Welcome to Qianhui Yu’s sugar-coated world of Wastopia where wasted food comes to life

The recent Royal College of Art graduate talks us through her four-and-a-half-minute short, Wastopia.

1 September 2020


Where do you think your wasted food goes? In Wastopia, a new animated short by the London-based Qianhui Yu, all the wasted food in the world is transported to a weird and wonderful world. The four-and-a-half minute short explores issues surrounding the global attitude to waste disposal, reimagining the unwanted paraphernalia as adorable creatures, cast out into a world where environmental pollution is quick to follow.

Directed and animated by Qianhui herself, Wastopia also features music design by Andrew McDonnell and mixing by Henry Sims. Like many of the creatives we write about on It’s Nice That, Qianhui began her artistic journey through drawing. Born and raised in China, while studying new media art at China Academy of Art, Qianhui became interested in animation. She realised the power of moving image and how it can be meaningfully utilised to express an idea. After dabbling with making frames move, she knew animation was what she wanted to continue working on.

As a result, after her undergraduate degree, Qianhui ventured to London’s Royal College of Art to pursue a master’s in animation, where she has just graduated from. There, she developed her signature visual language that can be seen in her graduate film Wastopia – style she describes as “sugar-coated” with “candy-coloured playful characters”. On one hand, these characters are surreal, highly stylised in their expression and texture. On the other, this style, coupled with the pressing narrative of climate change, creates a uniquely sarcastic atmosphere. Qianhui tells us of the inspiration behind the film: “I have always had complicated feelings about food.” After watching live Mukbang videos – the food phenomena where someone eats large amounts of food while interacting with an audience – Qianhui realised how little concern she had for food waste.


Qianhui Yu: Wastopia (Copyright © Qianhui Yu, 2020)

She started researching food wastage, noting the environmental effects of over production not to mention the damaging mentalities of over consumption. “I started to think,” says Qianhui, "what if the wasted food and garbage have feelings? Then we would really think about what we threw away." In turn, she created the world of Wastopia. In this otherworldly existence, unwanted plastic materials become sprawling creatures, animal skeletons return to life and wasted foods roam the animated planes. These creatures develop their own ecosystem and hierarchy in a “narrative-free exploration of human waste,” a subtle exploration of the environmental impact we are having on the world if we don’t change our behaviours.

By making the short, Qianhui wanted to raise awareness not only for others, but also herself. “The issues of waste disposal and food waste are just one of the ways mankind is causing harm and leaving the earth ruined. However the devastating result of the pollution is something most people don’t see every day, but it is happening in real time, all the time.” As well as the animated film, Qianhui is expanding the project in a variety of other media including comics, Instagram filters, album artwork design, prints and even pottery.

The charming characters, which tell the story of something not-so nice, now fill the animator’s creative portfolio in a range of expressions. It’s a multi-disciplinary approach that she hopes she can continue building on in the future through further animation projects or as a freelance artist. Above all, she wants to work on projects that interest her (like climate change) and push her current style and character design. As for now, all she can do is see what the city of London has in store for her, and we can’t wait to see what she does next.

GalleryQianhui Yu: Wastopia (Copyright © Qianhui Yu, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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