Remember the last scene in Men In Black? The camera zooms all the way out from New York City, planets fly past, and we end up seeing that our galaxy is contained inside a marble in the hand of an alien, who throws it into a whole bag of marbles! It’s a fun way to make us think about space, size, and dimensionality in general. Chinese animator Song Liu takes a gloomier, more abstract look at the same issue of size in the short film Somewhere, told from the perspective of a gaunt, Æon Flux-like character and his winged, microscopic counterpart.
In the film, Liu evokes the feeling of floating in a limbo state, somewhere between death and afterlife, or perhaps rebirth. Picture a grain of dust containing an entire world built from abandoned steel structures, like a ghost city floating in the sky. A man walks the streets alone, aimlessly looking for something. He eventually falls out of the dismal world, and giant wings burst out of his back. He then finds himself in another identical world among the many dust particles floating in the air.
We caught up with Song Liu to talk about the mysterious world he created.
Creators Project: Tell us about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from and what do you do?
Song Liu: My name is Song Liu. I am originally from Suzhou, China. I studied animation at China Academy of Art, where I learned traditional 2D animation. During that time, I kept looking for new ways of expression because I have a strong interest in experimental animation, contemporary art, and 3D. So naturally, after graduation, I went to Sheridan College to learn computer animation. I have been creating animations and working in Toronto ever since.
Somewhere seems to be set in a sort of post apocalyptic industrial wasteland. Can you tell use a little about this world you created?
I wanted to create an environment that transcends time and space, so there is no specific location or era. I chose large buildings under construction and large steel-structured bridges because I’ve always been fascinated by monumental structures. These great examples of architecture in our world aren’t like trees or mountains that reach to the sky, but built little by little by men altering nature’s landscape. Human beings are so little, but together we can create skyscrapers and over-reaching bridges. Even though they are lifeless, they give a sense of awe and spiritual resonance to the people who see them.
In the early designs for this film, the buildings were grounded, with people walking around. I accidentally deleted the ground when I was doing 3D rendering. It gave a surreal and ghostly look to the environment. Each bundle of structures looked like a grain of dust in the air. Each grain of dust contained a whole world. Dust particles are incredibly numerous. That’s what breaks the concept of dimensionality and time, giving a sense of chaos.
The main character is really cool-looking. How did his image come about?
The design for the main character came from a very early sketch I did. I really liked the sketch at the time. I thought it looked like a walking spirit without clear facial complexion, walking towards something, but without an aim. Later on, I redesigned him to be more gaunt, like a soul leaving the flesh. He is in between a human and some kind of other creature.
Can you tell us a little about the artists who have influenced your work?
The Brothers Quay, Kōji Yamamura, and Li Sun are animators that influenced my work. The sculptor Alberto Giacometti has had a huge impact on me as well. Also, other contemporary artists such as Bruno Walpoth, John Virtue, and Matthias Heiderich. Their solemn style also inspired me. In fact, my work has been influenced most by traditional Chinese culture and philosophy, such as Taosim and Buddhism. Different elements of traditional Chinese paintings have also been themes I explore in my own work.
Tell us a little about your new project
Since Somewhere was a graduation piece, there were a lot of technical and expressive limitations on my end. My next plans will go in two direction: one is experimenting with different methods to make my next film which is tentatively titled “Fables.” The style will continue to be ghostly and solemn and the story will be straight to the heart. The visual effects will be totally different. The second direction will be working with like-minded musicians to make music videos.
Images courtesy of Song Liu