Animator Sijia Huang brings joyful characters to life in new film ‘Breakfast’

As an only child, Sijia Huang was always looking for ways to entertain herself. She didn’t have any siblings to play with, and growing up in Chongqing, China, she immersed herself into movies from a young age, finding that it not only passed the time, but consumed her every thought. She knew she had to be a part of that world, and loving drawing from an early age, she became committed to knowing everything she could about animation. She studied her favorite films and scoured video stores to find new movies she could learn from. Now, she is an acclaimed animator, winning audiences around the world over with her unique style and commitment to her craft.

Her films Box Home, Quitting Brave Victory, Measures and Frames and Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil have allowed the world to see just what Huang is capable of. Her ability to generate smooth animation while still maintaining a good balance between tension and looseness generate the perfect rhythm for her films. She knows that in animated films, her work is the entirety of the visual aspect, making up 50 per cent of the movie goers experience, and she knows how to make that lasting impression.

“Just like having good actors or actresses in a film, a professional animator can create lively characters that will contribute lots to the story. A good story is one of the most important parts of a film. The power of a well animated character, a good story, and the aesthetic value behind an animated film is why I want to be a professional animator,” she said.

Huang’s most recent film is titled Breakfast, in which she was both the director and leading animator. She designed and crafted all the puppets and did all the stop-motion animation. Breakfast is a combination of 2D and stop-motion animation. The character design is what intrigued Huang to take part in the film, with a unique take on stop-motion puppets. She also found the script interesting, with funny and unique characters.

The story begins with two hands hitting two eggs. As the hitting goes on, the two eggs start to crack and finally explode into pieces. Two creatures come out of the eggs. One is a duck with hairy human legs. The other one is a muscular man with duck feet. The duck and the man both have a crush on each other and start to dance. In the middle of the dance, the two hands interrupt them by hitting them on their heads. A chase and fight commence. In the end, it turns out all the encounters and fights are happening in a child’s imaginary world when he plays with his toys – a rubber duck and an action figure, during his breakfast.

“The story is more about viewing the world with children’s perspective and the positive messages behind the story include love, support and equality,” said Huang.

Huang began working on the animation back in 2015, and it took over two years to perfect every image. After premiering at the New York Short Film Festival 2018 where it was an Official Selection, the film has already seen great acclaim. It was an Official Selection at the 2018 GUKIFF Animated Short, UK Monthly Film Festival, and the Oniros Film Awards. It also had an Official Screen at the Oregon Shorts section in the 41st Portland International Film Festival. At the Los Angeles Movie Awards, Huang was awarded with Best Animation for her work on the film, and at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival she won Best Director. Needless to say, none of the film’s success could have been possible without her considerable contributions.

“Knowing the film has been so successful means a lot to me, as the director and the leading animator on this film, I had a lot of pressure. At the beginning, I didn’t know if the audiences would like the characters or not. This film is all about these interesting characters, which I personally love and had lots of fun on animating. It turns out that audiences really like it too, Every effort paid off at the end,” said Huang.

Huang was responsible for all the stop-motion animation in Breakfast, which was 90 per cent of the entire animation. Stop-motion requires working with puppets. While making the puppets, she was very careful when it came to the mold and cast process, one of the greatest challenges. When she began the process, she had no experience in casting them, and through trial and error, eventually created characters that were even better than the original design.

TeamPhoto
Sijia Huang, Stan Lee, and Yifu Zhou with the Digital Domain team

“I first met Sijia when we worked together on some digital content pieces for Stan Lee, and immediately recognized her exceptional talent and matchless vision. She is one of these rare talents, as she clearly demonstrated in Breakfast, and her reputation precedes her in the industry. Her stop-motion work is renowned for being refreshing in the animation world, as it is simultaneously mature, artistic, and avant-garde,” said Yifu Zhou, Vice President and Visual Effects Supervisor at Digital Domain.

Although they are not human actors, Huang says the puppets require a lot of care. For example, the Duck character has a pair of hairy legs that need special handling and care when animating. Therefore, she chose to only touch the joints that she needed to bend so that the leg hair would not fall off. She also used baby powder to help reduce the stickiness of the silicon surface.

“The ball and socket armatures were so fun to animate. I enjoyed the experience of animating on stage. It is hard to imagine without the ball and socket armatures, how to work on some of the shots. The most difficult part is to animate characters in the air. Two characters in the film are made of silicon and super sculpted. The materials and steal ball and socket armatures make the puppets heavy to animate. In order to stable them in the air, I used special designed rigs, so I can tie the puppets to the flying rigs to create movement in the air,” Huang described.

Music was also a big part of the film. Not only did Huang find the ideal composer in Lance Trevino, she also needed the choreography to be perfect. This required an ample amount of research on Tango dancing in order to perfectly execute the animation. To do so, Huang analyzed the patters of the dance steps and extracted the key movements to fit the animation style. Her dedicated resulted in the Tango being the highlight of the film.

“I loved the film, so animating it was really fun. When you see the characters on this film, you will know why I love them so much,” she concluded.

Be sure to check out Breakfast to know just what Huang is talking about.

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