‘As Written’ was initially written as a live-action film by JD Chua. But Singaporean twins, The Zhuang Brothers, were inspired to take it on as an animation. They knew there would be challenges adapting it into an animated film. But they were sold as it reminded them of the animation ‘Whisper Of The Hearts’ by Yoshifumi Kondo.
The Zhuang Brothers were introduced to the world of animation since their childhood, consuming copious amounts of manga and anime. But it was Tarzan that tipped the scales and catapulted them towards animation. The cartoon screened at a perfect time; when they were contemplating their future after the ‘O’ Levels exams.
Today, they juggle being brothers and business & creative partners. A feat we all know isn’t for the weak.
The Zhuang Brothers shed light on their lives as animated storytellers and also a little on the technicalities behind creating ‘As Written’. The animation tells the story of Carrie, a high school student too afraid to approach her biggest crush. Her friend eventually interferes, motivating Carrie to do what she greatly feared.
The differences between live-action and animation
“One of the main differences is the production time required. If a live-action short film takes a week to shoot, it would take months to animate the equivalent of those live-action shots.”
According to the brothers, the process of creation is also very different.
“In a live-action film, the editor gets to ‘retell’ the story at the post-production stage. In animation, the editing has to be planned before the animation production.”
The storyboard artist draws out simple drawings (known as storyboards) to explore possible shots for the animation. The drawings are then put together to form an animatic. After the voice over is recorded, the animators will fuse it with the animation, bringing the character to life!
As the script was originally written to be a live-action film, they proposed that some scenes should adopt a more informal and fantastical approach to better fit the animated format.
Animators bring ‘As Written’s’ characters to life
“We wanted the audience to recall their teenage puppy love in secondary school.”
That led to the brothers deciding on the watercolour art direction seen in the short film. It was reminiscent of Singaporean secondary school kids’ painting lessons. That was also likely the last exposure most Singaporeans would have had to notebooks and watercolour.
Animators tend to have their respective strengths and styles. For ‘As Written’, there was a team of 8 animators including the brothers, and scenes were assigned according to said strengths.
“One of the animators on the project, Jana, was good at creating cute and exaggerated shots. For example, the one where Carrie wakes up from her daydream and bumps into someone. So we got her to animate that scene.”
Their other animator, Shirley, was tasked with more challenging scenes like when Carrie and her friends were trying to draw on each other’s faces.
This was because she had a good grasp of the body’s mechanics and its proportions. They also assigned Shirley as the lead cleanup artist where she had to ensure all the other animators’ drawings matched in terms of body proportions.
Is finding an identifiable style important?
We asked if they are looking to develop a style that is attributable to them.
“We’ve begun to realise how important it is after a conversation we had with one of the film programmers in Animafest Zagreb 2016. Our future projects will adopt a style similar to ‘As Written’ and ‘The Tiger of 142B’.
This short served as their first attempt at a mandarin animation with this particular style. It was also a stepping stone towards their goals of creating a feature animation film in mandarin.
They will now be working on their first feature film, ‘Anima Instinct’. It is a story of teenagers breaking free from what society defines as right and wrong.
To aspiring animators, observation is EVERYTHING
“I would strongly encourage the animator to be observant in real life and keep drawing.”
They reckon that an animator’s greatest skill does not lie in their ability to use software but in how observant they are in what is considered good or bad acting.
However, if what you want is to be a creator, their advice is to just complete a short film and show it to an audience. It is from there that a creator can tell what worked and what didn’t.
“Very often, animation filmmakers tend to get so caught up with the craft that they forget they were there to tell a story.”
The Zhuang Brother’s leaves us with an inspiring quote from ‘The Story of a Brick’ in As Written.
“You have to fall to fly, fail to succeed!”