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We had an interview with Pi San at his studio Hutoon, located in Beijing, China. He shares his view and creativity behind his influential and successful animation series. He also announces the exclusive news on Miss Puff. This interview was done by Zimeng Liu for Animationweek at his studio (Picture1-4).

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Animation director Pi San and his works


Pi San is one of the most influential and successful independent animation artist in China. His rise to fame was phenomenal. One of his animation series Kuang Kuang Kuang first appeared in 2005 and gained huge popularity. It featured a little naughty boy with a bloody nose named Kuang Kuang. The series were reminiscent of days in school in the 1970s and 1980s in China. The web series opened up a new possibility of animation in China with his innovative approach. After producing short films and commercials for multi-national companies, he moves on to the production of Miss Puff. Production of Miss Puff was announced in 2011 and started as an online animation series on Youku, one of the largest online video platforms in China.

Miss Puff was created as a serial to Miss Puff’s Goldfish Bowl, an animated short that premiered in November 2010 as one of the films in Youku’s 11 Degrees New Media Film Project, a partnership between Youku, Chevrolet Cruze, and the China Film Group. This short film was viewed more than five million times and linked in roughly two million tweets, making it the most-tweeted of the 11 Degrees films of that year.

Miss Puff is now on the 7th of its 8 seasons and has been hugely successful with over hundreds of millions of views. Miss Puff explores the social mores of young white-collar professionals through the persona of its title character. It blends animated characters with live-action backgrounds, bringing a level of realism to the animation.


Interview with Pi San (专访皮三)


ps005Animationweek (AW): Could you please describe yourself in three words as your introduction?

动画周: 皮三的自我介绍(三个词来形容一下自己)。

Pi San: I say being humorous, different and incorrect, and enjoy being creative. For example, I can discover a lot of possibilities among the things that I am part of. It is very painful for me to repeat work.

皮三: 幽默、不一样&不正确的东西、喜欢有创造性的东西。举例: 包括自己的东西,讨论更多可能性。重复一样工作对我来说太痛苦了。

AW: What opportunities made you join the animation industry and kept you working in it since then?

动画周: 是什么契机让您进入动画领域的还能这么坚持的一直做下去?

Pi San: I studied oil painting in college and kept painting for another three or four years after my graduation. I’ve done exhibitions, contemporary art and other things, including teaching. I wanted to do something interesting after college. For me, being creative is to express myself and thoughts to the world. Some people express themselves through writing and some do so through music. Personally, I started with painting as a way of my expression and realized later that this is not sufficient and most effective. Fortunately, I did learn to use (animation) software and started making flash animations. It was like opening a new world to me. As I personally like to express myself through a secular and narrative story, I just decided to keep working on it without hesitation.


Miss Puff (泡芙小姐)

AW: What inspired you to make an animation about the life of young people? Where did you get the idea?

动画周: 为什么想要做年轻人的生活?这个想法是如何出现的?

ps007aPi San: It is because my last animation Kuang Kuang Kuang is a little bit too political and violent. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to repeat things, but to be curious like a child. This time I want to make a work that cannot be easily recognized as my typical work. I began to ask myself, what would be the most rebellious? Then, I thought, why not create a work about females? When I was young, I used to be very cultured too and so I thought, why not show that side of myself now? As far as I am concerned, there is a rebellious spirit in Miss Puff, just like Kuang Kuang Kuang does. The only difference is their approach of rebelling. Kuang Kuang Kuang is against the social system through violence, while Miss Puff is about female fights against the status quos of values and emotions by her wisdom.

Puff has her own way of seeing things as a female, which I believed is very rare in today’s society and often easily eroded by male centric perspectives and values. Materialism, for example. Males often see the world through materials and often believes that any value can be acquired and invented by the exchange of physical materials and can be replaced by tangible materials. Whereas, women see things differently and are more artistic and emotional. In the past, people were ashamed to put emphasis on the values of physical goods and materials in Chinese societies while now the values in intangible feelings and cultured spirits seems to be a shameful topic here. Yes, physical goods and materials are important but it would be too dangerous if all our values were oriented and replaced by materialism. Today, everyone seems very realistic, everything can be traded as goods, even including love. However, Puff is a unique woman who can stand still against this mainstream view. She confronts difficulties with her everyday-life wisdom and she doesn’t quit nor cries every day.

皮三: 因为我上一个作品《哐哐哐》比较政治、比较暴力。刚才也说过,我不希望重复一样东西,就像一个小孩一样好奇吧。就想做一个让别人根本看不出是皮三做的作品。我就开始问自己,什么东西最逆反呢?于是我就想到能不能做一个关于女性的。我年轻的时候也文艺过,正好释放下;而且,我也认为泡芙其实跟哐哐哐一样,也是有一种反叛的精神在里面。只是反叛的方式不一样。哐哐哐是通过暴力的手段去抵制这个体制。而泡芙,作为一个女性,是通过智慧来对抗普遍的情感和价值观的。


AW: How do you define the character of Puff?

动画周: 如何定位泡芙的人物形象?

ps004Pi San: This work is very different from my other works, because our approach this time is relatively rational. First of all, I wanted this female character to be independent, have her own views and judgement, and be sensitive and adventurous to life. This character gradually became more and more like her along the way, which is just like making a sculpture. With those keywords, we began to sculpt Puff little by little. For instance, as a woman with a strong imagination, her eyes should be big. But then how big? How big her eyes should be to make her look smart? She should have thin lips, because thin lips can show her independent personality. Her hair should be short, although I personally like girls with long hair. The short hair style would make her look sharper and more independent. Many people may see that Miss Puff is another version of Sex and the City, but actually I was largely influenced by Amelie when making the animation. Of course, Amelie is too romantic, cultured and alternative for Chinese people, but I really like that image, so I took her as a main reference when shaping Puff.

皮三: 这部作品跟我的其他作品不太一样,泡芙做的相对比较理性。首先我希望这个女性形象要独立,要有自我判断,要对生活很敏感,有冒险精神。就像雕塑一样,这个形象是慢慢清晰、丰满起来的。这些性格形象的关键词让我们开始塑造这个形象。比方说,她是一个很有想象力的人,那她的眼睛要大,大到什么程度?什么样的大能显得更聪明?嘴唇要薄,这样会显得比较独立。比如说短发,当然我个人更喜欢长发的女孩,但是为了人物本身的性格来推断,短发会让她看起来更利索更独立。很多观众会觉得泡芙小姐有欲望都市的即视感,然而我个人还是受《天使爱美丽》的影响比较大。当然,爱美丽放中国会过于文艺,但是我个人非常喜欢那个形象。也是我们的主要参考。

AW: At the end of each episode, there is a concluding remark like “A blank postcard is actually filled with love” (you can watch the episode from the link in the next section). Are these your personal feelings?

动画周: 每一集的最后都会有一句结束语“ 空白明信片其实写满了爱”。这些是您的人生感悟吗?

Pi San: These were quoted from Puff. I think that animation is different and unique from other kinds of work, which can often contain more philosophical and interesting things. As every episode in this animated series is short without a very complicated story, such as separation and death, a short story like this can always give inspiration to its audience as a result. Personally, I think that a mini-series like Miss Puff is closer to British drama rather than a US TV series. For example, Black Mirror and Inside No. 9 which I’ve watched recently (Certainly, I do not attempt to compare Miss Puff with these two dramas (laughs).). Both of them make people think deeply. Popular culture needs to spread with quotations. In this sense, even if I do not have these words at the end of each episode, I am sure that the audience can get it. But Puff has to give a conclusion, so I took the form of quotations.

皮三: 泡芙语录。因为觉得动画片跟别的作品不太一样,他一定有一些很形而上、很有意思的东西。因为这个动画片短,没有很复杂的剧情,没有生离死别,就这么短短的一个小故事看完后一定会给人精神上的一种启发。我个人认为泡芙小姐这种系列短剧相对于美剧来说,更像英剧。比如说黑镜子和我最近看的九号密室(当然,我不是拿泡芙和他们做比较,哈哈),他们给人一种思考的东西。大众流行文化是需要一个语录来传播的。我从这个角度来讲,即使我不写这句话,观众也能体会到。但是她必须要总结出来,所以我就用了语录的形式。

AW: Why there is a small prop in every episode of Miss Puff, such as coffee, rice noodles, a fish tank, etc.?

动画周: 泡芙小姐为什么每一集都会出现一个小道具,比如咖啡、米线和鱼缸等?

ps003Pi San: It is a question about objects. A characteristic of the materialistic era is that people believe they can substitute anything for what they want. In this case, the meaning of objects changes. For example, a mobile phone was just a tool for making calls when it emerged. But now, a mobile phone is not just that simple, because it can be a toy, or a multi-functional thing. In the world today, each of us is pursuing material more or less. For example, experience getting out from a BMW should be a different experience from an Alto, but what does it mean? In terms of comfort, of course, it is surely comfortable to take a BMW. On the other hand, it is just like a prop on the stage, which changes the story of your life. It becomes an obsession or cult to materials, and some people obey to its power since it can change lives. Some girls even trade their bodies for it, which is certainly a very extreme example. As a result, I was wondering what attitude Puff shall take. Firstly, she should neither be a slave to materialism, nor rejecting or ignoring its presence. At the end, I found a new way for Puff, which is for her to discover and reveal a different meaning in ordinary objects. Puff discovers and learns something about her life through these objects. This is why I believe Puff is someone who gives souls to objects. This is why when I choose these objects, I always try to find their alternative meaning.

皮三: 这是关于物的问题,在物质时代的一个特点就是人觉得可以交换。这时物的意义就不一样。打个比方说,手机,刚开始的出现是接打电话用。但现在的手机已经不简单的是个手机了,它可以是个玩具,或者是个综合性的东西。这个时代,我们每个人对物都会有所追求。比如说从宝马和从 奥拓上下来的人体验是不一样的,那说明什么?从舒适度来讲,当然是更舒服。从另一方面讲,它就像是舞台上的一个道具一样,改变了你的人生。这就要说到拜物,有些人觉得既然这个东西能改变人生,那我就屈服于它吧。有些女孩甚至愿意用自己的身体去交换,当然这是很极端的做法。所以我在想泡芙应该什么态度呢,她首先不能拜物,又不能不用所有物,不能视而不见。所以我就换了一个方法,泡芙从普通的物里面发现这个物别的意义。她会从这些物里面发现对生活的理解。所以我觉得泡芙是一个可以赋予物以灵魂的人。所以我在选择这些物的时候,也在想赋予这些物别的意义。

AW: What was the biggest difficulty when you were making Miss Puff?

动画周: 在制作泡芙期间,您遇到的最大的困难是什么?

Pi San: One is repetition and the other is persistence. The question is how we can develop a series with the same characters, but keep attracting people. What should we keep and what should we change? In fact, I don’t think that I did an excellent job. For example, since the first season, we have been making changes and have collected opinions and suggestions from various sides. It is indeed a big challenge of how to create novelty and keeping the freshness of the brand. Miss Puff has now been running for seven seasons. In the Internet age, everyone is in the pursuit of new sensations and it is hard for people to keep interested in old things. Some of Miss Puff’s initial fans started watching it while they were in universities and now probably have children. The most interesting thing for this animation is that it is a good accompaniment to girls in their adolescence and their journeys of emotional development. This is what I did not expect. For me, every season should be fresh but yet very Puff. Miss Puff is an animation series about depicting feelings of females that has not yet been focused by other animation producers. This is why it is a big challenge for us to keep its freshness, and we are still always exploring.

皮三: 一个是重复、一个是坚持。我们如何重复做一个品牌引得别人一直喜欢。我们应该坚持什么应该改变什么。其实我自认为自己没做很好。比如说从第一季开始,我们也一直在改变,也搜集过各方面的意见和建议。如何在重复里面求新,还能保持一个品牌的新鲜度,这个是一个很难的挑战。泡芙已经出了七季。在互联网时代,大家都在追求新的感受,谁能一直关注一个旧的东西。像泡芙的粉丝有从大学开始看,现在也已经有了孩子。这个片子最有意思的一点是,它陪伴了很多女孩的青春期和她整个对情感的认识。这是我没有想到的。对我来说,每一季又要有新鲜感,又还是泡芙。泡芙是个系列剧,也是以前没人做过的关于女性情感的剧,所以说保持它的新鲜感对我们来说是个很大的挑战,我们也一直在摸索。

AW: What did you enjoy the most when making Miss Puff?

动画周: 制作泡芙的过程中,最享受的部分是什么?

Pi San: Now there is fewer and fewer that I can enjoy (bursts into laughter). For all animations, the early stage of production is the most enjoyable time, and people will be excited when a new idea comes. And the rest is about the production and improvement. The animation production is becoming a more and more tedious process. The animation industry is hard. It is hard to keep your enthusiasm in the entire animation production process for months and even for years.

(By the way, with some exclusive news, a Miss Puff film is under preparation, and it is expected to be released at the end of this year or next year’s Valentine’s Day. You are welcome to join us then.)

皮三: 现在享受的部分越来越少(自己笑场哈哈哈哈)。做所有动画都是,创作的前期是最快乐的,刚有一个想法的时候大家都会比较兴奋。剩下的过程就是如何制作和完善它。动画的制作是个越来越枯燥的过程。在动画行业挺难的,你必须在几个月甚至几年的制作过程中持续保持热情这是最难的。题外话(内部消息),泡芙正在筹备拍成大电影,今年的年底或者明年的情人节预计会上档~尽请期待。

Kuang Kuang Kuang  and  Miss Puff  with English subtitles

Notice: Kuang Kuang Kuang is unsuitable for children under age of 18.

About producing animation (创作方面)

ps001AW: What would you prepare for the creation of a new work? Or are you a person who is led by intuition? Once it comes, will you work on it without hesitation?

动画周: 您创作一个作品之前都会做哪些准备?还是您属于感性派,灵感突然来的时候便会着手去做?

Pi San: In the past few years, I have made my own way of starting a new project. If I have an idea that I want to make an animation with, I would not take any action immediately and I will put it aside for a while, maybe a couple of months or years. If the same idea could come up again in my head, maybe I would think that this idea is valuable enough to take action. If I can think and use words to polish it, then I would write it down and sketch it out from my head. Then, after another period of time, if I still believe it is a valuable idea, I will start preparation to make an animation. Rightly, I put new ideas off first. In many cases, maybe for a team with young people, I think that they should put aside their idea for a while and not do it right away like me. Because I think that they usually come out with ideas that are not their own but inspired by the works of others. In my opinion, we should put those ideas aside for a while, because we can’t think those deeper and are prone to failure.

Besides, there are some ideas that are not very valuable, and are not worth spending time on. I think that an idea is just an idea, and there is a long way from an idea to its realization. So I do have some finished scripts, which are not used in the end, and I wasted a lot of my time for that.

皮三: 我这么多年来,有一套自己的做法。总的来说,我一旦有个想法,一般不会马上行动。我会把它记在脑子里,放一放。过了一段时间,如果这个想法还能再浮现在脑子里,就说明这个东西是有价值的。如果能想起来又能经得住推敲的话,我就会在脑海中勾勒出来然后记录下来。再放一段时间,如果还是觉得他有价值,我就会开始筹备制作。对,我会先放一放。很多时候,尤其是年轻人,脑子里蹦出来的并不是自己的点子,很多时候是受别人作品刺激无意中想出来的。这些点子我认为要稍微放一放,也许它经不起推敲,很容易撞车。还有一些点子价值没有那么高,不值得花很多时间去做。所以说我觉得点子离作品还是很远的。我有些写好的剧本, 甚至最后都没有用,也浪费了我很多时间。

AW: If there is a chance to cooperate with international studios, will you give it a try?

动画周: 如果有机会,您愿意建立国际合作关系吗?

Pi San: Certainly, I would love to, if there is the chance.

皮三: 我当然愿意,如果有这个机会。

AW: Can you share something about your next work?

动画周: 可以透漏一下您下一部作品的信息吗?

Pi San: Um….I want to keep it secret. I am working with two or three projects with different themes and topics, but I have not yet decided which one is the best to proceed. I have not launched any new projects for several years so it puts pressure on me to get something out. I think it’s not a good thing. I think my project always pushes me to improve. That’s why it takes a long time for me to show my next project to audiences.

皮三: 这。。。这我不能告诉你们。因为我现在有两三个不同题材的作品,虽然都在推进之中,但我自己还没有完全决定是哪一部。我个人也有些压力,因为好几年没有出新的作品了,觉得自己也要学习和成长。在一个项目上呆久了也会退步。所以要保持一个年轻的心态去不断学习和创新。

AW: Can you share your opinions about the Chinese animation market?

动画周: 能说说您对中国动画市场的个人看法吗?

ps002Pi San: If you asked me this question a few years ago, I would say that the animation market in China is not positive. But recently, many changes are ongoing. Few years ago, I talked about the Chinese animation market with friends and we all thought that it would take about five years for the market to develop and grow. But now I think the progress of the Chinese animation market is not as slow as we thought. There are some changes we can see. Firstly, the Chinese animation industry formed a group of serious business and started making money. It can be said that the Chinese animation market was starting to have a bright future. Secondly, in the past, the Chinese audience thought that animation is just for children, but now animated films, such as Monkey King: Hero Is Back, made the audience aware that there is a lot of animated content that is also suitable for adults. The development of the Internet also promoted animation a lot and made everyone realise many types of animation. So I think that the animation market in China is improving and getting better. But if, for example, there are one or two good animation projects, the capital will rush for those suddenly and quickly. There are many animators who are enthusiastic about that, but a lot of animators will be unhappy as well. The animation market seems very good, but animators will begin to get lost. I worry about situations such as Chinese cabbages: they sound good and then a marketing campaign of selling Chinese cabbages appear and everyone goes out to buy Chinese cabbages. If the next day’s sales were to be bad, everyone would turn to sell and buy gingers. That is the so-called market-oriented economy, which requires people to have their own decisions and then make necessary adjustments. From my point of view, no matter how chaotic the outside world is, we just need to stay calm and be ourselves. Generally speaking, the Chinese animation market is very promising.

皮三: 如果前几年问我,我会说的比较悲观。但是这两年有了很多变化。之前和自己好友说起,觉得中国动画市场5年左右可以起来,现在发现没有那么慢。这两年有些开始看到变化了。有几点,第一个,动画产业已经可以开始赚钱了,并且这个产业已经形成。说明市场也开始有了。其次,以前观众只知道动画是少儿产业,现在通过《大圣归来》这些动画电影也让观众知道,很多动画也适合成年人观看。互联网的发展也对动画的推动很大,让大家知道动画的种类很多。所以我觉得整体市场是在好的一面。但这个时候,比如说动画产业有一两个好的,资本便会突然蜂拥而至,特别的着急。有很多动画人就被冲昏了,也有很多动画人会比较悲哀,觉得动画市场这么好,动画人就会开始迷失自我了。我觉得不怕,就比如说,白菜卖得好,那所有人就都去卖白菜了。然后第二天卖不好了,所有人又去种姜。市场经济就是如此,这是一个自我判断和调整的问题。我认为外面乱你自己不要乱就可以了。总的来说大环境是好的。


Zimeng Liu: Zimeng Liu is a 2D animator and illustrator based in Shanghai. She graduated from Central Saint Martins (MA Character Animation) in 2014. During that period of time, she mainly focuses on character design and making animation by using different materials.

Portfolio web: https://www.behance.net/liuzimeng067b5

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