Mulan Fu is a Chinese director and animator. She recently graduated from the Film & TV major at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts, and she has released her newest animated short film, Beautiful, a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl as her mother deals with a disease.
I had the opportunity to speak with Fu about the process for making her tear-jerking animated short, as well as her career and what she plans to do in the future. Here is the interview.
Jonathan Sim: What was the animation process like for Beautiful?
Mulan Fu: I mean, Beautiful was a 2D digital film, so the whole pre-production is like the typical drawing on a sketchbook and like all analog, and then starting from production, it’s all hand-drawn digitally on a drawing pad into Photoshop and then compositing in After Effects and, yeah, pretty standard 2D digital animation process.
There’s so much that goes into animation, so how long was the process for Beautiful?
It took seven months in total, which is pretty quick but it was like I was really efficient because it was all done during quarantine and I had nowhere to go anyway. So yeah, it was just like starting from scratch, just non-stop working on it for seven months, so that was that.
With Beautiful, it’s not even just about the really really beautiful animation; it’s also about the story, so when you write stories, what is the number one thing that you tend to want to achieve when you tell your story?
Absolutely. Yeah, for me I mean the number one rule of thumb is definitely to have the emotional arc be a very appealing element in the thread line of the whole piece, like if the story that I’m trying to tell doesn’t touch me emotionally or make me feel something or make me feel some sort of emotion or want to cry, then you know, I wouldn’t focus too much energy on that. So, you know, Beautiful, was one of the films that I really found the story to be really emotionally appealing and worth telling.
I agree, I think that audiences everywhere tend to connect better with, especially Pixar movies, they do a wonderful job with both animation and the story, making people really emotional. And what you did here was such a beautiful film, not just about the Asian experience, but also about a mother and a daughter. So I wanted to ask how much of this story was personal to you?
It’s pretty personal. I mean, it’s based on a personal experience of witnessing and accompanying families that [have] been through this disease and just being at the hospital and being with them and you know witnessing the whole process including like the surgery and then how they’re healing from that and especially seeing the sort of physical transformation and emotional journey that they have to go through and not just them, including like other family friends that have been through that, and then also the other patients at the hospital wards.
And it’s just left a lot of impression on me about how this disease, first of all, is really widespread and very common, and two, is just how much of an impact it puts onto the patients, onto the women and their families, you know, on their self-perception, on their concept of what beauty is after the surgery, and just how much of a shock the physical transformation could be for them, and it takes a lot of strength and courage for them and for their family to go through all of that.
Wow, and I’m just so glad that you’re using film as a medium to express these really really emotional stories that ring true for a lot of people. And I heard that you attended film school at NYU Tisch. So I wanted to ask what advice would you give to people in high school who are thinking about attending film school?
Great question. I mean, definitely, when I was in high school and thinking about going to film school versus other more academic-focused regular university majors, it’s very huge differences, right? And then I remember people were like having this debate or discussion like oh, are film schools worth it and all that stuff, and first of all, I think it depends on the school itself. Because all the film schools and the big ones, the small ones, they all have very different directions of their curriculum. They’re trying to foster different types of artists.
But one thing that I think is definitely worth it is especially if you want to be an artist or a creator or a storyteller, the four years that you have at college at film school that you’re literally given time to produce your own work, not having to care about client feedbacks or care about how your work is going to sell commercially or worry about all the financial stuff, and you are really completely just emerged in that creative freedom with everybody around you sharing that like that sort of atmosphere is super, super rare and everybody who’s been through film school and then still working in the film industry definitely look[s] back and treasure[s] that kind of feeling the most and it’s quite a privilege for any artist to have.
That’s really inspiring just because I know there are so many people who are on the edge about whether to go to film school or maybe instead pursue something more safe like a STEM field in college, so I agree. There are a lot of great things that can come from attending film school and at the very least just applying there and putting together your portfolio, it’s really rewarding. And I wanted to ask what would you like to do with your career moving forward?
I mean, hopefully still staying in the animation industry as long as possible, and then right now, I’m working at Pearl Studio; they’ve done Abominable, Kung Fu Panda 3, and Over the Moon, so they’re this really Asian story-centric animation studio which I’ve been wanting to join for quite a while, and it’s really lucky that I’m with them now and working in their creative development team, so doing literally what I love. You know, finding good stories to tell and then doing all the research and all the brainstorming is really fun and then in the meantime, I’m working on my personal projects and also I’m getting a graduate degree at Columbia's educational game design program, so kind of exploring the interactive storytelling field and seeing what I can do combining that with animation.
That is awesome, I mean, I’m super excited to see where your career goes in the future and I really do think that you have some amazing potential with what you were able to pull off with Beautiful. So thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.