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Regulars / The Graduates 2017

Animator Katy Wang uses beautifully subtle texture and timing in her emotive films

Words:

Jenny Brewer

Portrait:

Jack Johnstone

In her animated short film Contact, Katy Wang tells the tale of an interplanetary journey, inspired by the emotions of a long-distance relationship. Through beautifully detailed and textural hand-drawn scenes and characters, and a subtle narrative, she draws you into her delicately emotive story.

The film is Katy’s graduation project from Kingston University and presented a challenge for the animator, being the largest and most ambitious story-writing project she’d ever undertaken. “The starting point was my experience in a long-distance relationship and the feelings of loneliness and desire for contact that come with it,” says Katy. “I was really interested in space at the time, having fallen in love with the vintage space suits at the Science Museum’s Cosmonauts exhibition – my character design is directly inspired by the blue, puffy thermal suit that I saw there. This all combined into a film set in outer space, told through a character stranded on a planet, starved of human touch and company, desperately searching for contact.”

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Katy uses the isolation of space as a visual metaphor, playing on the quiet moments to highlight her character’s seclusion within a limitless landscape. Then, when the character roams outside the silent and claustrophobic interior of the ship and on to his adventure, the euphoria of freedom and hope is almost tangible for the viewer.

“It was really important for me to keep the narrative subtle to hook the audience, but also communicate enough for the story to make sense and the character to be sympathised with,” Katy explains. “What I really love about animation is that you create a time-based piece of work that can really allow an audience to immerse themselves and connect with a character and story. The audience has to sit down and watch your film from start to end, so you have a huge amount of control in how your story is told.”

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She wrote the script in its entirety before storyboarding, so as not to become distracted by detail before the narrative was secure, then used this to guide the framing and compositions. The film was then designed and animated using Photoshop and After Effects, with a muted colour palette restricted to just a few hues, and a few Photoshop brushes, to maintain its understated consistency. Ambrose Yu worked on sound design, and “contributed so much towards the film’s pacing and emotional tone” Katy says.

The six-month project was the culmination of Katy’s time on the Illustration Animation course at Kingston, and represents the graduate’s own story arc. “My first year was tough, crits were scary and my self-esteem took a knock,” she remembers. “I almost felt I was on the wrong course because we had such weird, conceptually-driven projects. Looking back now, though, I know why the tutors threw us in the deep end. All the criticism and feedback and open briefs really forced me to toughen up and push my work in different directions, and now I’m graduating I feel like my confidence has grown so much.”

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She gives special mentions to tutors Chris Shepherd and Martina Bramkamp, who “really cared about everyone’s projects and encourage us to keep pushing and improving”, but also notes that “the biggest thing I learned is the tutors aren’t always right! Their job is to challenge you and your ideas and make you think differently, but at the same time I learned to stick to my guns if something felt right”.

Her first year film Mind the Gap shows early experiments with pacing and an eye for detail, animating the patterns of the tube seat upholstery to the soundtrack of rush hour London. While it displays Katy’s innate skill for texture and hypnotic visuals, it is much more abstract than Contact, and the animator wasn’t entirely sold on it until her tutor Martina encouraged her to send it to festivals. It had a successful run of screenings, which Katy says gave her “a much-needed confidence boost going into second year”.

Now finished with uni, and with her latest film showing at a number of festivals, Katy says she’d like to continue making her own work while gaining some experience in a studio. “To be honest, I spent so long working by myself on Contact I’d really like to be given a brief! Making a film by yourself is so emotionally draining. I would really love to be part of a bigger team where I can see production pipelines for big projects. I want to learn from people who have more experience than me and soak up all the knowledge and skills I can.”

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Supported by A/D/O

Founded by MINI, A/D/O is a creative space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn dedicated to exploring new boundaries in design. At its heart is the Design Academy, which offers a range of programming to professional designers, intended to provoke and invigorate their creative practice.