Interview: Shawn Wang, Planet Unknown
In this week’s installment, we speak with Shawn Wang, the talented young animator responsible for Planet Unknown…
Last week, we raved about an endlessly endearing short film called Planet Unknown. To learn more about how the film was made, we got to speak with Shawn Wang; the talented young animator who brought the story to life…
Blake J. Harris: Shawn, thank you so much for speaking with me. Where are you currently located at the moment?
Shawn Wang: I’m in Shanghai.
Blake J. Harris: Fantastic! Well, as you know, we were big fans of Planet Unknown. But before we talk about the making of that film, I was curious to hear about how you first got into animation. Can you tell me how that happened?
Shawn Wang: I became interested in this 3D stuff six years ago. I was actually in high school at the time. I studied photography and sometimes made short films with friends. Then I started getting interested in adding some extra elements to the video: VFX. Then motion graphics then it was 3D. Then I completely fell in love with 3D animation.
Blake J. Harris: How did you learn about 3D animation? Classes? On your own?
Shawn Wang: I learned some basics in school. But for many of the technical things, I had to learn those things on my own. Through online resources. Tutorials from different YouTube channels. And similar kinds of websites.
Blake J. Harris: I love self-taught education!
Shawn Wang: [laughs]
Blake J. Harris: So tell me about Planet Unknown. What was the first kernel of an idea?
Shawn Wang: The inspiration for the story came when I watched Interstellar. I wanted to make a story about the two robots on mission without the humans. And the inspiration for making the short film on my own came from a lot of individuals on Vimeo. There were several people I saw who were making short films on their own: they would spend, like, 2 or 3 years. I was really impressed by that. I thought: maybe I can try this. Maybe it could be my graduation project. So I thought this was a good opportunity to take this personal challenge.
Blake J. Harris: In terms of the challenge, what was the hardest part of the process?
Shawn Wang: The hardest part is I didn’t realize how hard it is until I got started.
Blake J. Harris: Ha!
Shawn Wang: [laughing] I didn’t realize. I think maybe 60% of the skills used to make the film were learned during the process. So it was very intense.
Blake J. Harris: What kinds of things did you need to learn?
Shawn Wang: Like how to make an explosion. I thought maybe this plug-in can do that. But it requires more than one plug-in. It requires a lot of knowledge to make this one single explosion. Especially to make a lot of explosions! It’s a lot harder. So a lot of stuff was learning by doing the process. I think that was a good part of doing this project.
Blake J. Harris: Tell me about the story. How did that evolve, and how did it change, from start to finish?
Shawn Wang: Actually, the story was not fixed when I started. This became a small problem because after a few months I suddenly got different ideas. So I had to evaluate if this was a good idea to actually go in the new direction. Because I had to give up a lot of 3D assets I already made. I decided, yes, I would like to go with this new idea. So, at that point, I gave up a few animated shots because it didn’t match the story.
Blake J. Harris: Very interesting. I am glad you followed your instincts.
Shawn Wang: Also, in the original version, only one of the robots survived the meteor explosion. And the other robot brings back the body. But I think that was a bit sad. So in the end I came up with a better idea to make a happy ending. I think it’s better for the audience.
Blake J. Harris: Personally, I was happy to see a happy ending. Especially because so much of the film is really about friendship.
Shawn Wang: Yes, that was the most important part of the story.
Blake J. Harris: How did you create that friendship without dialogue? Did you think a lot about their personalities in advance?
Shawn Wang: When I did the character design, I got the idea that the different robots should have different functionalities. After thinking about these different functions, I felt that the yellow robot was smarter and braver than the other guy. So the blue guy tends to be more timid.
Blake J. Harris: Do you have a favorite part of the film?
Shawn Wang: I think it’s the climax part towards the end. That was very hard to make. Very challenging. But it’s perfect for conveying the emotion.
Blake J. Harris: One final question: Do you think you’ll ever “work with” these characters again? Either in a sequel or a longer version of the film?
Shawn Wang: I think it’s very hard to make it again. Unless I came up with some better idea, I guess. But, for now, I think I will let it go and focus on other projects.