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KAYU LEUNG : Unveiling the Secrets of 2D and 3D Magic!


[Jamie] Hey Kayu, your backdrop looks awesome.

[Kayu] Ah, it's a little chaotic, but I like your backdrop too. So many toys there, super fun.

[Jamie] Lots of toys, lots of Spidermans. Have you seen the new Spider-Man movie?

[Kayu] Not yet. I really have to watch it. I'm sitting on two cushions to make myself taller because I'm really tiny.

[Jamie] In the lower thirds.

[Kayu] I'm Kayu Leung, and I'm originally from Hong Kong. After A levels in Hong Kong, I backpacked and traveled a bit, like a gap year. At that time, some friends were already studying in Europe, telling me that in Europe, you can just try to get into university. At the beginning, I arrived in Paris, and I was accepted into Sorbonne for Fine Arts, which is essentially art philosophy and art history. However, in the first year, I felt like I didn't see myself doing it for a long time. I always wanted to do Cinema. So, I volunteered at the ANSI Festival, an Animation Festival, and I thought, "This is what I want to do now." It's just so cool to see so many people making films in so many ways. Then I met a lot of filmmakers, and the way they approached their work and craft articulated a lot of things I wanted to say. They helped me say it, not just for me but also to me. So, I decided to try animation. I got into MOPA, a 3D school. I made a graduation film called 'Louis' Shoes,' and then I graduated during Covid. I've been working as a freelance director and lighting and compositing artist in a studio for two to three years now.

[Jamie] And here we are. We're going to talk about the Mango Cult project, of course, but I'd love to talk a little bit about "Louis' Shoes" because I absolutely love it.

[Kayu] Ah, thank you.

[Jamie] Was it just a small team?

[Kayu] Yes, it was a really small team because in a graduation film, there are normally six people who group together. But for us, we were four people. I loved it because each of us had a specific focus. For example, I concentrated on storyboarding, concept, and the lighting and compositing at the end. So, I handled both the beginning and the end, while some others specifically focused on rigging and animations. I feel like we worked together like raptors, nimble and quick. We knew exactly what we were doing, and we complemented each other really well.

[Jamie] How long did that project take to complete?

[Kayu] I think it took about eight months, roughly one semester. It was pretty crazy because we had to deal with Covid in the middle of it, so we just powered through. The good thing was that we all lived in a small town in France, so even though it was locked down, we were close to each other. It made me feel grateful for doing animation because if it were live action, it would have been crazy.

[Jamie] It's crazy to experience working on a project and then have Covid happen. So, there were four people on that project? Because the finished product is great, and the behind-the-scenes style is fantastic. Can you talk about how the four of you came up with everything, from the story to the style?

[Kayu] At the very beginning, we tried to lock down the movie's theme. Whenever we had artistic or technical problems that required time or cost-saving decisions, we always went back to the theme. It's a story from the perspective of a child, and even though we had many characters in the movie, we didn't show their faces because the child doesn't want to look at people's faces. We looked for keywords in the story that we wanted to convey, and most decisions could be directly answered using those keywords. For example, since the child doesn't look at people's faces, we could save time on rendering facial details.

[Jamie] Efficiency.

[Kayu] Yes, efficiency! That's one of the great things about animation – you always think about how to optimize and handle the logistics. We interviewed a lot of autistic children and so we had people with their own experiences with little anecdotes. We just chained them together and put that into one day of this child. Throughout the process, we always respected the story. For example, my personal style is quite different from this film. I typically work in black and white, with a mix of 2D and 3D. However, we knew that this render style was perfect for telling the story of a child's perspective on the world, focusing on social life and social interaction, like a social theater.

[Jamie] I loved all the behind-the-scenes stuff where you had the assets and props laid out on a cutting board, like a stop-motion theater with physical pieces.

[Kayu] That's one of the great things about 3D. When I work, I create the set and everything, and then there's that moment, maybe at three in the morning when you're tired, and you zoom out, and you see it, and you're like, "Wow, it's mine."

[Jamie] Now, let's talk about the Mao Mango Cult project, a great hybrid of 3D and 2D. Can you tell us how that came about originally?

[Kayu] It actually started from the studio's TED Talk because they have their own Animation Studio and produce many great shows. I knew them from festivals when I was a student, and I presented my work to them. They're always looking for artists, so even while I was still in school, I started working with them. They provide a great playground and sandbox for young artists to experiment. Also, considering what was happening in Hong Kong in 2019 with the protests, I wanted to talk about something. Coincidentally, they contacted me and said they had a piece of Chinese history to explore, and I was absolutely up for it.

[Jamie] So, once you get the green light to go ahead, can you tell us about the development timeline from start to finish?

[Kayu] The whole process was pretty short, around three to four months, including retakes. There was already a script, and we refined it as we went along. At the beginning, I was inspired by newspaper photos and historic photos from the time. I wanted to create something reminiscent of those propaganda posters from that era. It involved a lot of paper textures and harsh lighting, following the style of old communist posters with bold use of white, black, and red, creating a visually striking effect. The story was about how people behave extremely in an extreme environment, eventually losing their sense of self. We approached it in a way that was very puppetry-like. Once you know what animation you are going to use, you can figure out the kind of shortcuts and cheating you can do . I simultaneously storyboarded and laid out the scenes. I also determined the number of scenes, which allowed me to identify and gather all the free assets. A lot of the animation came from Mixamo, which was amazing. I would modify and reanimate the assets slightly, particularly focusing on facial expressions using blend shapes. My emphasis was more on framing and composition than just animation itself. I chose the master shots to experiment with the visual style from start to finish in about four master shots. That set the pipeline, and then the rest of the shots followed suit, with variations but based on the established groundwork.

[Jamie] Out of interest, do you or have you ever used Blender?

Click here to watch this episode and find out the full process of Kayu's masterpiece.

(Watch The VFX Process here)


You can watch The Process over on our YouTube channel or for and extended conversation listen to the audio podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.



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