Today we are delighted to have another Sundance Film Festival nominated animator with us to share their story. We are talking to Chenglin Xie who is the creator and director of the animated short Meal on the Plate.
Q: How did you get started in animation?
I started to draw at the age of 7, and the original childhood dream I had was becoming an oil painter, like Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, or Van Gogh. And I did go to China Central Academy of Fine Arts, the best fine arts school in China. But after I watched lots of film and animation masterpieces in CAFA, I really wanted to become a filmmaker, a storyteller. I wanted to use the moving image and time to express myself or tell stories. And because I have years of background in drawing, I started filmmaking from animation.
Q: Tell us about Meal on the Plate.
Meal On The Plate is a 7 mins 2D hand-drawn black humor animated short film. It has many fun characters who are turning into the food that they love to eat most. And things start to change when an outsider shows up in the town. It’s fun to watch, but also has serious points in the film.
How did you get the idea for it?
The very beginning concept designs were inspired from a saying: you are what you eat. I imagined what would happen if people visually changed into the stuff they eat, and started to draw characters. When some of the characters were designed and lined up, I felt that the concept was very interesting and fun to explore. Then I started to write the story, draw storyboards and keep exploring more concept designs.
Did you hand draw the animation and then use a computer?
I hand draw all frames of this film on the computer.
While doing some very early stage concept designs, I usually draw and write on paper. And then when the idea comes clear, all pre-production and production move to digital.
It has an exaggerated style that was a lot of fun. How did you come up with the style?
I want the exaggeration to bring absurdity into the film and make this film to be different. Like The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.
And the characters in the film are changing into what they eat, so why not have all designs and animations blend into this strange world, and to push the idea more? So I didn’t follow the realistic perspective rule while framing a shot and staging the characters, I used exaggerated ways to design my characters and animate their performance, and we designed the sound effects in an exaggerated way. And this is not the first time I use an exaggerated style to tell a story. You can check my first animated short film, Life Smartphone (2015). This is 3 minutes of animation about smartphone addicts and it also uses an exaggerated style in design and storytelling.
Are you a vegan? What are you trying to say about people turning into their foods?
I am not a vegan. . The meal that the characters have in this film more represents the things that they are addicted to but harmful, and the things that are good but not satisfied. This film is more about human’s desire rather than only about lifestyle.
And I really enjoyed the idea of having the characters grow pig nose, fish tails. Because I like how the food (desire) that those characters are addicted to visually turn them from human into animals, from their outside, then to their inside.
How did you get through the pandemic working from home?
It actually gave me the time to finish Meal On The Plate. I paused this film’s production for a while due to other projects. Then Covid started to allow me to work from home, so I could have better management on my schedule, and also save my time from transportation. So, I finally have the film to be finished by using my time after work.
When you found out you got accepted into Sundance did you get super excited?
Yes! I am super excited. Life Smartphone (2015) got selected by the Sundance Film Festival in 2016, and I traveled all the way from Beijing to Park City for the festival. It was one of the best film festival experiences I had. I know how amazing Sundance is, I know how many people and the audience are attracted there. So I am really happy that Meal On The Plate could be premiered and meet its audience at Sundance. It is a fantastic start for the film!
What advice would you have for young aspiring animators?
Enjoying the filmmaking! Keep having passion! Being open minded! Watching more films!
And always draw and write ideas that flash in your mind. It is very easy to forget a good idea, or lose passion about it. I remember that I got a good idea for Meal On The Plate while I was eating chicken legs at a restaurant, so I drew it immediately on a used tissue and it then became a good shot in the film. Get a notebook, store your ideas. You never know which one is gonna inspire your next project.
Thank you to Chenglin Xie for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish him the best of luck and hope you all get the chance to see Meal On the Plate.