2021 started with a mad rush to complete my second animation project. I basically spent New Year’s Eve and Day hunched over my work table taking hundreds of snapshots… which at 24 frames per second, adds up to only a few seconds of film lol.
After this project, I definitely had a newfound respect for animators, and especially paper cut and stop motion animators!
It took me two weeks of all-nighters to create a 3-minute-26-second film, but it was completely worth it to be able to participate in my first ever showcase in the US — a group show that opened on 6 Jan 2021 at Elisabeth Jones Art Center in Portland, Oregon.
A little sad that I couldn’t personally attend (U.S.A. isn’t great to visit at the moment due to COVID and recent happenings), but from thousands of miles away it’s still pretty exciting to know my characters are somewhere out there entertaining viewers in Portland.
How it all started
The word “mural” caught my attention, because I had just started accumulating wall painting credits with my international mural Project: 100 Dream Trees.
Plus I was intrigued by the collaborative aspect of the project. Basically, two large pieces of paper measuring 16 x 8 ft (around 4.8 x 2.4 m) were mailed back and forth between 1-2 artists in Portland, and an artist abroad.
So I applied, and in early Mar 2020 I was accepted, and I was just so excited about it that I didn’t really consider how big 16 x 8 ft really is… until it arrived in the mail.
I guess I kinda just did my usual thing of “say yes first, and wing it as I go along”, which has been how I’ve approached a number of things in life anyway — my first solo exhibition in 2013, each one of my Dream Tree murals, my 100-day daily vlog project last year, certain romantic relationships…
The two large papers arrived in a box, all folded up, and came with instructions on how to re-fold them for shipping.
As I started to unfold one, that’s when the reality of how massive these papers really were hit me.
(After a few rounds of unfolding this paper and folding it back up, I became more proficient at doing so)
The only place I could work on this project was on the kitchen floor, and because I don’t live alone, the only time I could work on this project was after the last person had gone to bed (around 1.30am), and before the first person wakes up (around 5.30am).
My Collaborators in Portland
There were a few pairs and trios of collaborators — 1 or 2 artists in Portland paired respectively with international artists from Japan, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, India and Ukraine.
Each pair or trio of artists drew, painted, doodled on the same papers, adding on or even drawing over their collaborators’ work, and they passed the papers back and forth a few times until they decided the work was complete.
My collaborators were Essie Soma and John Teply, but I didn’t know that at first until we were done passing the papers back and forth.
On one of the papers, I started with drawing a Dream Tree “mural” (Yes, I really miss painting my Dream Trees… can’t wait to get back out there into the world again).
When the paper came back to me a few weeks later, John and Essie had made their additions.
Essie had drawn a number of jaguars around the paper (and in one of her drawings, she had written “Panther”).
Among other things (such as flying dinosaurs and a huge iceberg), John had drawn a giant Penguinzilla heading towards the tree.
Final Artworks for the Showcase
After passing the papers back and forth and adding on to the “mural”, each artist was to create a final artwork inspired by the collaboration, to be exhibited in the group showcase of this entire global series of work, alongside the “murals”.
My collaborators Essie and John created a huge installation inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, featuring penguins as the characters, and live-sized paintings of penguins engaged in the seven deadly sins. (It’s way more colourful and cuter than it sounds lol, as you can see in this video below:)
If I was in Portland, I would have loved to be a part of this huge installation too, because it looked like so much fun to create!
But being based (stuck) in Singapore, inspiration called in the form of animation, and thus “All Is Not Lost… Yet” was conceived (and completed just six weeks later lol. I started creating the story at the end of November 2020, and completed the animation on 4 Jan 2021).
As you can see from the film poster, there are three characters in this story: Penguin, Panther, and Pengzilla — representing the collaboration among myself, Essie and John.
My Animation: “All Is Not Lost… Yet”
Synopsis: Penguin, Panther and Pengzilla embark on a journey to discover who they truly are.
The title of the film kinda came about randomly lol. After John and Essie had made their additions, I had drawn an erupting volcano into the “mural”, which is in contrast to the tranquil scene at its base (it’s amazing how those igloos aren’t melting haha).
Then I looked at Essie’s airplane with the blank banner, and the words just came to me: “All Is Not Lost”. I wrote them in, and there was a space between “Lost” and the end of the banner, and so I wrote in “…Yet”.
At the moment of writing in the banner, I had no idea then that my final artwork was going to be an animation, and that “All Is Not Lost… Yet” would be its title.
It was 14 Nov 2020, just seven weeks before the exhibition opening, when I had a video call with the coordinators of International Mural by Mail, and got the go-ahead to begin on the final artwork. That was when I sensed that my final artwork was going to be an illustrated paper-cut stop-motion animation!!!
I was so excited about the idea, and then I realised I had no idea at all what the story of the animation was going to be.
Following the Inspiration
So I did the only thing I could rely on: follow the inspiration as it comes.
I knew only three things then:
1) I wanted the work to reflect a collaboration between Essie, John and myself (hence I knew there were 3 characters: Penguin, Panther and Penguinzilla)
2) I wanted to tell a story that was symbolic of what I believed in and stood for, and
3) I was really in love with this panther Essie had drawn:
So I did what any artist would do… turn to the sketchbook and draw out my ideas!
What started as one Panther on a penny-farthing turned into this whimsical scene…
…which later became the title shot in the film itself! (I had originally planned to shoot this as an actual scene in the film, but I ran out of time to shoot the scene, so it became the title shot instead).
From working on the first sketch, another image came to mind, and within a few minutes I had another scene idea:
Over the next few hours, I started looking at which scenes in the collective “mural” inspired me, and then I drew them out with the three characters.
And when I had a few such scenes, that was where I arranged and re-arranged the sequence… and little by little, a story about the journey these characters embark on had started to take shape.
I loved this tropical scene of two islands side by side, with a connecting hammock… where a panther and a penguin are doing some “connecting” of their own lol…
…and this became part of the opening scene for the film:
Creating the Animation
It was 6 Dec 2020 when I finalised the story and drew my storyboards. Then it took another week to figure out the style of the work, the look of the characters, and the materials I would use to create and build the scenes for the actual shoot.
These were my test scenes — testing for style, character design, composition and media all at the same time:
Most of the backgrounds were crumpled up brown packaging paper, or foam boards painted over with acrylics.
Items in the backdrops were mostly created with acrylics and color pencil on paper, while the characters were done in watercolour and colour pencil on watercolor paper, and cut out and turned into puppets.
I used some replacement animation techniques as well, especially for the Penguin character:
Then from 20 Dec 2020, it took me about one week to draw, paint and assemble all the various scenery and character components for each scene.
And of course, there had to be a Dream Tree in the film too!
And after all the characters and backgrounds were ready, it took another week to shoot all the scenes.
My Crazy Last-Minute Shoot Schedule
Basically in the final two weeks of this project, my days looked more or less like this:
12.30pm Wake up for lunch
1.30pm Plan the very detailed shoot sequence for the evening’s shoot
5.30pm Exercise (if I remembered to)
7.30pm Handle other commitments or attend a meeting on Zoom
10.30pm TV break
11.30pm Shoot scenes for the animation
6.30am Upload photos to my laptop before going to bed
2020 ended and 2021 began, all while I was standing hunched over my work table making minute movements in my characters, and spending hours taking hundreds of photos just for a few seconds of film.
On 2 Jan 2021, I spent 24 hours with a friend who used After Effects to magically combine thousands of photos into the final film, and a very sleep-deprived me struggled to describe to him what I was envisioning for the elements that needed to be digitally animated.
Then on 4 Jan, we put in the finishing touches (credits and music), and the film was complete!
Reflections From the Journey
While it was a mad rush to conceive, produce, shoot and edit this film over six short weeks, one big thing I realised was how I hadn’t felt this alive in months! The last time I had felt this sense of excitement and drive was in 2019 when I spent five and a half months in Europe, attending five back-to-back artist residencies, and painting six Dream Tree murals in four countries.
In early 2020, I had been scheduled to install three more Dream Trees in two countries, but then the pandemic happened and I decided it was safer to stay put in Singapore and postpone “Project: 100 Dream Trees” until the world outside Singapore was slightly less virus-chaotic.
But for the rest of the year, having to postpone my big dream had taken its toll on me. While I did work on other projects, like completing a month-long daily livestream on Instagram, my first animation (“Are There Penguins in the Sky?”), and a 100-day vlogging project, all these hadn’t felt as exciting to me on the same magnitude as working for ten days straight to complete a Dream Tree mural, until those final two weeks of working on “All Is Not Lost… Yet”.
That was when I realised that it wasn’t so much the form of my work, or even the form of my dream — what mattered more to me was being engaged in something challenging that allowed me to push my current limits and discover I was far more capable of accomplishing the impossible than I had thought I was.
With “All Is Not Lost… Yet”, my back and shoulders ached from consecutive days of hunching over the scenes on my work table, my feet protested from standing for several hours straight, and my brain throbbed from hours of focus and keeping track of the level of detail necessary for the shoot.
All these reminded me of the struggles and the mad rush I had experienced with painting the Dream Trees — feats that pushed my physical, mental and emotional limits in ways that ultimately allowed me to expand as an artist and in my personal evolution as a human being.
Moving forward into 2021, I intend to create more of such moments for myself, whether I continue with “Project: 100 Dream Trees” abroad, or take on challenging artistic/creative/personal projects while in Singapore.
Watch the film here:
YouTube link to view “All Is Not Lost… Yet” will be posted soon!
“All Is Not Lost… Yet”: The Real Story
In “All Is Not Lost.. Yet”, the Penguin is our higher self (who we aspire to be), the Panther is our default self (as we exist in the world), and Pengzilla is our shadow self (what holds us back).
These various selves are present in all of humanity, while the journey in the film is symbolic of the adventure we embark on in life towards discovering the truth about who we are, and an integration of our various selves.