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Animator Zanda Tang shows off Chinese Culture in award-winning film ‘Lion Dance’

One of Zanda Tang’s earliest childhood memories is watching Disney’s iconic film The Lion King. He was captivated by the story and transfixed by the moving drawings on the screen. Little did he know the film he loved so much as a child would provide inspiration for a successful career in animation. At the time, he was just doing what all kids do: using their imagination.

“I always drew a lot of The Lion King characters as a kid. I don’t know how many times I have seen the movie, but it’s a lot. I painted Simba time and time again and shook the paper in my hand to imagine that he was running,” said Tang.

Tang is now an in-demand Animation Concept Artist both in his home country of China and abroad. In China, he has worked on countless projects in advertising and informational projects. These include the video Fairy Tale is Not a Lie for Huiju Shopping Center Beijing, Completion of the Compilation of the Chinese Dictionary for Baidu, Dedication Makes a Nation for the 2nd Socialist Core Values Animation Competition, and a satellite video for China Academy of Space Technology. As a versatile filmmaker, his work expands across mediums and genres, with acclaimed films like Diors Samurai and Baby and Granny on his resume.

The highlight of Tang’s venerated career, however, came back in 2016 when he worked on the film Lion Dance. It is a romantic visual poem set during a traditional Asian parade in which a highly acrobatic dance is performed to bring good luck. It explores the theme of serendipity using a combination of CG and 2D animation techniques, with an original score to express the rhythmic and pulsating emotion and actions of the characters. The story follows Jian, a Chinese Lion Dancer who is performing in his city's parade when he locks eyes with Ayumi, a visiting tourist. It's love at first sight for both, but the parade must continue. Will they be able to find each other and reconnect?

“Working on Lion Dance was extremely memorable for me. Not only did it receive a lot of awards and recognition, but it changed the way I saw animation. I gained more confidence. It has witnessed my efforts and affirmed my ability. Before that, I was always hesitating whether to continue to work as an Animation concept artist or to choose a job with more freedom of creation. However, after working on this project, I knew without a doubt that I was in the right field,” said Tang.

Tang took on the role of environment designer for Lion Dance. Based on his vast understanding of Chinese architecture, he first selected "arcade", an old building in Guangdong, China, as the scene of the animation according to the background of the story. In the south there are many old "arcades", most of which have lively shops on the ground floor. In order to bring more Chinese character, he also added a lot of eaves of unique buildings in Zhejiang, making the entire scene have a more Chinese feel. This arrangement can be divided into ‘lion dance’ and ‘looking for someone’, which can add a lot of scene details and elements for the animation segments.

In the picture, he simplified the materials of the building, such as stone brick and wood grain. In this way, he did not lose the characteristics of the building, but used the unique structure of Chinese buildings to show their majesty. The light-colored walls, red eaves and tiles, rendered by the golden sunlight in the animation, bring harmony and happiness to the whole animation.

“This was such a great project to be a part of. On the one hand, it shows traditional Chinese culture and the lively atmosphere of Chinese festivals. On the other hand, it shows our innovation and persistence in the animation industry. We boldly used CG to render 2D animation, which is not common in the industry. We wanted to show our attitude in this general environment of realistic rendering of high-precision detail animation. It had a good story and design is the most important aspect to animation, technology is only auxiliary,” said Tang.

Lion Dance went on to enormous success. Not only did it win nine awards at various film festivals, it was nominated for and screened at another 30 festivals. The film was selected to play in the “Best Of” category at LACMA’s “12th Annual Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival”, a tremendous honor for Tang and his team.

“I didn't expect to win so many and such precious awards. I'm glad to join such an excellent team. It is because we encourage and trust each other that we get such good results. That is what always brings success,” he said.

Be sure to check out Lion Dance to be immersed in the story and animation.

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