You are on page 1of 10

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

Analysing Chinese Traditional Visual Elements in Chinese Animation Character Design in the 1950s through the 1980s Abstract Animation is a unique artistic and cultural form. With the rapid development of science and technology, animation art that has endured for more than a century remains one of the best forms of entertainment. The characters in animation could be considered the soul of the cartoon, which is not only vital to the success of the animation but also indicates its considerable cultural and commercial value. In this era of visual culture, the hegemony of image has become indisputable. During this process, the rapid development of animation art has gradually attracted the attention of audiences and become a social phenomenon related to people's daily lives. Since the early 1950s, the artwork used in Chinese animation has formed its own inimitable art system. This study takes the visual elements of animation character design as the main clue in exploring the concept of visual style in animation. Chinese traditional culture encompasses ink paintings, Beijing Opera facial masks, Lunar New Years paintings, Dunhuang frescoes, paper-cut shadow figures and other expressions. National characteristics and distinctive quality determine the principal manifestations of Chinese animation. Starting with a few case studies, I will explain how to use traditional art forms in the design of Chinese animation characters to discuss their respective value and significance. Finally, I will describe my personal point of view regarding character design for animation. Keyword: Chinese Animation, Chinese Ink Painting, Beijing Opera facial masks, Chinese Folk Art 1. Introduction Chinese animation began to explore its own national and original style in the 1950s. Chen (2010) notes that the 1950s could be considered as the start of the golden years of Chinese animation. In the history of Chinese animation, a period of approximately 30 years, represent a time of significant development. In China, the creators of animated characters began to consciously explore national style in the ontology of art in pursuit of their own style. During this period, most Chinese cartoons were adapted from traditional legends and fables using various techniques, including traditional ink painting, puppetry and paper cutting. Many traditional cultural elements were incorporated into these features, imbuing them with a distinctly Chinese flavour (Duan, 2009). As animation artists continued to develop playwriting skills and to explore a national artistic style of Chinese animation during this period, a number of classical Chinese animations appeared that won recognition in the field of international animation. However, contemporary Chinese animation is more perplexing because it lacks its own unique characteristics. In the mid-1980s, the field of Chinese animation faced great
1

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

challenges due to rapid changes in the external environment. These external shifts resulted in hesitation, confusion and blind transformation not only within the realm of art but also in the animation industry. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to summarise the history of Chinese animation art and then to explore the basic rules and characteristics of Chinese animation to fully comprehend the unique Chinese cultural and artistic style and incorporate its outstanding artistic characters. In this paper, I will analyse Chinese animation style in the 1950s through the 1980s, as influenced by Chinese elements, into three categories: Chinese ink painting, Beijing Opera facial masks and Chinese folk art (which also consists of Lunar New Years paintings and paper-cut styles). 2. Chinese Ink Painting Chinese ink painting is one of the most outstanding representations of the traditional style of Chinese painting. For generations, these images, which are created using brushes, have expressed the painter's emotions (Hou, 2007, p.41). Chinese ink painting animation is a new art form that emerged in the 1960s. This form of art conveys dynamic ideas via the artistic language of ink painting but also uses technology. China's early animation artists regularly explored the national style of ink painting when creating animated material. The creation of Chinese ink painting animation requires the special processing technology of camera and film composition such that ink-painted frames can be continuously projected one-by-one and become a complete animation. In Chinese ink painting, the characters are neither designed to show distinct edges nor are they evenly coloured. Instead, the method focuses on mixing ink and water together to shape the character and express its charm by giving the effect of ink floating on rice paper. The distinctive Chinese style of ink painting animation shook the international animation community. Even today, these animations continue to amaze and have made an indelible historical impression on Chinese animation, developing an excellent reputation both at home and abroad. One of the most impressive examples is the animation by Te Wei. Huang (2010p.32) introduces that upon the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, caricaturist Te Wei was the leading figure in the forming of Chinese national animation style. Te Wei's three released animated films, Little Tadpole Looking for Mom (1960), the Reed Pipe (1963) and Feeling from Mountain and Water (1988), could be regarded as the treasures of Chinese animated film history. 2.1 Little Tadpole Looking for Mom In 1960, Te Wei utilized the performance technique of Chinese ink painting in an animated film, producing the first Chinese ink animation, Little Tadpole Looking for Mom (Figure 1). The film succeeded in combining ink painting with animation by portraying multiple poetic scenes using pastel colours with ink painting. Along these lines, ink animation has contributed considerably to the success of Chinese animation (Cui, 2007).

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

The small tadpole appearing in the animation was based on renowned artist Qi Baishi's painting; Frog Sound Ten Miles Mountain springs. Animators skilfully designed the curvilinear details of the movement of the tadpoles tails. For example, the tails were shown to swing frequently when the tadpole felt happy and to move slowly when the tadpole felt melancholic, resulting in a vivid expression of the tadpoles feelings.

Figure 1. Little Tadpole Looking for Mom

2.2 Reed Pipe In 1962, Te Wei produced the animation Reed Pipe, which was the second major success in Chinese ink painting animation and marked a further deepening of the artistic style. The film tells a story described as, A shepherd boy loses a buffalo, searches for the buffalo and finally finds the buffalo," the aim of which was to express the intimate relationship between the shepherd boy and the buffalo. This film became another milestone in the history of Chinese animation. In the film, the design of the buffalo draws on the artist Li Keran's Bull Map painting to convey the appearance of the extraordinary animal figure. Yao (2011, p.143) describes the details of how the design of the buffalo was connected to ink painting. According to Yao, the entire body was expressed in shades of ink that appear to rhyme. The ink was applied thickly on the coloured buffalos nose, lips and limbs. Light ink was used to draw the buffalos back. Thus, the ink was displayed in various layers to create a vivid image of a buffalo. 2.3 Feeling from Mountain and Water Acquired by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio in 1988, Feeling from Mountain and Water (Figure 2) was the last classical Chinese ink painting animation produced during the period of the 1950s through the 1980s. Compared with earlier work, Feeling from Mountain and Water seemed to be perfect. In the film, either a static scene or a living creature is fully integrated into the freehand brushwork of the painting. Xu (2010) believes that the refinement of the ink painting style in the animation surpassed the Figure 2. Feeling from Mountain and Water philosophy expressed in the story. With an elderly scholar and a young girl as the main characters of the film, the story of Feeling from Mountain and Water suggests that the relationship between human beings and nature should be harmonious. Zhang, G. (2010, p.24) states that rather than using the traditional stop-motion technique of previous Chinese ink painting animation, photographers explored filming the original background as the filming progressed and combined stop-motion animation scenes to create a shot phase synthesis. As demonstrated, this new filming technology gave full play to the characteristics of Chinese
3

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

ink painting. When reaching the climax of the plot in the animation, the loss of the relationship, the painters worked while the photographer simultaneously shot the painted images. With this process of synthesising painting and photography, the film demonstrates how the artists ink brings feeling and a sense of rhythm to the animation. Chinese traditional ink painting has always focused on the relationships between people and the landscape. When artists shape the proportions between figures and landscapes, they usually base them on the real relationship between humans and nature. However, in Chinese ink painting animation, characters need to be highlighted by placing them in the images visual centre. Animation often stresses the image of a character such that the character appears larger, and the landscape appears smaller. Feeling from Mountain and Water also highlighted this innovative approach to animation to meet peoples needs for the visual. Huang (2010, p.46) argues that The harmony between man and nature, which is a highly valued concept in Chinese philosophy, and the harmony between art form and story, are accomplished at the same time. 3. Beijing Opera Facial Masks The appearance of ancient Chinese characters was preserved not only in ancient paintings but also in Chinese drama from generation to generation. The Beijing Opera is an important part of Chinese culture. It is famous for the special art form of its performances, catering to popular tastes of both ancient and modern audiences. Tian (2011) argued that to create a variety of characters, Chinese opera, especially the Beijing Opera, has created a unique model of language. 3.1 Proud General In general, the character in Proud General, an animation directed by Wei, drew on Beijing Opera facial masks and action drama. With the rhythmic drums of traditional Chinese opera, the characters are designed with interesting facial expressions and exaggerated behaviour with numerous Chinese traditional elements. In the spring of 1955, the film crew was organised to create the animation. In order to explore the national style of Chinese animation, artists travelled to different areas in China, such as Beijing, Shandong and Hebei, and collected a large number of ancient paintings, sculptures and architectural information (Tian, 2011, p.74). After more than a year of research, the creation of the film drew on traditional Chinese opera, particularly a number of characteristics of Beijing Opera facial masks. Modelling was accomplished using the facial makeup of the main characters from the Beijing Opera. For instance, the character General was painted using the "whole-face" technique, and another character, the Customer Adviser, was painted using the "halfface" technique. Much of the dialogue and actions of the characters were based on the design of the actor's performance, which was an exaggerated form of character-specific reproductions of traditional charm (Cai & Hou, 2011, p.25).
4

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

3.2 Havoc in Heaven The animated film Havoc in Heaven was released in 1965. The shape of the Monkey King is a reference to the image of the opera "show monkey''. Designers of the character drew on the traditional art of the Beijing Opera. According to research by Tian (2011, p.75), Zhang Guangyu designed the shape of the Monkey King based on the Monkey King in drama (Figure 3 left). However, director Wan Laiming thought the design of this image was not lively enough and was overly dramatic, looking too much like costumes in "martial characters in Chinese Opera". Therefore, he decided to ask Yan Ding Xian to modify the design. Yan Ding Xian improved the character by, for example, making the eyebrows resemble green peach leaves, changing the face to a heart shape, and adding a waistline leopard-skin dress. With these modifications, the Monkey King became more ingenious and Figure 3 Two Different Design of Monkey King in Havoc in Heaven lovely (Figure 3 right). 3.3 The Legend of Sealed Book The Legend of Sealed Book is based on the demon parts of chapters adapted to an animated film, which is full of comic style, have a lively rhythm, and are exceedingly entertaining. Moreover, The Legend of Sealed Book also drew on the character designs of Beijing Opera facial masks. In the Beijing Opera, the so-called "Dan" and "Sheng" corner as the heroine and hero in a romantic love story, with a range of personal characteristics and status. Bonds (2008, p.35) defines that "Dan" and "Sheng" represent the generally decent women and men respectively. In The Legend of Sealed Book, the character called Daughter of the Fox (Figure 4) is evidently based on the characteristic style of "Dan". Tian (2011, p.77) observes that the design uses the colour carmine lake as blusher and colouring on the cheeks and eye orbits. The shape and colour of the mouth, which is small, suggest a cherry. Smaller versions of the patches of decoration on the forehead of the hairstyle of Dan became Fox fine Figure 4. The Legend of Sealed Book daughters forehead fringe. The large eyes of the original "Dan" angular style were modified to be long and thin, and the eyebrow shape is a reference model of a portrait of a traditional Chinese woman. This shape of the eyebrow represents a classical temperament, expressing characteristics such as delicate, sensitive, and melancholy.
5

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

4. Chinese Folk Art Chinese folk art is broad and diverse, covering all aspects of the lives of the common people. The art has strong geographical characteristics and embodies folk-specific customs. As a cultural symbol, Chinese animation, during that period(1950s-1980s), also played the role of passing down the heritage of Chinese folk culture.
4.1 Lunar New Years painting

Lunar New Years painting is a unique art form in Chinese folk culture that is also considered as a symbol of Chinese New Year's greetings. Traditional Chinese Lunar New Years painting uses solid colours, such as red, yellow, blue, green, and purple, which are characteristically bright, pure, and concise. Zhang, S. (2010) observed that Lunar New Years paintings feature primarily auspicious and joyous subjects, with simple lines, bright colours and a happy atmosphere. Even when only a limited number of colours are used, if the colours are mixed harmoniously, the result can be extremely rich and varied. Relating to the aspects of purity and saturation of colour, Lunar New Years paintings preferably use nonrepresentational colours, such as red, green, yellow, and purple, to create a combination of extreme lightness and heavy saturation. These colours form a palette that is ebullient and gorgeous, with strong artistic appeal. Nezha Stirs Up the Sea The design of the characters in Nezha Stirs Up the Sea (1979) drew on the essence of Chinese Lunar New Years paintings. As Ge (2006) describes, The film animated film boasted abundant colours, fluent lines, and the unique charms of traditional Chinese folk art. In the animation, the characters Nacha and Li Ching, were designed in a decorative style with simple lines. Using the colours of traditional folk paintings, such as blue, green, red, white and black, this animation differs from others in its expression of the charm of the traditional Chinese folk arts. When the animation was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, Ivana (2012) reported that the critics considered Nezha Stirs Up the Sea to be bright in colour, elegant in style, and rich in imagination.
4.1.1

The design elements of Nezha are based on a Chinese children's doll from Lunar New Years paintings (Figure 5). With light-coloured skin, a handheld heaven-and-earth ring, Wind Fire Wheels, with the Universe Ring around his body in his left hand (Hephaestus, 2011, p.6), Nezha wears a red Chinese bellyband sometimes to show that he was a child. His black eyes and heavy eyebrows also reveal his extraordinary wisdom; he appears powerful and an extraordinary heroic image of the Figure 5. Nezha Stirs Up the Sea Child. His appearance indicates that Nezha is kind, brave, and lovely.

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

4.2 Paper-cutting technique

The paper-cut animation is based on the traditional art of shadow puppetry and a folk art paper-cut film style. A plane chasing technique is the main means of expression in modelling the characters in paper-cut animation. Paper-cut animation draws on the assembly joints of shadow puppets to manipulate the experience of the action. The plates are separated by a specific distance such that a light layered cloth appearance results. To create the animation, the paper is placed on a glass plane, and the animation is filmed frame by frame. Paper-cut animation usually uses the characters profile as the main view and also includes some front views of the production figures, with the shape of the half-side being standard (Cao, 2010). According to the story that is being told, various shapes of sets and various sizes of models may be required to accommodate different scenes in the film. After modelling is completed, according to the action sketch of the paper-cut character and the characters anatomical features, the model figure is separated into various parts, and joints are created to combine the parts. Li et al. (2007) summaries that typical paper-cut animation, which was made with 2D illustrations on paper and making many frames necessary for an entire animation, can be tedious and expensive.

The Golden Conch In 1958, the Wan Brothers produced Pigsy Eats Watermelon, which was the first animation in China, drew on elements of the folk paper-cutting technique for its window decoration and shadow play. Dickson (2011) observes that after Pigsy Eats Watermelon was released, many paper-cut animations were created, including The Monkey Fishing Moon, The Fish Child, The Ginseng of the Doll, and The Golden Conch. Paper-cut animation character design represented a unique decorative form of Chinese folk art.
4.2.1

Characters in the animation The Golden Conch (Figure 6) consist of the conch girl, a young fisherman, and others. This animated film adopts the expressive forms of Chinese shadow puppetry and the Chinese art of paper cutting, which express traditional Chinese folk arts as being bright and colourful with a strong nationalistic style (Ge 2006). The animation characters in this film are full of vivid personality. The young fisherman is shaped like a naive Chinese labourer. His movements are simple and unpretentious, reflecting the industrious and frugal spirit of Chinese labourers. The conch girl is modelled exquisitely, and her dress is also exquisite. The movements of the conch girl refer to Figure 6. The Golden Conch Chinese Opera dramatic dance, with an appearance of lightness and elegant manners. The design of the film set is colourful and
7

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

gorgeous, showing a strong sense of decoration through the use of a paper-cutting process. A Snipe and a Clam Locked in Combat The animation A Snipe and a Clam Locked in Combat (1983) is a combination of the Chinese paper-cutting technique and Chinese ink painting. Animal images in the film are created using the new ink "nap" technology instead of old technique, such as engraved carving, engraving, and cutting. Through this technique, the images of the bird and the kingfishers appear to be covered in a fluffy texture, and the effects look similar to faint markings of Chinese ink painting on rice paper, with the ink creating a rhythmic effect. There is no dialogue throughout the entire film. Thus, the animation relies completely on the movements and the facial expressions of the characters to tell the story. Cao (2010, p.61) offers the example that in the animation, the shape of the snipe is ink picks paper cutting, and more than 30 joints are set on the neck of the snipe to make its image more realistic and to move more naturally. The ingenuity of the design of the action in the animation produces richer character emotions and a more vivid display to express this popular fable.
4.2.2

Conclusion The images of animated characters are not only a visual symbol of an art form, but they can also reflect a national aesthetics of culture, art, and science and even the development of technology. In Huang(2010, p.113)s study, Chinese animation, as part of the nationpeople's cultural practices, has vigorously participated in the construction and strengthening of the Chinese national identity. Animation promotes cultural values and contributes to the development of economic interests. Yang (2011) stressed the importance of the depths of the extension of traditional culture. The drive towards nationalisation meant development within the context of globalisation, and development of animation was no exception. When they are viewed favourably, animated characters are able to impress audiences, and they can become business symbols in the media as well as advocates and even cultural representatives of the country. Moreover, there is more to improving the design of Chinese animation character than simply copying the traditional elements. Li (2009, p.6) suggested that in the development of Chinese animation, it is necessary to continually explore novel ideas from Chinese culture and apply new techniques and new materials to create wonderful animations with a modern sensibility and national characteristics. References Works in English Bonds, A (2008) Beijing Opera Costumes: The Visual Communication of Character and Culture. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press
Chen, C. (2010) Animation With Chinese Characteristics Exploring Chinese Animation on the
8

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

Global Stage [Internet]. Available from: < http://com.cityu.edu.hk/globalcom/ES.pdf> [accessed 22 March, 2012] Dickson, L. (2011) Chinese animation masterpiece of Chinese culture and art [Internet]. Available from:<http://www.best4future.com/blog/chinese-animation-masterpiece-of-chineseculture-and-art> [accessed 22 March, 2012] Duan, X. (2009) Chinese Animation: Where are we? [Internet]. Available from: <http://english.cri.cn/7146/2009/06/24/902s496125.htm > [accessed 22 March, 2012] Ge, T. (2006) [Internet]. 80 years of Chinese animation Available from: <http://www.cctv.com/program/cultureexpress/20060717/100784.shtml > [accessed 22 March, 2012] Huang, H (2010) Journey to the East: the Re(Make) of Chinese Animation Saarbrucken: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing Hephaestus, B. (2011) Chinese Animation, Including: Old Master Q, Nezha (Deity), Xiao Xiao, Zentrix, LAN Mao, History of Chinese Animation, Century Sonny, Tortoise Hanba' Milton keynes: lightning Sourse UK Ltd Ivana (2012) Chinese Animation shows World it has Midas Touch [Internet]. Available from:< http://www1.chinaculture.org/library/2008-01/18/content_75374_2.htm> [accessed 22 March,2012 ] Li, R. (2009) Individuating of the Chinese Culture in Figure Design of Animation Film. In: Extreme fashion: Computer-Aided Industrial Design & Conceptual Design: conference proceedings 2009, IEEE 10th International Conference on 26-29 Nov. 2009. Wenzhou: IEEE Computer Society. Li, Y., Yu, J., Shi, J., & Ma, K.(2007) 3D paper-cut modeling and animation Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds, (18) :395-403 Yang, L. (2011) Animation development in China [Internet]. Available from:< http://chinawestproducts.com/06/17/animation-development-china/> [accessed 22 March,2012 ] Zhang, S. (2010) New Year Paintings [Internet]. Available from: <http://ilearnculture.com/traditions/crafts-performing-arts/new-year-paintings/> [accessed 22 March, 2012 ]

Works in Chinese Cai, G. & Hou, L. (2011) The Symbolic Semantics of the Peking Opera In Chinese Animation Movie Review (23): 24-25 . 2011(23):24-25

Chunhui Meng

MA Digital Art

Camberwell College Of Art

Cao (2010) Paper-cut Animation Cultural Meanings Dianyingwenxue (24): 60-61 2010(24):60-61 Cui Li. (2007). Characteristics of Chinese ink painting animation and its prospects The journal of Film Literature, (12):20 . J. 2007(12):20 Hou Cheng.(2007) To Explore the Visual Language of Cartoons of Chinese Flavour Journal of Guizhou University(Art Edition) (2):41-4221. . J. :212007(2):41-42 Tian, J (2011) The Chinese Opera Facial Masks influence on Animation Character Design Arts Criticism,2:74-77 20112:74-77 Wang, Y (2011) The Analysis of Chinese Ink Paiting Animation: Feeling from Mountain and Water, Caizhi:8213 20118213 Xu, S (2010) TheResearch of Combine Interest Points of the Cartoon Character and the Lingering Charm of Comic and Animation Works in Chinese Ink and Wash Painting Press Circles, (5): 185-186 . 2010(5): 185-186 Yao, G (2011) Melody of Reed Pipe:On the Artistic Style of Chinese Ink Animation "Reed Pipe" Art & Design (6): 143-144 2011(6): 143-144 Zhang, G (2010) Form of Artistic Expression in Traditional Ink Painting AnimationTaking Beautiful Landscape as an Example Journal of North University of China vol.26, no.4:21-24 2010 26 4

10