For Cheng-Hsu Chung’s very last animation at the Royal College of Art, he wanted to create something wholly liberating. In the past, his films have focused predominantly on character animation, but for this final film before entering into the industry full time, Cheng-Hsu wanted to also explore his interest in abstract painting. “Initially, I didn’t have a structure to create a storyline, but I knew I wanted to make something dynamic with joyful touches in its timings and rhythms,” he tells It’s Nice That.
Without writing a script, the animator went straight to pre-production, drawing a multitude of mood boards in an attempt to pick out a running theme lurking subconsciously beneath them all. He realised that most of the drawings pointed directly at the topic of sexuality, love and the queer community. And at that moment, he realised what this final film would be about: his journey as a queer person navigating through society. “I wanted to talk about love and discrimination, but also the freeing experiences of being queer while exploring my own identity,” adds Cheng-Hsu.
He liked this idea of talking both positively and negatively about the same topic in this latest film. Quickly, he set about finding a way to visually narrate a variety of personal frustrations, as well as the experience of finding love at the same time. In turn, he named his creation, Adorable. Looking to animation greats such as Peter Millard, Edwin Rostron and Georges Schwitzgebel for inspiration, Cheng-Hsu researched a number of abstract and non-narrative works that he similarly intended to emulate. “Their animations are all very fluid in their own sense, whether it’s upbeat or gentle,” says Cheng-Hsu on these artists, and inspired by their creative approaches, he challenged himself to create his first hand-painted film.
“I thought acrylic paint could help the visuals speak louder with organic textures,” he adds. Experimenting with the balance between abstraction and figuration, he crafted a loose timeline of the non-narrative film, adjusting the transition of scenes every now and again to allow compositions to flow ever-smoothly from one to another. Additionally, animating several characters in the same scene also proved challenging for Cheng, who’d only ever animated up to three characters in previous work.
Creating a compositional harmony between the characters and the space around them, Cheng-Hsu gave himself the meaty task of hand painting more than 2000 frames. Luckily for him, he enacted a role as director, delegating tasks to willing art school students and even some people he met online to help him finish the job. “More than 30 of them came to my studio to help me paint the frames during an intense two month period,” he recalls of the busy time. Furthering his skills as a director, he tasked his kind helpers with painting the frames in a carefully thought-out colour scheme. Soft pastel colours, neons and contrasting lights and darks all feature in the fast-paced five-and-a-half minute short. “I wanted to use the colours to define different states of minds and spaces,” he says on this maximalist choice, “so the audiences have a thread to follow while watching the film.”
Sound design and music also played an imperative role in the making of the film. Collaborating with the London-based duo Father for the vivid audio track, the musicians provided “strong visions to support the project through sound and music.” Working together throughout the making of the film, tweaking the track as the production unfurled, Father helped to craft the stylistic visual explosion that is the final cut of Adorable.
Ever since its completion, the film’s been running at festivals from the Ottawa International Animation Festival, to Glas. It’s given the animator a helpful lift up into the industry, evident in his roster of clients that’s gradually built up since graduating, from the BBC and Adidas to Warp Records and many more. Cheng-Hsu is crafting a name for himself in animation, and hopes to work more on music videos in the future. Finally, he goes on to tell us of Adorable, and his practice in general, “I would like to use my film as a voice for queer people to show different parts of my journey through society, and through the community.”
GalleryCheng-Hsu Chung: Adorable
Cheng Hsu-Chung: Adorable