A big thanks to my friend, Xin, without whom this interview would not have been possible!
This season’s To Be Hero has been a sakuga powerhouse. Each and every episode contains animation on par with Summer’s Mob Psycho 100 without enjoying the same limelight. With so many good shows currently airing, it has unfortunately flown beneath the radar, becoming somewhat of a dark horse as of late. In my quest to rectify this, I reached out the chief animation director and lead animator on the show, lan.
I was astonished the moment I fist laid eyes on lan’s work. In fact, it was his solo animated opening that got me to watch To Be Hero in the first place. Ever since then I have been chronicling lan’s animation on Sakugabooru, but I wanted to take it one step further.
I reached out to Shanghai based animation studio, Haoliners, seeking an interview with this phenomenal animator. With the help of a friend, I was able to arrange such a feat! In fact, lan was almost more excited than I was for the interview!
Tell me about how you started as an animator. What inspired you to begin animating?
I watched a ‘behind the scenes’/’making of’ from Studio Ghibli and was attracted by the process of making animation during my time in collage, so after graduating I decided to be an animator.
What was the first project you ever animated? Please tell us about it.
All of my knowledge of animation is completely self taught. I worked for an advertisement company as story boarder and animator in the beginning. Starting in 2012, I worked on some films as a freelancer, but I’m not sure if they were ever released or not, so I’d prefer not to mention their names. Mantou’s Diary was the first proper piece I’ve done with director Li HaoLing.
How do you animate? Is there a particular process that you follow when animating?
I do my work on computers, mostly using RETAS. The process is quite similar to drawing on paper. I prefer drawing key frames one by one, getting every pose I think of on the screen, then I fill in the x-sheet.
How much time does it take you to animate a cut?
I animate about 15 cuts per day. The opening took me three days to finish.
Audiences are blown away by your amazing work in To Be Hero – do you have any resources that you reference on the show?
Just generally watching good shows. I prefer to draw the show with strong personal style. The director had already given the characters their personalities through scripts, so when it comes to animation, I would like to emphasize that even more. Most of the time I just draw them out without finding any references.
Is it harder to animate over-the-top action scenes over realistic character animation?
I feel passionate when drawing cuts with exaggerated motion and acting. I love them, but need to worry problems like time limitation and the extreme shape changes caused by having too much motion.
How has Japanese animation affected or influenced Chinese animation and it’s industry? What are the differences between the two?
Japan is a strong neighbor and a role model for us. Chinese audiences are already used to Japanese animation, they expect Chinese animators can make something at the same level, but also expect us to create things that can differ from Japanese animation. China has deep culture for us to explore; there are also great comics and animators, everyone is trying out ways to cooperate. I hope that more and more Chinese animation will be noticed by an international audience.
Working on an anime, are you an anime fan yourself? What type of anime do you watch? Do you have any favorites?
Actually, I am! I like all kinds of shows, and once have spare time I would watch shows that are currently airing each season. I love shows that have crazy sakuga.
Who are some of the animators that you look up to?
There are too many animators that I like; the most influential to me would be Hiroyuki Imaishi.
How did you meet kilocrescent? Can you tell us what it’s like working with kilocrescent?
I have been following him on Weibo(microblog) for a long time. After viewing a piece of his work while he was in school, I invited him to join us. He was just graduating from high school when we started making To Be Hero. He’s got some great skills: action design; a great sense of rhythm, he’s really good at animating special effects. I learned lots of tricks from his work. He could only draw one cut per week, so we give him the cuts that suit him the most. The scene where the Uncle was flushed down the toilet from episode one was especially amazing, it added a lot to the show!
Are there any plans on the horizon you can tell us about? Will we be seeing more of lan’s work on TV?
I will continue working with HuiMeng (TL Note: Chinese for ‘dream animator’) Animation(Haoliners Animation League). Please continue to follow us!
Do you think there’s a future for Chinese & Japanese collaborations?
We have a lot of amazing ideas, cooperating with Japanese studios could cover the flaws on production. I hope more of our animation can be seen through this way of approach.
Is there a message you would like to share with your fans?
Thank you, everyone, especially you, Josh. Thank you for appreciating and recognizing us through this show. What we have done is not good enough. I am glad to communicate with you. Looking forward for your opinion on the show.