SIFF Production Talk - 'Contained' by Henry Zhuang and Harry Zhuang

“Contained” is an experimental animation created with no prior planning or storyboarding. We reacted to the medium spontaneously and sculpt the form of the story frame by frame. By expressing our emotion through the molding of the clay, the process of the animation took on a form of self therapy.

Born in 1982, both twin brothers Henry and Harry Zhuang had their first achievement in animation with their CG animation titled "Birthday Present". This 3D CG animation won a CG Excellent Award in the CG Overdrive 2006 and 3rd prize in TBS Digicon6+3 Singapore Regional Award. After which, both begun their animation career working as animators in a local animation company, Sparky Animation Pte Ltd. Upon gaining close to 2 years of working experience, they decided to further their studies at Nanyang Technological University School of Art, Design and Media. During their studies there, one of their animation assignments, "A Story About My Dad", received a 1st Prize of Gold Award in the Safety@Work Creative Awards.

Both Henry and Harry Zhuang are currently in their senior year at Nanyang Technological University, School of Art, Design and Media. Both are pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Animation with the help from Media Education Scholarship grant by the Media Development Authority of Singapore,. 'Contained' marks their first independent short film.

What started the idea behind Contained?
The idea started when we were working on a short assignment which require us to work on the idea of metamorphosis using clay. We animated a short animation of an island being trapped by the incoming red sea. Then my brother and I started playing around with our ideas and the project slowly evolve into a short film.

How many animation pieces have you made so far?
We have done quite a few animation together. The animation we did range from 2D, 3D, paper-cut and stop-motion animation. The very first one we were involved in was our Final Year Project at Nanyang Polytechnic in 2002, titled "The Legend of Bukit Timah", which was an official selection in Kalamazoo Animation Film Festival. Then the next animation we did was a 3D animation to aid us in looking for job after NS, titled "Birthday Present" at 2006. It was awarded CG Excellence award at CG overdrive. Then when we were in NTU, we did a paper cut animation that won Gold award and Judges choice for the "Safety@Work" student competition.

How long did it take for you to make this film?
As it was an extension of our assignment, the whole production stretches over a year, which we were only allowed to work on it during our free time, in-between our lessons. We would think that the actual production took five months.

What were some of the biggest challenges in the production?
We think that the biggest challenges would be the last scene where the blue sea turned into red. It was a long process to animate that scene. We had to keep pushing the plasticine and each frame took roughly 25 minutes to complete.Some other problems which i think most stopmotion animators face is to maintain the character standing in a off balance pose before we shoot the frame. Bumping into the camera can be quite a hassle too. We have to keep adjusting the camera or the puppet to match the previous frame.

Do you always collaborate? Tell us more about your working relationship since you are brothers. What were the good moments, the difficult moments and the interesting moments?
We have collaborated in quite a number of animation projects. I think one of the main reason that we can work together is that we have similar vision and taste for film. Maybe because we spend a lot of time together? The good thing about working with a close brother is that when we discuss, we tend to be more open towards one another, sharing our deepest thoughts and personal views towards art. But sometimes, our discussion can be pretty aggressive. The most interesting moments would be after our aggressive discussion, we learned more about each other, and would realize the "good" in our difference in opinion.

For example, I wanted to do something and explained it to my brother. After he tried out, the effect was not what I had in mind. But it turned out to be a surprise to me.

Do you plan to take your 'brotherhood' to the bigger stage like some big Hollywood examples?

Haha. We would continue to work together in the future. It’s like chopstick, it works better as a pair. However, on saying that, we would definitely give ourselves chance to do personal project for the sake of self exploration.

What's the animation filmmaking community in Singapore like? I see you got some help from Tan Wei Keong, a familiar name when as far as animation is concerned.
There isn't really a official animation filmmaking community in Singapore, not that I know of. We knew Wei keong through MDA, when three of us received the MDA scholarship grant together in the same year. He was our senior in School of Art Design Media, NTU. He was a great help to us, advising us on how to craft the story and had encourage us throughout the production of animation.

Who are your target audience (or who would you be interested to show this to?)
Hmm.... there wasn't really a target audience. We were making a film for ourselves, maybe it was like a self reflection. After finishing the animation, we seem to understand more a bit of ourselves.

If given more money, how could you have made this film differently?
I think money wasn't an issue in this project. But if we were being funded, maybe we would have had a movable camera stand and a DSLR camera so we have more camera movement in the animation. Currently, we are restricted by a tripod or a fixed stand.

What other stories, projects are you on to now... or have in mind?
The other project we are working on is a 2D dominate, 3D and stop motion animation short film titled "Thepsis". It’s about a person's persona. We are still in the preproduction phrase and we will be using the short film as our Final Year Project.

What are the top five movies you wish you'd made?

I think I wish I had made Neon Genesis Evangelion, Mind Game, Infernal Affairs, Ghost in the Shell and maybe Totoro. =P

Check out the Zhuang Brothers' website.

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