Taian Lu’s Break the Confinement is an alternative coming-of-age tale told through frame-by-frame animation

The Chinese animator draws on personal childhood experiences and observations to tell this moving animated tale.

22 June 2020


Taian Lu’s Break the Confinement may be short (it’s just over a minute to be precise) but it’s brief length doesn’t take away from its masterful artistry. Centring on the growth of children, the animated short “describes and reveals an existing parenting problem in China,” explains the animator. The animation likens the innocence and fragility of young children to that of a delicate flower. He draws comparisons between their sensitivities, expressing the tenderness and care given to each to thrive, while simultaneously questioning when the care and attention becomes too much.

“At the beginning of the animation,” says the now UK-based animator, currently finishing up his master’s degree in visual communication at Birmingham City University, “I depict a boy growing up under the protection fo his parents.” Drawing on his own experiences growing up in China, the beautiful animation is highly decorative, informed by floral patterns and colours while rendered with a textured needlework effect to highlight the frail atmosphere. “Like flowers in a greenhouse, [the children] can’t withstand storms, they can only live in good conditions,” says Taian.

Using this analogy, the animator comments on the overprotected, mollycoddled children he knew growing up. “Many families in China spoil their children,” he recalls from his childhood. He remembers back to his days in school, his classmates called him names because of his appearance: giraffe, Big Ear Tutu (a Chinese cartoon character with big ears) for example. “I wasn’t aware the nicknames were good or bad at the time,” Taian goes on to say, but they certainly made an impact. In turn, Break the Confinement retells his childhood experiences combined with observations of Chinese parenting to form the basis of the story.

Most fond of frame-by-frame animation as he thinks it's “full of soul,” Taian originally studied graphic design before pursuing animation during his master’s. He often illustrates himself to kickstart his creative process and because he thinks he has “an interesting body,” visually describing his facial attributes in a myriad of styles to develop his aesthetic. Exploring social phenomena combined with personal experiences, Taian’s unique style echoes a number of craft-based references doused in uplifting colour. Smoothly transitioning from scene to scene, Break the Confinement follows the protagonist as he grows up under the strict restraints of his parents.

Divided into three sections, the first evokes the child’s early development, shape shifting alongside natural forms hinting to a plant’s life cycle of pollination and germination. Later, he sees a bird flying freely outside the greenhouse and yearns to break free of the glass confinement which is the greenhouse. Rapidly maturing before our eyes, the animated version of Taian is seen chasing the bird, eventually transforming into one himself and breaking through the glass ceiling where he is free to fly in the air.

Then, Taian continues to explain the second section which takes part in a school: “His appearance draws the attention of his classmates and he does not know how to communicate with people to solve the problem, resulting in extremely low self-esteem, and he finds he can only escape back to the greenhouse.” But when he returns back, the flowers have withered and died in the wind. Poignant in its emotive coming-of-age story, the animation is equally painstaking in its process. Entirely hand drawn, Taian’s style hints to Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e, not to mention the greatly admired animator Yukai Du. Engaging in its hypnotising swirling visuals, fundamentally, he hopes his viewers that have “grown up in the ‘greenhouse’” will learn to think about communicating with others.

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About the Author

Jynann Ong

Jynann 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. She went freelance in 2022.

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