A Couple with Animated Aspirations

By staff reporter JIAO FENG

FIFTEEN months – that’s how long it took Tang Boqing and his wife Zeng Xiaolan to produce a seven-minute and 23-second-long 3D animated film. But it seems these long months of hard work have been worth it; the short film titled Entrance Exam became an instant hit among Chinese netizens after being uploaded to video websites. Featuring exquisite animation, fluid motion and many distinctive Chinese elements, Entrance Exam has been viewed on Youku, a popular Chinese online video channel, over 1.16 million times.


Creation of Entrance Exam

Entrance Exam tells the story of three mice that are participating in a trial to become students of a taichi master. The story takes place in the kitchen of a Taoist temple. Three mice, one tall, one short and one fat, are tasked with stealing eggs from a basket without being discovered by the abbot. The sage-like taichi master stands by, closely judging their efforts. After several failed attempts, the little mice finally overcome their troubles and get the eggs. The film has no dialogue, as actions, facial expressions and music tell the story. The mice’s thrilling and funny adventures have earned high praise from netizens, including the commendation that the production quality is comparable to DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda.

According to Zeng, the film is the first work independently produced by her and her husband. “The cartoons we made before were commissioned, rather than coming from our own ideas. Entrance Exam is our experiment. We wanted to see if we could make a good cartoon so we decided to give it a try,” said Zeng.

The couple shares the work. Tang is responsible for the script, storyboard and post-production, while Zeng works on the design of the characters and actions. When asked why they wanted to make an animated film, Zeng answered, “Neither of us received professional training in cartoon production, but we really wanted to gain an opportunity to study it. Early in 2012 we started to create the film and had planned to finish it in six to eight months; but it eventually took 15 months. We hope the film will give us the chance to study abroad.”

After its release, the production not only became popular among netizens, but was also awarded numerous prizes. The film was nominated for the Tenth Golden Dragon Awards, and won Best Chinese Short Film at the Tenth Golden Dinosaur International Original Animation Competition and the silver award for Best Short Cartoon Film at the Sixth Golden Dolphin Animation Competition. It was also featured at the SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics) Asia 2013, widely known as one of the most authoritative international computer animation festivals with a great influence and big scale.


If at First You Don’t Succeed…

The couple’s modest studio, a 50-square-meter room, is located in Wuhou District of Chengdu City, Si- chuan Province. This is also their home. On one side is a bed and on the other, a sizable table on which there are three computers placed side by side. There are another three computers set up on the balcony because of the limited space indoors. Tang and Zeng also have a furry friend – a fat cat named Bai Xiaoma that the couple jokingly refers to as their “supervisor.”

Tang was born in 1978 and Zeng, in 1977. Classmates at middle school, their teacher sat them together in an effort to restrain chatty Tang through reserved Zeng. The two “deskmates” soon discovered their common interest – comic books. Tang has been keen on cartoons since childhood and enjoyed recreating comic book pages, imitating their style. Zeng excelled in painting. With just a few strokes, she could bring a cartoon character to life on the page.

It was a great shame for the two animation enthusiasts that in 1996, when they left school for higher education, there was no such thing as a major in animation in Chinese institutes. Tang went to study chemistry at Peking University while Zeng learned clinical medicine at West China University of Medical Sciences (now West China Center of Medical Sciences, Sichuan University).

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