativity. In class, my important research have been tremendous artwork drawing and portray. I additionally had a group of over 200 manga. And I’d watch anime every time I might at a pal’s dwelling.
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 dwelling relies on conventional Chinese language lore. In reality, 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 wished to reinterpret one among these tales in a contemporary approach for a brand new viewers. It is a acquainted story of 1 man’s pursuit of a legendary place. He is confronted with warfare, magical creatures, and an alien. It is an epic and cautionary story that I felt was relatable and related right this moment.
Inform us concerning the distinctive artwork type of the movie
Penglai is a mixture of totally different artwork types. I grew up learning conventional Chinese language drawing. I additionally love anime. For this movie, I used to be impressed by the complicated visuals within the Tibetan Thangka scrolls. I actually wished to push the visible boundaries of 2D animation. Happily, I labored with very artistic groups within the U.S. and China. It was vital 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 parts. Penglai’s total type is an expression and reflection of who I’m and the multicultural world I stay in.
Penglai mixes each animation and puppetry. What made you wish to mix these two types?
We used fairly a number of totally different methods and types in Penglai. We designed the movie utilizing shadow puppets, bodily fashions, and numerous hand-drawn photos.
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 option to work on and develop the story.
We then illustrated the shadow puppet scene in 2D animation. By beginning with conventional artwork types, we have been capable of 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 all the time wished to do animation, and I’ve labored to study from the most effective. But it surely was the luck of making the Tuzki character after which the laborious work of rising him into a world 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 you must 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 trend manufacturers on streetwear collections. I’ve additionally created CryptoKitties NFTs and constructed VR experiences. One upcoming undertaking I am enthusiastic about is a gallery present of my tremendous artwork.
As vital as all this different work is to me, I’m first a director with love for animation.
Which animations encourage and fascinate you probably the most?
I really like the Astro Boy manga and anime. In a single story I learn as a toddler, Astro Boy should struggle and destroy one other robotic. He then opens the door to his personal coronary heart to take a look at his battery. At that second, he realises that someday he may even die. It was an awakening for me. Anime has the ability to specific pleasure, pleasure, and even deep reflection.
The traditional Chinese language cartoon Legend of Sealed E-book is one other favorite I’ve watched numerous instances. I like the usage of conventional Chinese language portray methods, which I’ve additionally woven into my work.
Extra just lately, I have been a giant fan of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It has very imaginative characters. And the visible design is a ravishing mixture of 2D and 3D types.
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 types and tales are nonetheless unfamiliar to Western audiences. But, these tales share themes and values widespread to all of us.
Within the movie, I wished 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 religious to the materialistic.
We see the identical developments repeated right this moment. 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 know the hazard of this.
My hope for all audiences is that they benefit from the movie. I hope it is relatable and recent. Plus, it could be nice if the movie uncovered new audiences to Chinese language artwork and tales.
How is making your individual 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 significant studio. In some methods, Penglai is just like the bigger movie franchises I work on as a result of I get to work with unimaginable skills, reminiscent of 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 tasks for our blockbuster movies. I create unique 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 vital. 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 comparable. All my characters come from my internal voice and alter ego. I do not suppose there’s a secret recipe to the method. I attempt to be trustworthy with who the character is and the world by which they stay. I am lucky when this resonates with an viewers.
What are probably the most difficult and rewarding components of directing animation?
I really like creating characters and tales. Animation permits me to deliver this to life and share it with others. Animation can also be very difficult, laborious, and time-consuming. You have to like it to do it. And I do.
Directing is a studying course of. You are a creator and chief. You bear a variety of duty. It was superb working with expertise who’re masters of their respective fields. We produced Penglai throughout Covid, and we obtained 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, you need to put together, do the work, and imagine in your workforce.
Congratulations on just lately being inducted into the Asian Corridor of Fame! How did that really feel?
I used to be shocked 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 approach. All through my profession, I’ve centered on creating the most effective work doable. Receiving this honour made me pause and acknowledge that I’m on the correct path. The expertise additionally supplied me with position fashions that I look as much as and might now name pals.
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 optimistic concerning the future. In fact, each undertaking I do has its challenges and triumphs. However the course of all the time renews my ardour for creating nice work. What I’m particularly hopeful about proper now’s the work I am doing towards directing my first function movie.