Friday, August 28, 2015

Chinese Animation Artwork at The China Art Museum In Shanghai, China

The China Art Museum (The China Art Palace)

This year on a trip abroad to China, and I had the pleasure of visiting The China Art Museum (also known as the China Art Palace) located in Pudong, Shanghai. The museum, which shows modern Chinese artwork, is housed in the former China Pavilion of Expo 2010 (World's Fair).  Expo 2010 had the largest number of countries to participate in any World's Fair, and was the most expensive Expo in history (more than $45 billion invested by the Chinese government). The China Art Palace was the tallest structure of the Expo, with an estimated construction cost of $220 million. It was designed by He Jingtang and resembles an ancient Chinese crown. The building was completed on February 8, 2010, has 1,790,000 square feet of floor space, currently displays about 14,000 works of art, and is the largest art museum in Asia.

It was simply impossible to go through the entire museum in a day, but what to my surprise, I stumbled upon a small room of framed animation artwork! As a child, one of my favorite cartoons was "Battle of the Planets." It featured five ninja heros dressed in bright bird costumes, complete with see through yellow beak helmets. There were also several space vehicles that would come together to form one super space ship called "The Phoenix." It would be many years later when I learned that "Battle of the Planets" was an English dubbed Anime cartoon from Japan, that was initially titled "Gatchaman." "Gatchaman" and the dubbed version "Battle of the Planets" still have a huge cult following and in 2013 the original Japanese version was released as a DVD boxed set. I think it is very easy for Americans to only think of animation as being from only Disney, Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, or some other US animation studio; so this was an exciting chance to see animation cels and backgrounds from another country!

Chinese hand painted animation cels on production watercolor background from "Havoc In Heaven," 1961-1964.

The above work is a well known cartoon from the Shanghai Animation Film Studio. It was written by Li Keruo and Wan Laiming, directed by Wan Laiming, with music by Wu Yingiu. Animation was done by Yan Dingxian, Duan Jun, Pu Jiaxiang, Lu Qing, Lin Wenxiao, Ge Guiyun, Zhang Shimin and Yan Shanchun. The synopsis "Havoc In Heaven" is quoted from the information placard located on the wall next to the framed artwork:

"Monkey King, the leader of a group of monkeys, practices martial arts in the Mountain of Flowers and Fruits. Unsatisfied with his weapons, he goes to East China Sea Dragon King's Palace to borrow some treasure weapons. The Dragon King promises that if he pulls away the Palace's Iron Rod - a golden cudgel, he will give it to him. However, after the Monkey King does so, the Dragon King eats his words and sues to the Heaven Palace. Jade Emperor, head of the Heaven Palace, cajoles Monkey King to the heaven and then puts him under house arrest. In great fury, the Monkey King shatters the Palace to pieces."

Chinese hand painted animation cel on production watercolor background.

Chinese animation hinged paper figures on production watercolor background.

The above work is composed of multiple painted pieces of paper that are hinged together to form both figures. The completed "paper dolls" allow for independent movement of the head, arms, hands, legs, feet, and torso. Each individual figure and each part of that figure could be moved independently, a little at a time, and photographed over a background to produce movement. This was a great way to utilize stop motion animation. Stop motion (also known as stop frame) is an animation technique that physically manipulates an object that appears to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous film sequence. Stop motion usually involves manipulation of dolls with movable joints or clay figures because of their ease in repositioning. The use of these Chinese "paper dolls" is a much more economical way of producing animation, compared to the creation of production drawings and individual hand painted cels. Clay animation or "clay-mation" is stop motion animation using modeling clay. Clay-mation was used in the US and Great Britain to produce classic animated films, including the famous works of Rankin/Bass ("Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," and "The Year Without a Santa Claus") and Nick Park ("Wallace and Gromit").