Interview with Jonathan Ng, director of short film Requiem for Romance
by LAURA OPREA on Nov 17, 2013 • 9:26 pm
Requiem for Romance
At the beginning of this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced the ten animated shorts that have been shortlisted for the Best Animated Short Film category. Amongst them I found a beautiful animated short film created by Jonathan Ng and I’ll be talking a little about this film.
First let’s see who Jonathan Ng is.
Jonathan Ng is a Toronto-born animation filmmaker based in Montreal, who studied traditional animation at Sheridan College, where he produced the film „Sherry, like the Drink”, an emotional short film dedicated to his mother. After studying 3D animation for about a year at Seneca College, in 2004, Jonathan moved to Montreal, where he wrote, directed, and animated his first professional film entitled „Asthma Tech”, at the National Film Board of Canada. The film tells the story of a little talented boy suffering from asthma, who overcomes his condition with lots of imagination, succeeding to make friends. The simple drawing, with emphasized contours and simplified backgrounds, sometimes leaving visible the drawing lines, represents the best way of telling wise stories to the little kids.
After freelancing as a 3D pre-vis animator on such feature films as „The Spiderwick Chronicles” or „The Mummy 3”, Jonathan pursued his animation filmmaking studies at Concordia University, in 2009, where he experimented with different themes and media producing two films: „Just Another Floor Kids Battle” and „Alpha Beta Complex”.
In 2010, Jonathan was awarded grants and financial support from SODEC, Canada Arts Council, Bravo! FACT Charles Street Video and NFB, for his short film „Requiem for Romance”. During this time, he was simultaneously working as an animator for Jean-Christophe Dessaint’s „Le Jour des Corneilles” and the animated series „Ugly Americans”.
„Requiem for Romance” is the love story of a young couple, Yun and Tsai, breaking up over the telephone. The call is illustrated as a Chinese duel, each harsh word being the equivalent of a series of strikes. The Chinese backgrounds created in ink painting, the cultural prejudices and the desire of adventure have more sense in the feudal Chinese context, where the conversation is taking place on a visual level. All natural elements aren’t randomly chosen, each one having an equivalent within the message of the story. It seems to me that the fire is associated with the end of the relationship and the rain seems to have a purifying sense, associated with silence and resignation. “Requiem for Romance” is a short martial love story, created using the Chinese painting style, with an ever changing colorful mood.
Jonathan Ng gave an interview for http://www.animationmagazine.eu, which I would like to share with you.
What determined you to follow an animation career?
My career in animation was a chain reaction arising from an early interest in drawing. Once I decided to pursue art, I went to a special arts high school, where I experimented in painting, photography, printmaking, drawing, and sculpture. I realized after learning other aspects of visual arts that my passion was still in the drawing medium, and at that time, the only career options for drawing were architecture, comics or animation. I think I gravitated towards animation because I love creating drawings that express movement. My father is a physicist, so he engrained a lot of knowledge towards movement at a young age, I wonder if that had something to do with my fascination for movement.
What inspires you in creating an animation film?
For animated film, I am inspired to tell stories that mean something important to me. Animation is a medium that requires so much time and dedication, so much thought and planning. I can’t see myself working on a film that I don’t care about. As such, I think a lot of my films come from some kind of personal experience. From the technique side of things, I’m inspired by trying different media in drawing, and experimenting with using a technique that reinforces the themes of the story. I like trying new things, breaking out of existing conventions, and seeing if they work.
I think there’s a big change of style from “Asthma Tech” to “Requiem for Romance”. Tell us a few words about your animation technique.
My visual style has evolved over time. Asthma Tech’s style was evolving from my first film “Sherry, like the Drink” which was a film about my mother, who was a teacher for young children. When she passed, I wanted to make a film that expressed a celebration of her life that would be attractive for her students to watch. After the modest success of Sherry, I had the opportunity to make “Asthma Tech”, another film for children at the NFB, that expressed the story of my experience with asthma and how that shaped my learning how to draw. However, after going back to University, and experimenting with more techniques, and darker styles, I wrote a script about a period of my life in young adulthood, “Requiem for Romance”. This film was influenced more from Chinese animation from the 50s and martial arts films, and melancholic stories like In the Mood for Love and other dramas.
If I understood right, you were part of the great team that created Jean-Christophe Dessaint’s „Le Jour des Corneilles”. How was that experience?
Yes, I was part of the team that worked on Jean-Christophe Dessaint’s film “Le Jour des Corneilles”. This was such a pleasure to work on. My first 2D animation feature experience. I met the animators from “Triplets de Belleville” who live in Montreal, as well as one of the supervisors from “The Illusionist”, and it was a real honor to have them as colleagues. I learned a lot, and now I am looking forward to working on another French feature film called “Un Monde Truqué” which is based on the comics of Jacques Tardi.
How did you create „Requiem for Romance”? Tell us a little about the story behind this animated film.
Usually I tell people I animated Requiem for Romance with my tears, haha. But seriously, my artistic goal was to combine three signature genres of Chinese cinema, as I mentioned above, the Shanghai water ink animations in the 50s, martial arts films, and melancholic love stories, all while telling a personal story of heartbreak. I shot all of the water ink backgrounds live under the camera, so that I could capture the real essence of working with water and ink, that kind of slow, moody, intriguing movement that arises from ink mixing in water. The directional ink flow was to serve not only as a beautiful visual, but also to serve a narrative purpose. I specifically planned out the direction of the ink flow in the storyboards to represent the environmental elements such as wind, rain, fire, clouds, and rivers. Each environmental element was also planned for emotional impact in the story, so that the colors could correspond to the moods as well. The fight choreography was animated more softly, because it was meant to be a love tango as opposed to a real combat. All of the moves were things that I either made up or imagined, without looking at reference. I tend to enjoy animating as realistically as I can, without looking at video reference. For the horse animation, I figured out the profile gallop from still photos, and then used my own profile horse animation as reference for all of the other animation angles. Instead of focusing on exaggerating the weight of the animation, I focused more on the floatiness and weightlessness, to increase the fantastical dream like quality.
What are your thoughts about the European animation?
I think Europe is a great hope for animation. The visual styles that I see coming out of Europe are always really impressive. I think of legends like Alexandre Petrov and Yuri Norstein. And I am also a fan of Theodore Ushev’s work, even though he is based in Canada, I always associate him with Europe. I love more recent feature films like “Une Vie de Chat”, “Ernest et Célestine” (France) and “Secret of Kells” (Ireland). When it comes to animated features, we see a lot of American films here and some Japanese films, and they are technically excellent but always adhere to very specific attributes. As a Canadian filmmaker, I think we feel the same way as Europe about finding unique styles and finding unique voices in our animation. I only wish it was possible for us to see more European animation in theatres here, because not many of the films make their way over here.
Have you any projects in development?
I am in development of my own animated feature film. I have just signed the writer’s contract with a Montreal-based producer, Roger Frappier, and his company Max Films, which was a co-producer on “Le Jour des Corneilles”. It will have a very similar visual style to “Requiem for Romance”.
For more details about Jonathan and his work: www.jonjonphenomenon.co