The Capital of Animation Eyes Reviving 5,000-Year-Old World Heritage
Making Good Use of Animation to Promote the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City

2019-08-09 08:14:41

Liu Jian (first from right), director of Liangzhu, instructs the team of China Academy of Art (CAA) in the production of film animation. Photograph by Zhu Jingning

On July 6, Beijing time, at the 43rd Session of the World Heritage Committee held in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, the president of the Committee announced that the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City (hereinafter Liangzhu City) project submitted by China was approved by the Committee to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Liangzhu belongs to both China and the world. When “Liangzhu” is becoming a high-frequency cultural buzzword, Hangzhou, the guardian of this world heritage and the Capital of Animation, is also trying its best to tell a 5,000-year-old story about Liangzhu to the world in its own unique way, showing the Liangzhu culture with advanced urban civilization. The FanFan Comic Culture & Art Co., Ltd. (“FanFan” for short) in Hangzhou, has for the first time launched an animation work themed with Liangzhu culture — Yuzuoshi from Liangzhu’s Untold Stories, thus contributing to the dissemination of Liangzhu culture. The animated film Liangzhu, directed by Liu Jian, Vice-president of the School of Film and Animation, CAA, and a member of Academy Awards committee, is currently under intense production.


Creating the First Animation Product Themed “Liangzhu”

FanFan sits in the Liangzhu Culture Village of Hangzhou.

The ties between Liangzhu and FanFan emerged by accident. In 2011, Shen Hao, President of FanFan, was deeply attracted by the charm of the Liangzhu Museum during his visit, and came up with the idea of establishing the most beautiful creative tribe of animation in China. At that time when his career got started, Shen Hao named this creative tribe with the homophone of Liangzhu — “LiangzhuLiangzuo”, which means “to create good works in a good environment”.

In 2014, the tribe officially settled in the Liangzhu Culture Village, attracting dozens of cartoon creation talent from all over the country, thus a series of works favored by youngsters, such as “Magmell of the Sea Blue”, “Shi Ye Miao Yin” and “The Hidden Descendants”, were born here. Since the same year, Liangzhu has become the host of the “SuperNova Awards”, a professional cartoon competition that has nurtured over 50 professional cartoonists over the past 13 years. The LiangzhuLiangzuo Comic Tribe currently in global layout provides a good creation base for cartoon enthusiasts around the world, and at the same time prepares a large number of Chinese cartoon IPs for FanFan.

How to integrate the new elements of cartoon into Liangzhu’s long-standing historic culture? The cartoonists of FanFan answered this question with the Yuzuoshi from Liangzhu’s Untold Stories that integrated Liangzhu culture into cartoon for the first time.

In 2011, organized by FanFan, a young creation team including the script writer Yuejiang and the cartoon writer Babu spent more than six months in the Jade Culture Industry Park to be committed to the study of Liangzhu culture. This comic was well received once it was published. Young readers specially set up a post bar to discuss its plot. It has deepened public’s understanding of Liangzhu culture and changed youngsters’ impression of traditional culture as old-fashioned.

Subsequently, this IP was adapted to music, stage play, dance, etc. For example, the original music of this series performed by Shinichi Kobayashi, a well-known Japanese composer, made Liangzhu culture familiar to the public in a fresher and more diversified way, and appealed to different types of audience around the world.

The Liangzhu City’ successful nomination for world heritage thrilled all the staff of FanFan. They hope to create more cartoon works like the Yuzuoshi from Liangzhu’s Untold Stories, so as to acquaint more people with the Liangzhu culture and advance it globally.

Teachers and Students of CAA Commit Themselves to Creating the Animated Film Liangzhu

Aiming to present the Liangzhu civilization and highlight the Liangzhu spirit, the animated feature film Liangzhu distinctively reproduces the Chinese civilization 5,000 years ago in a story about Liangzhu. Initiated by Zhejiang Provincial Bureau of Radio, Film and Television and CAA in early 2018, the film was approved by the National Radio and Television Administration in November 2018. Currently, a team of over 10 teachers and students from the School of Film and Animation, CAA, led by the director Liu Jian, is wedded to the creation.

“Our goal is quite simple, that is, to make an appealing movie for audience of all ages.” Liu Jian said that when he received the proposal, he felt that Liangzhu culture was a highly valuable theme with a large creative space, which was both attractive and challenging. “The film is currently in the stage of pre-animation production. The planning and creation of script and concept graphs have been basically completed and are being continuously improved. The film is expected to be released before the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games.”

(Concept Graph of Liangzhu)

Adapt Ancient Themes into Modern Times

How to present this period of China’s prehistoric civilization in a real, vivid and artistic way in the film to provide the audience with an immersive experience? The priority is to have a clear understanding of Liangzhu culture.

In addition to deeply understanding the Liangzhu culture through reading a lot of relevant documents, visiting the museum, and conducting on-the-spot investigation, the creation team also plans to carry out data sorting with the help of the Liangzhu Museum.

“In fact, the elements of Liangzhu civilization are not out of reach. Our team is not unfamiliar with the cultural relics we saw in Liangzhu Museum. Some decorations and daily utensils, even ritual vessels such as cong (a form of ancient Chinese jade artifact), are all connected with our modern life.” The production team of Li Jiajia, a teacher of the Department of Animation, the School of Film and Animation, CAA, started the creation of character scenes around the script.

Li Jiajia said that the team would work on the movie plot on the basis of textual research of authoritative historical materials while naturally incorporate dams, city walls, jades, Taotie designs, and other landmark elements of Liangzhu civilization into the story, thus revealing the origin and development process of this civilization in an intriguing manner and intuitively deepening the audience’s memory and understanding.

“We always believe that a good story should be suitable for audience of all ages, though they may have different feelings,” Li Jiajia said, “As a film of an ancient theme, it still conforms to the modern aesthetic standards visually. Its art style requires that the visual effect be enhanced with contemporary aesthetics on the basis of historical background culture in the creation of story and style setting, so as to make the story more interesting in a modern manner. For example, we will simulate the living environment of the characters according to the sand table of Liangzhu Museum, and then make some collocation and layout of colors according to the characters’ traits, thus not deviating from historical facts while arousing the audience’s sympathy.”

The main story line is around “water harnessing”

“The script, as the core content of the film, is still being refined. At present, it is basically determined that the story will develop around ‘water harnessing’, but it won’t be the core. People’s way of living and coexisting with nature at that time, as well as human nature will all be involved.” Li Jiajia revealed that the relationship between ancient Liangzhu people and water would be taken as an important clue to the core and dramatic conflicts of the story, allowing the audience to understand how to deal with the relationship between humans and water, which is still worth pondering and should be treated with caution at present.

When talking about the reason of choosing “water” as the theme, Li Jiajia said, “Being in line with the ecological environment in Jiangsu and Zhejiang areas, water, as a carrier of culture, is also a topic that has been running through from ancient times till now: ancient Liangzhu people built a water conservancy system then, and we are conducting ‘five waters treatment’ now, both of which are inheritance of the concept of ‘mother river’.”

The film technology team led by Yu Benqing, an associate professor of the Department of Animation, the School of Film and Animation of CAA, is mainly responsible for the three-dimensional model and scene architecture, and converting the characters’ hand drawings into three-dimensional models. “In the process of modeling, we will also try to make materials, lighting and rendering effects. And a pilot trailer is slated to be released in the next half year.”

In the future film production, the team will also cooperate with excellent three-dimensional animation production teams at home and abroad to make Liangzhu a premium animation film through 2D, 3D and CG technologies.