Chinese Animation and Chinese Myths

School of Arts and Social Sciences Research Research Institute for Digital Culture and Humanities Chinese Animation and Chinese Myths

中國動畫與中國神話 ——《中國奇譚》放映會及對談分享

Chinese Animation and Chinese Myths: “Yao-Chinese Folktales” Screening and Sharing

20 February 2024

For the series of “Chinese Mythology in the Digital Age”

RIDCH successfully hosted the screening and sharing event on “Chinese Animation and Chinese Myths: Yao-Chinese Folktales” on 20 February 2024. This event was one of the serial events for the research project “Chinese Mythology in the Digital Age” funded by Sin Wai Kin Foundation Limited. To commemorate the 35th anniversary of the establishment of HKMU, this event specially invited the directors and production team of the Chinese fantasy animation series Yao-Chinese Folktales to share their creative insights with the University's community and public. This was the first screening of the popular animation work in Hong Kong.


The screening showcased four distinct works, exemplifying unique styles and themes: “Nobody”, “She Wolf”, “Fly Me to the Earth”, and “Ship Down the Well”. After the screening, the chief director Chan Liaoyu and three episode directors—Yang Mu, Xu Ning, and Chen Xi (Chen Lianhua)—shared stories and insights from multiple perspectives, including the relationship between myths and animations, the authenticity and fictionality in animated storytelling, the rich diversity of animation genres, the intricate details in animation techniques, and the growth of creators.


Using Chinese mythology as the source of inspiration for animated creations, and presenting it through diverse directorial approaches to construct realism within fiction, is one of the core concepts behind the Chinese fantasy animation series Yao-Chinese Folktales. Chief director Chan Liaoyu believed myths reflect ancient people's imagination and interpretation of the unknown, projecting the inner desires and future aspirations of people at that time. Myths are the source of creation, but creation is not simply re-telling mythological content. Instead, myths should be used as vehicles to convey contemporary authenticity. He said the “real” is a crucial element in bridging between the animation work and the audience. Even in fictional and fantastic stories, the authenticity should be presented, including the real world, real life stories, and real emotional experiences. In selecting episode directors and during the creative process, he worked to uncover the “real” within each director's personal experiences and inner selves. In animation techniques, directors also used their meticulous artisanship to create realism. For example, “Fly Me to the Earth” and “Ship Down the Well” both employed hand-drawn techniques to evoke a poignant realism in lighting and texture that is beyond what computer software can achieve. Even with the impact of AI technology today, the directors believe the thoughtful, authenticity-seeking creations of human creators cannot be replaced.


Regarding animation techniques and aesthetic expressions, one of the audience members noted the intended implications behind the differing frame rates in the opening and closing scenes of “She Wolf”. Director Yang Mu affirmed the audience's keen observation and emphasized this was an intentional design. He thought Chinese myths may be fragmentary compared to Western myths, but have a strong literariness, with short phrases evoking immense imaginative space. In “She Wolf”, he also wanted to achieve such aesthetic interest, exploring the use of colour blocks from Chinese aesthetics in 3D animation, and lighting that accentuates the delineation of contours. Director Chen Xi of “Ship Down the Well” spoke about the infinite possibilities in animation creation. By using paper cutting and stop motion, he explored how to sculpt “space” that is in-between two-dimensional and three-dimensional, even starting from ancient and seemingly simple techniques that can unfold into exquisite narrative works. These artistic forms were once prevalent across various pre-modern civilizations.


Regarding creators' growth, chief director Chan Liaoyu reminded students that their first project starting out is vital. Director Xu Ning of “Fly Me to the Earth” drew from his own career development in stop motion animation to encourage animation students to hone their personal strengths while also learning the full production process. Having clear goals, believing in oneself, and constantly striving to improve are key to standing out in the animation industry.


Chief director Chan revealed that the upcoming second season of Yao-Chinese Folktales will invite directors from a wider range of regions. Several directors who participated in the first series will also present works in completely different styles from the first season. He looks forward to future opportunities to collaborate with Hong Kong animators.


Since its online premiere in early 2023, Yao-Chinese Folktales has sparked a craze for Chinese fantasy with its artistic style, rich and diverse stories, and exquisite animation techniques. Viewership on streaming platforms continues to surge, while social media is abuzz with extensive discussion and engagement, with many fans actively participating in discussions and even creating derivative works. The year 2023 also marks the centenary of Chinese animation. Since the worldly renowned animated films like Secrets of the Heavenly Book, The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven, and Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Dragon King produced by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio in the 1970s-80s, Chinese animation has carried on the essence of Chinese culture, explored the style of Chinese fantasy, and demonstrated unique cultural charm on the world stage. In content, form, themes, art and techniques, Yao-Chinese Folktales clearly pays tribute to, inherits, and innovates the Chinese animation tradition. Chinese mythology and fantasy elements, through innovative digital animation interpretations, are taking on new traits, new forms, and new outlooks. The Chinese animation industry is also ushering in more colourful developments.


The event attracted over 200 participants, creating a vibrant atmosphere for the screening and subsequent sharing.