Keeping it real in animation and media arts

31 Jul 2023

Trying to get to school in the midst of a train wreck and alien attacks. Having magical powers to help people get rid of negative emotions. Struggling to find the last words at the end of life. Facing an underwater monster.

These were some of the imagined experiences debuted at the graduation exhibition presented by the Department of Interactive Media held on campus. The exhibition featured 20 works, ranging from 2D and 3D animations, mixed media animations, stop-motion animations and virtual reality games, which were created by 23 Animation and Media Arts graduating students.

Among these talented animators, a trio of students recently shared their experiences, perspectives and what has inspired their work. They come from different backgrounds, with a diverse range of skills and interests, but what unites these remarkable young creators is a passion for telling stories from their hearts and connecting with people.

Telling stories through a personal lens

Wellspring, a 2D animation created by Queenie Cheng, brings to life the story about a creature who lives in the lake and becomes friends with a cat. When the cat is in danger, the creature tries to save it, but an underwater monster pulls the creature down in the lake.

“My creative inspiration for this work is based on my own experience with a car crash when I was in primary school,” says Queenie. Although the accident initially left her too scared to cross the streets alone, she learnt to address her fear and overcome it eventually.

She says: “All of us have good and bad experiences, and they can be valuable in our personal growth and lead us to become the person we are today. While the story of my animated film is set in a mythical forest, it touches on the relatable themes such as conquering our past and learning from our friends.”

She has also channeled her love of fantasy and nature into the short film by putting rich and vivid undertones on the background of the scenes. “From a young age, I’ve always enjoyed drawing and I’m fascinated by whimsical aesthetics. Studying animation at HKBU helps me learn how to design and build animated scenes, as well as to communicate my ideas in a way that can engage viewers’ emotions,” she says.

Inspired by reality, transformed with imagination

One of the most visually striking projects in the exhibition was the interactive virtual reality (VR) game, I’ll Get to School No Matter What!, developed by Joseph Chan and Wendy Yung. Cleverly satirical, the game depicts the protagonist as someone determined to go to school despite obstacles such as being trapped in a tong lau (walk-up tenement buildings built from the late 19th Century to the 1960s), surviving a train wreck, and escaping an alien invasion.

“I find that Hong Kong people are very task-oriented, and our story uses exaggeration to highlight this characteristic and make it more entertaining. Although we had not created a VR game before this project, we wanted to try something new when we’re still at university,” says Wendy.

Creating the game from scratch, she worked on the art direction and 3D modeling while Joseph wrote the code for the game. According to Joseph, the yearlong development process was challenging, as they had to pick up new skills, learn different tools and design the details within the game. The team also went through rounds of revisions in the character and story development to make sure the game is interesting and meaningful.

Looking at their project, Joseph is delighted with their work. “I’m glad that we stepped outside of our comfort zone and took on something challenging for our honours project. The journey of developing this game also gave me the opportunity to research about different aspects of Hong Kong such as the interior design of tong lau, and this allows me to learn more about the city I was born and raised in,” she says.

Finding authenticity in storytelling

The enthusiasm for storytelling has brought together these young creators. Wendy shares that a course at HKBU taught her to explore and accept her inner thoughts, a process she found inspiring. She says: “I realised that whether in film, animation or game, your creative work shows people who you are. If you are too afraid to face your past or reveal your thoughts, your work will not be truly authentic.” She hopes that players of the VR game can understand its subtle irony and the messages she tries to convey.

The three graduating students are optimistic about career opportunities for animation and media arts professionals. While Wendy will work in the field of interactive media research, Joseph and Queenie have continued to develop and refine their respective honours projects, with the support of the Department.

Queenie says, “I hope that I can keep on producing animations in the future. I think animated films can leave a strong impression on people and deliver the messages in a more compelling manner.”

Trailer of the Animation and Media Arts graduation exhibition 2023