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Animator Sijia Huang talks impactful film "Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil"

Hailing from Chongqing, a city next to Sichuan Province in China, Sijia Huang has quickly taken the Chinese animation industry by storm. She knows the importance that film has in society and aims to make a difference through her work. She does not let herself be affected by the success she has achieved and continues to do what she loves simply because it is her passion. Not many are so lucky to find their calling in life, but Huang is one of those few.

Making headlines once again with her newest award-winning film Breakfast, Huang is undoubtedly talented. Her work on other films such as Quitting Brave Victory and BoxHome, as well as the musical event Measures & Frames just further exemplify this fact. However, despite such success, she believes the highlight of her career so far was her film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil.

“My personal style of animation is smooth, and I aim to have a good balance between tension and looseness, which generates a good rhythm for the film. The project that I think best demonstrate this is Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil. When I animate things, I always make fluency the priority. The elegance I am pursuing is above animation foundation, more like a choreographer who can make movements connect seamlessly, like an infinity tide,” she said.

Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil is a film of choreography that conveys the struggles of humanity. Huang was both the director and animator of the film. She videoed herself dancing for the choreography and animated her puppets under black velvet. The dance in the film is a way to depict man’s life cycle.

“The most important reason why I wanted to create and be the leading animator on this film is concept and idea of the story. It is not the traditional narrative concept I usually work with, it is about how to visualise an idea and the abstraction” Huang described. “The idea of Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil comes from Buddhism, which I learned and studied, but there are many explanations to the origin and meaning of the phrase.”

In Buddhist tradition, the tenets of the proverb are about not dwelling on evil thoughts. In Japanese culture, there are the three wise monkeys, sometimes called three mystic apes, and together they embody the proverbial principle. In the Western world, both the proverb and the image are often used to refer to a lack of moral responsibility on the part of people who refuse to acknowledge impropriety, looking the other way or feigning ignorance. It may also signify a code of silence in gangs, or organized crime. Huang’s dance explores all such theories while exploring life itself.

The film is one of Huang’s most decorated projects. It premiered at the Director’s Guild of America’s First Frame Film Festival in 2016, where it was an Official Selection. From there, it was an Official Selection at the Singapore Independent Film Festival 2017 and Unrestricted View Film Festival 2017. It was awarded Best Animation Short Student at the London Independent Film Festival 2017 and preselected for the 2nd Annual Madrid Art Film Festival.

“I feel so happy and thankful that the film has done so well. I see my self-growth on every film and I feel so luck there are always people to help me and give me advice. The success of the film always gives me motivation for my future creations,” she said.

Once Huang found the ideal composer, Pantawit Kiangsiri, to create music to fit her concept, she had to take care of the dance. To capture the choreography for the animation, Huang danced in front of a green screen as a reference, and she marked the ground with blue tape, therefore knowing exactly where to move to hit each musical point. All the footage was used as references for the puppet animation. Without doing so, it would have been immensely difficult to replicate believable dance movement in the animation.

Not many animators or filmmakers are experienced dancers, but Huang knew the skill may help her in her work. She therefore practiced contemporary and jazz dancing a few years ago. Knowing the movements so well helps her create the smooth animation look that she has perfected, even when she isn’t dancing in front of a green screen.

“Understanding basic body mechanics is important for any animation project, but my knowledge and practice in choreography and aesthetics on body movement contributed a lot to this project. It reignited my enjoyment of dance and reminded me of my dancing and choreography talent, which was my favorite part of the whole production. It came out great, and people asked me if I found someone who did the dance for the film. I was so proud to tell it was me,” she said.

For Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil, all of the animation was shot using the stop-motion technique using puppets, a preferred style for Huang. However, rather than using tradition wired puppets, she created ball and socket armatures, to help with creating animation “on one”. Animating on one means animators need to shoot 24 frames per second, which is immensely more difficult and time-consuming comparing to animate on two. The increments for animators to move is getting smaller, meaning the movement on characters per frame is very subtle, which makes it extremely hard to animate in this style. However, Huang never looks away from a challenge, and thrived using this style. Now, she has adopted it for much of her other, more recent work.

“As the leading animator on this project, Sijia was responsible for creating all of the puppet’s movements in the film. This was a very intensive process, which required a great deal of proficiency to generate believable dance movement. In order to animate accurate movements such as weight shifting, Sijia studied the biomechanics on dancers and analyzed data gathered from motion trackers attached to dancers. Understanding basic body mechanics is important for any animation project, and her familiarity and practice in regards to choreography contributed immeasurably to the film. Her knowledge of the entire animation process has made her an extremely valuable collaborator, as she has proven in a host of successful projects,” said Mar Elepano, Filmmaker and Production Supervisor.

Huang is undoubtedly talented, but she knows hard work and perseverance have allowed her to achieve what she has today. Since the beginning of her career, she has known the importance of networking and building a strong portfolio, and she advises animation students to begin doing so while still in school. Then, maybe one day, you can follow in her footsteps.

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