Interviews With Animators: Ying Wu, SpellboundBlake Harris 08.17.2016
In this week’s installment, we speak with talented, recent-grad, Ying Wu…
Last week, in our PICK OF THE WEEK, we wrote about Spellbound, an adorable animated short, which was created by Ying Wu and Lizzia Xu as their thesis project at Ringling College of Art and Design. To learn more about how Spellbound was made and get some insight into how Ringling helps shape young animators, we spoke with Ying Wu.
Blake J. Harris: Thank you so much for speaking with us, Ying. Obviously we really liked your film Spellbound. How long did it take you to make?
Ying Wu: From concept to finish film, it roughly took a year and a half.
Blake J. Harris: And what was the original concept for the film? Was it very similar or did it change a lot over that time?
Ying Wu: The original story is far off. The story was about a rumor. So the idea was that a rumor can become real and hurt.
Blake J. Harris: Ah, so similar to the “jealousy” character/s in Spellbound.
Ying Wu: Yes. But the idea was too vague and difficult to do. Because it would need to be in a school and our little girl, Rene, the rumors she wrote would become real; so that would be very hard to show.
Blake J. Harris: Yeah, that’s so complicated to show in a short film.
Ying Wu: It was too complicated. That’s why we ended up making it more condensed. So instead of making it a full school of classmates, we decided to make the film about sisters.
Blake J. Harris: That decision also helps you sympathize more with Rene. As a sibling; she’s not necessarily being malicious. Speaking of which, do you have any siblings?
Ying Wu: I do. I have a little sister.
Blake J. Harris: [laughter] We should mention that you didn’t make this film alone. You created this with a classmate, Lizzia Xu. How did the two of you partner up for this?
Ying Wu: We were in the same class for computer animation sophomore year. Her work’s been great. When I saw it, I knew my idea was too big. I needed someone who could help me pull it off. So I invited the person who I thought could help me the most.
Blake J. Harris: Before we talk more about the film, tell me more about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you become interested in illustration and animation?
Ying Wu: I’m originally from China. So I spent ten years of my childhood in China. I just started drawing when I was a little kid, like most artists. We all start really young and we don’t even know why we love it so much.
Blake J. Harris: You created this film while you were a student at Ringling. Tell me what makes the school special? What did you first notice when you arrived?
Ying Wu: To begin with, everyone was kind of competitive. Because everyone wants to be the best. It was only the second year that people realized that we’re, like, all on the bottom of the food chain. And we have to climb up. So that’s when we really gathered together and sympathized with each other; talked with one another about our challenges and goals and our dreams. And that really helped unite us.
Blake J. Harris: Tell me more about the film. How did it progress from that initial idea?
Ying Wu: It started in the middle of my junior year. That’s when we throw out ideas to the faculty. They help us select with ones to proceed one. That idea got picked and we spent roughly three months polishing the idea.We made a storyboard during that time and that’s when the film when through a lot, a lot of changes.
Ying Wu: So by the end of our junior year we have a rough idea ready and then we proceed with the story into senior year; that’s our production year.
Blake J. Harris: One thing I loved about Spellbound was its emotional and economic use of storytelling. How, as an animator, do you feel like you learned to tell stories?
Ying Wu: I would say, at Ringling, that storytelling is kind of a crowd effort. We have a lot of ideas bouncing around. We have meetings and just bounce ideas. And to make a story work we have to actually go through a lot of people. This process helps refine the ideas over time.
Blake J. Harris: What was the biggest challenge making the film?
Ying Wu: Deadline. We had faculty meetings every month and it was really hard to keep hitting the deadlines with just two people. We were pulling all-nighters; working on this during our summer break and during our winter break. It just ran on, 24 hours every single day.
Blake J. Harris: So did you do anything special when you finished?
Ying Wu: No, we were really sick of it by then. We just decided put it away for a little bit. Because, you know, if you watch a film over and over and over and over again…
Blake J. Harris: Do you have a favorite part of the film?
Ying Wu: I can tell you the one thing I hated the most.
Blake J. Harris: Sure.
Ying Wu: It’s the scene of them jumping around the bedroom. That’s the scene that took me the longest. It’s the most complicated, every single aspect. From modeling to lighting, it took about a month to complete. Just that one shot.
Blake J. Harris: What software did you use to make the film?
Ying Wu: The main one was Maya from Autodesk.
Blake J. Harris: One final question for you. Having now gone through the difficult experience, what advice would you give a student just getting started with their film?
Ying Wu: I would say if you want a good story, you have to suffer. And if you want a job, keep the film short. That will give you more time to polish the film and make it golden, so you could sell it to the recruiters.