A Couple with Animated Aspirations

During his second year, Tang took on some design work at a games company. He missed so many classes because of his commitment to his job that he was eventually advised to quit his course. Zeng spent her spare time learning about digital painting software and one summer, took an internship at an animation company. In 2001, Tang went back to Chengdu and established an advertising company. At that time, Zeng, who still had two more years left of her master’s degree, decided to graduate early and join Tang’s company.

In 2007, the Chinese animation industry entered a stage of rapid development. Some investors thought highly of the industry and were willing to invest in budding animators, and Tang was one such lucky recipient. With the funds he received, he set up an animation company. He hit the ground running, recruiting employees and starting work on producing a 26-episode animated television series on Beijing folklore. In its heyday, the company had a 400-square-meter office and over 70 employees.

The animation industry demands high investment but produces little in the way of immediate returns. After several rounds of investment, the investors still could not see much profit, so they decided to withdraw the funds five years later. Tang had no choice but to dismiss his team. He and Zeng were left unemployed.

“After five years of hard work, we had failed. We went back home, but we still wanted to try to succeed in the field we loved. That was how Entrance Exam came about,” said Zeng. The funny story and lovable characters mask any hint of pessimism experienced by the couple because of their setback. Zeng said, “For over a year, I was doing the thing I love with the person I love. That’s the definition of happiness.”


In Pursuit of Happiness

Zeng said they first got the idea for Entrance Exam in 2008. The little mice were their company logo and the concept started out as a short advertisement feature for them. In 2012, after the company was closed down, the couple re-imagined the mice as the characters of their new animation film.

During the 15-month production process, the biggest problem they encountered was with the software. “Sometimes the computer just would not work,” Zeng recalled. At those times, she would imagine shouting at the computers, “Work, slaves!” while she pictured the computers feeling wronged and crying, “Sorry, Master! We’ve done our best.”

Whenever they were at a low ebb, they would watch an animation film for encouragement. However, watching the impressive work of masters in the field, they couldn’t help feeling desperate about the yawning gap between them. They worried they could never catch up. Nonetheless, the couple still had the will to fight and believed that even if they never fully caught up, just aspiring to reach the level of their gurus was a good thing.

During the film’s production days the couple worked for at least 10 hours every day without stopping for a holiday or even the weekend. “We had to take on some part-time work to earn a living as well,” said Zeng. “Although the process could be tedious and, at times, painful, we were still upbeat and felt a huge sense of achievement whenever we viewed the results of our endeavors. Happiness accounted for a larger proportion of our life in the days of producing the film.”

The post-production stage of film-making is mainly about adjusting colors and light, and that was Tang’s domain. Zeng, therefore, was freed up to work on her comic book, Little Doctor’s Diary, which is based on reflections of her time at medical school. The little doctor’s stories of experiences with patients are light-hearted and humorous, and have captivated over 50,000 online fans. A print version of the book is soon to be released.

Tang and Zeng are happy but, equally, surprised that Entrance Exam has turned out to be so popular. They are developing a one-minute “behind the scenes” feature and thinking about scripting a sequel. Some animation companies have expressed their interest in cooperation, but the couple has turned them down. “We’re sending applications to study at universities overseas and are waiting for offers. We want to receive professional education in this field and hope that one day we can make a world first-rate animation film. I think that is our ultimate goal,” Zeng said.


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