We interviewed Chenxi Zhang, director of “Braided”. Her film “Braided is in the Cartoons Underground 2023 official animation Film Programme.

In her film, she explores an incident where her mother cut off the carefully braided hair she had done for her, but the profound attachment between them and the female growth could not be be severed.

Her animation work explores the delicate emotions and subtle contradictions in human relationships through hand-drawn animation, seamlessly integrating material experimentation to elevate the narrative and create captivating visual experiences. Her works capture the unspoken intricacies between individuals, unveiling a realm of unexpressed sentiments.

We asked her a few questions to help us get to know her better and find out more about the inspiration behind her animated film, “Braided”.

We’re so happy to have Braided in this year’s CU 2023 Animation Festival! We really like the special textural quality of your film as it adds a new visual layer to interpreting the film. How did make this choice of material to create your film’s unique look?

Tracing paper gives me a vulnerable and hazy feeling. It’s transparent, and you can see the images on both sides of the paper, so it makes something hard to hide. This material matches the tone and the personality of my characters and story, which is why I chose to use tracing paper for the entire project.

Most of the animation was hand-drawn frame by frame on tracing paper using charcoal. Layering multiple sheets of transparent paper created a rich atmosphere. Adjusting the air thickness between the sheets can blur the images to enhance the dreamy atmosphere or emphasize key elements.

I also worked on making images on both sides of the same paper connect and react, to represent the relationship of the characters, and the folds in the paper became part of the character’s expression.

In the end, I kept only the hair because it symbolized a strong and significant connection between me and my mom, it was a literal representation of my attachment to my mom, her expectations, and her love. It represented our shared traits and legacy. It was powerful enough to break through the paper and enter my world, influencing the person behind the screen.

For the hair part, it was already hidden between layers of tracing paper in several shots before viewers saw it directly. As more layers were added, the presence of the hair became stronger, evolving from a texture to one of the main elements/characters in the picture.

What does your workspace look like?

It’s a space I’ve made a bit like a home. During the busiest times, I would shoot all night, and when I got tired, I’d either sleep on the floor or take a nap on the couch. On the walls, you can see my storyboards and inspiration notes, as well as spare hair materials.

On the floor, there are stacks of animation frames. Outside the room, there are several cubicles and a meeting room, where my assistants help me with clean-up and coloring work together.

What kind of stories do you like to tell?

I enjoy depicting subtle, sensitive, and contradictory relationships in my stories, peeling away the disguises we wear for ourselves and the symbols we give to others. Because real life is just like that, both our relationship with ourselves and with others are very complex and fragile. It’s this very contradiction that makes us real, living, breathing human beings. This authenticity might require us to let down our guard, disrupt the status quo, and that can be painful and frustrating.

If you could spend a day with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?

I’d say Walt Disney! I would ask them to allocate more attention, courage, resources, and funding to the development of independent animation and the independent arts. There are too many talented artists in this world who lack the means to continue creating. I hope that everyone can be an artist, and artists can create more bravely and sustainably and that independent art organisations and communities like Cartoons Underground can operate more steadily and vibrantly.

(Thanks to Walt Disney for founding the school I attended and for offering an experimental animation program. I hope our teachers, students, and animators worldwide can receive better treatment to explore and break the boundaries of animation.)

Catch “Braided” at the Cartoons Underground 2023 Festival Screening at The Projector on November 25, 2023. Get your tickets at theprojector.sg/CU2023