2023-06-22 23:00:11

STVFORUM | Diversified Animations Derived from True Life


On June 22, the 28th Shanghai TV Festival held the STVF Animation MasterClass, inviting the jury members of the Animation section of this year’s Magnolia Awards to share their experiences and creative ideas from cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary backgrounds, and to explore the innovative cooperation, talent cultivation and development trend of the animation industry.



Start of career: Keep true to the original aspiration for the animation undertaking


David Stephan, Canadian animation director


Animation is the essence of human wisdom. Generations of animators have devoted themselves to the animation undertaking, which is inseparable from their “original aspiration”, that is the passion for animation. Canadian animation director David Stephan, Jury President of the Animation section of this year’s Magnolia Awards, has participated in the production of animation works such as THE LION KING, ALADDIN and THE LITTLE MERMAID. The reason why Stephan has embarked on the road of animation creation could be traced back to his experience when he was 16 years old. He was very fond of drawing at that time, but only as a general hobby. However, everything changed, when he saw the Disney animated film BAMBI. Being enlightened, he realized for the first time that “It turned out that animated films could be so beautiful and could be so emotionally inspiring, and I decided to enter the animation industry from that time on.”


Stephan was particularly “amazed” when he enrolled in the Toronto Film School to study animation production: “They can achieve amazing, wonderful animation effects in a variety of ways, such as scenes of horses running, and shots of characters speaking, which are very impressive to me.” At that moment, Stephan suddenly realized that “painting is not as simple as hanging it on the wall”, “I painted a series of paintings and then presented them frame by frame through the projector, making it possible to show life so vividly through paintings.” After graduation, Stephan entered Disney for animation production, “I hope to have more communication with the audience, I hope to convey the emotion to them, so that they can be happy and sad with the characters of the work, and find something valuable in it.”


Spencer Ooi, Malaysian animation director and producer


Malaysian animation director and producer Spencer Ooi, jury member of the Animation section of this year’s Magnolia Awards, has participated in the production of the well-known animated film WAR OF THE WORLDS: GOLIATH, and his design ideas have been incorporated into famous game IPs such as SUPER MARIO and ASSASSIN’S CREED. Spencer Ooi’s passion for animation is inseparable from the support and encouragement from his father when he was a child. As a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent, he is obsessed with traditional Chinese culture. At the age of six, Spencer Ooi drew a dragon on the blackboard, but there was no camera at home, so “my father rode a motorcycle for half an hour to find a photographer in town to take a picture of my drawing.” Spencer Ooi treasures this photo to this day, and the story of the dragon has become the reason behind his pursuit in animation in the first place. “This experience has motivated me to become an animation director, and I will never forget it, because it is the “original aspiration” that leaves me keep going.”


Jia Fou, Chinese animation director and professor


Jia Fou, Chinese animation director and professor who is a member of the jury of this year’s Animation section of Magnolia Awards Category, has made great achievements in the field of animation academic research. From studying animation to becoming an animation research scholar, Jia Fou’s experience is particularly unique. “When I studied animation in my early years, there was no ready-to-use textbooks and materials I could get were very limited.” All the research work she did was to make herself understand “not to engage in a career blindly”, “I wanted to figure out the reasons for working on animation and the qualities I needed to possess.”


Creation: Capture true life with persistence


In Stephan’s opinion, the most important quality animators need to have is “drawing ability”. “Drawing is the most important thing, you should carry a sketchbook with you, and draw the gestures captured in real life on it. It is recommended that you watch as many animations and other artists’ creations as possible so that you can share your experience with each other.”



But after drawing static pictures, we need to make them “move” and make them look true to life. “We need to make facial expressions, specific movements, move in a natural way.” Animation production involves the cooperation of acting, painting, and scenography departments, and also requires divisions of labor such as visual effects and sound effects. Stephan suggested that “people should try to make as many animated films as possible to understand where their strengths lie, and it will take at least five years of experience to become a good animator.”


Spencer Ooi admires especially students who choose to specialize in animation production because people will prone to give up in this industry, and he has many colleagues who have turned to other professions one after another. “I still have to thank my father for his affirmation of me. In the creative process there are often people who deny your work, and how can you keep from giving up at such moments? It is still necessary to look back at the original point of our career – the original aspiration. Then make good use of your imagination, which is the most powerful thing in the world.” Spencer Ooi expressed the expectation that young people will collect the bits and pieces of their lives and draw what they observe in their sketchbooks, instead of thinking greedily of three-act creation at the very beginning.


Having produced a large number of award-winning animated shorts and having rich experience in guiding students’ creation, Jia Fou has been reflecting on the current problems of animation education. “Those who create dreams must know the truth of the world, and senior animators will adhere to this creative philosophy.” Jia Fou particularly agreed to Stephan and Spencer Ooi’s idea of drawing anytime, anywhere, “Carrying around a sketchbook and recording whatever you see and think of is the precursor to storyboards, offering you story sketches in creating frames for an animated film.”


Challenge: New technologies to help us tell stories in a better way


With the development of technology, the whole animation industry and creation are facing a huge impact. If the AI production of live-action films still has a long way to go, then the process of AI production of animated films may be greatly shortened. For a veteran animator like Stephan, he has long experienced a multitude of “technical reshuffles”. “When we first began working in 2D, the studios used to draw with pens. Then we experienced the revolution brought about by digital technology, and many artists failed to keep up with the change of technology, and were left behind.” In Stephan’s opinion, as new technologies continue to iterate, animators need to learn to use different software and apply them in a better way to create animations.



Stephan believes that the future potential of AI is unlimited, “in the future there will be AI digital movie star, it can be so real that we all want to ask him for an autograph.” But in the face of the enormous challenges posed by iterations of technology, Stephan insisted that everyone “should use AI technology as a tool” and “let it help you tell your story better, and don’t let it tell you what to do.”


Faced with the huge challenges brought by AI, some industry insiders are worried, but Spencer Ooi optimistically said, “We have to work well with AI, and we have to work out things that move people with AI. For example, by upgrading an old photo through AI, we see grandfather crying and grandmother eating, which is AI’s significance for the world.”


Jia Fou also reminded people to have a sober judgment about AI, “AI is literally a tool, and how to use this tool matters the most. New technologies appear from time to time, and we can’t be intimidated by them.” Jia Fou believes that the most important part of being human is to be confident, and confidence comes from “passion”. “It could be the passion for your culture, for your growth, for your parents, or for your work, and you will find that there are many things worth treasuring and worth inheriting. Let the new technology help us fulfill our cultural mission and the role in the context of the times, rather than blindly follow them.”


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