The Wolf Guru (USA | 2017, 5 min)
Directed by: Mian Qin
The Animation Film 'The Wolf Guru' is an adaption of a Chinese folk tale. It is about a man is attacked by a group of wolves and their unidentified monster leader. Even though he finally gets out of the danger, the real identity of the monster is a huge surprise for him.
Interview:An Interview with Mian Qin, director of “The Wolf Guru,” conducted by Caleb Dawdy, Curator of Animation
CD: Firstly, could you start by giving a history of your journey as a storyteller, filmmaker and artist? Where did you first fall in love with storytelling?
MQ: It's not a long history. In 2011, when I was a junior at college, I finished my first animated short film named Water in Bottle. Since that, I realized the core of a film is story or ways for telling a story and started to interested in storytelling. In 2012, “Good Night!” - my graduation work came out. It's a more refined animated short film with a story about a cat, a dog and their dead master. In this film I tried to used more advanced narrative techniques and film languages to tell the whole story. It is the first time I had a strong feeling that animation, as a method of narration, is more close to literature rather than art. That is why I used a Chinese folktale as the theme of my MFA thesis film—”The Wolf Guru.” This film was finished in 2017 and selected by NYC Independent Film Festival. It is also my first try for adapting and rewriting a classic story.
CD: Your film is a striking portrait of a beautiful folktale. What drew you to this story in particular and were there any aspects of this folklore that you added or subtracted for the purpose of a good short film?
MQ: The original story came from a Chinese supernatural story book called "Xu Zi Bu Yu", which was wrote and edited by a Chinese litterateur named Yuan Mei (1716-1798). “The Wolf Guru” is the first story in this book. When I first read it, it caught my eyes immediately because it was so brief, powerful and had a sort of unique, quirky aesthetic which made it attractive.
The end of the original story, however, is weak. In the original story, the leader of the wolves was just a real monster. After the wolves was drove away, the monster was taken to a village and eaten by a group of villagers. I didn't think this rash and rough end matches such a strong story, so I decided to add a little bit depth to the story by giving the monster some new identities at the end.
CD: The pacing is very well done in this piece, especially when considering that there is no dialogue. Could you expand on the process of taking a folk tale, in whatever form it may be, and transferring it into a visual medium?
MQ: I just followed the regular animation process. From having an idea to character design, storyboard, character animation, and then final composition. The different thing is, unlike most of animations, I did the background and layout design after character animation. The reason was I was responsible to the whole film with limited time and had to finish the more important part first.
Other things worth to mentioning is, for keeping the film's simplicity, I decided not to use dialogue and tried to rely on body or visual languages to tell the story. For example, in the film, there was a metamorphosis shot that indicated the multiple identities of the monster. This shot connected the monster with the abandoned baby and reminded the audiences that they were the same character at different time period.
CD: This film is wonderfully striking in it’s both vibrant and minimalist cinematography. I do have to ask what the inspiration was for this art style? Were there ever any other versions of this story, in terms of the style?
MQ: For the art style one of my inspirations was some hand drawing style animations such as Koji Yamamura's “A Country Doctor.” I liked how the dynamic pencil texture work on the characters. Another visual inspiration was some old 19th century black and white pictures of China and Chinese people. I was always obsessed with these pictures and could stare at them for a whole day. I liked how realistic they are, just like I was experiencing an familiar and strange world when I was looking at them. As [far as] I know, there were not any other versions of the story or animation of the story.
CD: What are some of your inspirations in filmmaking, art, and storytelling in general?
MQ: Antique artworks from different regions and cultures. I like to observe these antique relics and imagine how the people creating them thought and felt. Unlike in our century, civilizations in ancient times were extremely diverse. Paintings and sculptures from ancient China and ancient Egypt can be totally different because they both don't know the existence of each other. That's the most amazing thing for me - ancient art from different regions represent different sets of mind and life styles. These old and new thoughts from people in ancient times always inspire and encourage me to create newer and better works.
CD: When creating the film, what were the unexpected difficulties that arose?
MQ: The most severe unexpected difficulty was I underestimated the workload. There were pencil textures on the characters of my film. I did that because I like those roughness of hand drawing style but I didn't realize that's tons of work. For the better presentation of the textures, I had to draw it frame by frame. In the middle of this process, with the pressure of time, I got a new understanding about what hopelessness is. But thankfully and finally, I've overcome this problem with the help of my willpower.
CD: What is one of your favorite moments in the film? What did you most enjoy about the process?
MQ: My favorite moment is how the monster comes into the screen. It's a full shot and we can only see the characters' profiles. When the monster appeared, he was sitting on a wolf's back. The wolf stopped for a while, waiting for the next order from the monster. The monster smiled and pointed a direction, then the wolf moved on. I really enjoyed arranging the acting of characters to make the event happen naturally.
CD: If there is any message you could have your audiences walk away with, what do you hope it could be?
MQ: If you want to choose animation as your career just because you like watching animation, think twice.
CD: Do you have any projects in the future that we can look forward to?
MQ: I don't have a plan of my next work now. If I find a story which can really touch me someday, I will start a new project.