Chinese language animator Momo Wang is one thing of a multi-talented marvel. In addition to working as an animator and artistic director for the leisure studio Illumination Leisure, she’s additionally an creator whose image books have often 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 vital recognisable mascots on the 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 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 identify. Alongside the best way, he will get shipwrecked in a storm earlier than being rescued by a mysterious girl 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 whole lot of Oscars buzz. And by wanting on the trailer, it isn’t onerous to see why. Its one-of-a-kind animation model weaves collectively varied types, strategies and cultural imagery to inform a distinctly Chinese language story with worldwide enchantment.
We sat down with Momo to be taught 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 wished to get into animation?
I feel my earliest spark for animation was after 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. In class, my important research had been superb artwork drawing and portray. I additionally had a set of over 200 manga. And I might watch anime every time I may at a pal’s residence.
The place did the concept for Penglai come from, and what made you need to make it?
The thought of Penglai as Buddha’s legendary residence is predicated on conventional Chinese language lore. In actual fact, 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 in every of these tales in a contemporary manner 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 at the moment.
Inform us concerning the distinctive artwork model of the movie
Penglai is a mixture of totally different artwork types. I grew up finding out 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 necessary 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 general model is an expression and reflection of who I’m and the multicultural world I reside in.
Penglai mixes each animation and puppetry. What made you need to mix these two types?
We used fairly just a few totally different methods and types 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 elements of the movie. They’re utilized in a montage to convey the passage of time. Working with the puppets was an natural solution to work on and develop the story.
We then illustrated the shadow puppet scene in 2D animation. By beginning with conventional artwork varieties, we had been capable of honour the supply materials and create one thing new.
How did your background as an image e book and graphic novel creator put together you for getting into the world of animation?
I’ve all the time wished to do animation, and I’ve labored to be taught from the perfect. Nevertheless it was the luck of making the Tuzki character after which the onerous work of rising him into a world enterprise that modified my life.
That platform allowed me to creator graphic novels and books. Writing books has improved my animation work. Graphical books are nice as a result of it is advisable to 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 challenge I am enthusiastic about is a gallery present of my superb artwork.
As necessary as all this different work is to me, I’m first a director with love for animation.
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 battle 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 at some point he may even die. It was an awakening for me. Anime has the ability to specific pleasure, pleasure, and even deep reflection.
The basic 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 not too long ago, I have been a giant fan of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It has very imaginative characters. And the visible design is a phenomenal mixture of 2D and 3D types.
Penglai honours historic Chinese language artwork and tradition. What do you hope Western audiences be taught 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 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 at the 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 contemporary. 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. Nonetheless, 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 unimaginable skills, comparable to Scarlett Johansson, who narrated my movie.
Whereas I directed Penglai, I’m additionally an animation and artistic director at Illumination Leisure. I work on particular initiatives 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 necessary. As storytellers, we should create characters which might be greater than pixels on a display screen. 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 interior voice and alter ego. I do not assume there’s a secret recipe to the method. I attempt to be trustworthy with who the character is and the world wherein they reside. I am lucky when this resonates with an viewers.
What are essentially the most difficult and rewarding elements of directing animation?
I like creating characters and tales. Animation permits me to carry this to life and share it with others. Animation can also be very sophisticated, laborious, and time-consuming. You will need to 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 duty. It was wonderful working with expertise who’re masters of their respective fields. We produced Penglai throughout Covid, and we acquired hit with obstacles at each step. I needed to be taught to handle the complexities and persevere by way of the challenges whereas staying true to my imaginative and prescient. Finally, you have to put together, do the work, and consider in your group.
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 manner. All through my profession, I’ve targeted on creating the perfect work doable. Receiving this honour made me pause and acknowledge that I’m on the best path. The expertise additionally offered me with function fashions that I look as much as and might now name mates.
Penglai is a celebration of the human spirit and hope. What provides you hope, and what are you hoping for sooner or later?
I’m hopeful and constructive concerning the future. After all, each challenge 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 could be the work I am doing towards directing my first function movie.