August Feature Artist: Su-An Ng


Su-An Ng’s films are powerful in their refined style. But extensive  sketches, research, planning, and hands-on experimentation are all part of her artistic process. Working with a combination of animation techniques including digital, hand drawn, stop motion and 3D animation, Su-An’s films have a tactile characteristic that often surpasses their digital form; her films often reminiscent of storytelling and pencil-on-paper communication. Concept is always key to Su-An’s films which usually have a message or story at their core. Often, these are regarding nature. I see Su-An’s attitude as akin to that of the German Romantics – looking out into the vastness of the landsape and channeling an insight into a creative representation. I interviewed Su-An by the crashing waves at Bronte Beach, a place she often visits for peace of mind and inspiration.

Vanessa Low: Fill in the blanks:
Su-An Ng: My name is (Su-An Ng), I am an (animator) from (Vancouver). My art practice involves (animation), I am an artist because (I love expressing ideas in visual form).

VL: How did you begin your interest in animation and filmmaking? What qualities of the medium were you drawn to?
S-A: I discovered the magic of moving images in a first-year animation class at art school. We sat in a long row of tables as our instructor unwound a reel of 16mm film before us. “Start filling in the frames” he said. A few hours later, as I watched our work being projected on screen, a spark ignited within me. I really enjoy the flexibility of the medium and that I can combine traditional ways of artmaking with modern technology.

VL: Have you always desired to be an artist? What’s informed your journey to this point?
S-A: Since I was little I’ve always really loved making art; looking at different things and working with my hands. Using the visual arts is just an innate way of making sense of the world around me. So although I didn’t yearn to be an artist, per se, I always knew I’d be in a creative role….I can’t imagine my life without the arts.

VL: Storytelling plays a key role in your work, such as in the work The Sticking Place (which focuses on the life story of Canadian freestyle wrestler Leah Callahan.) What aspects of storytelling do you find important?
S-A: Everything about it. I think it’s important because it’s a really effective way of communication. People always connect better with a story, something they can relate to.

VL: You are currently working in Sydney, however have also worked in Vancouver, Singapore, and Montreal. How has working in these different places informed your practice?
S-A: I love exploring new places. You see different things when you are exposed to new environments, cultures and people. And coming back to the same cities, I always find myself looking at things through a different lens – you learn to appreciate what you have around you. I find that these experiences always end up informing your work somehow. Exploration is an important part of my creative process.

VL: A book that I can always re-read is…
S-A: Hmm….I don’t think I would really re-read that many books because there are so many good books out there. I love reading about a whole lot of different things, not just animation. I think it’s really important to be exposed to different worlds because it can bring fresh perspectives to your work.

VL: You are also quite interested about bees and beekeeping– what do you enjoy most about this passion?
S-A: I think it’s the fact that these fascinating little creatures play such a vital role to our existence. It’s amazing how in a colony of thousands, each bee knows exactly what job it has to do. We don’t think of them so much but their ability to problem solve is amazing. Also, how do they know to build perfect hexagons all the time? I guess that’s why I always look to nature for inspiration – there are so many ideas out there, so many lessons to be learnt.

VL: On that note, could you explain why you enjoy coming to this area (Bronte beach) and watching the waves?
S-A: Spending time outside in nature is just part of my creative process. Like I said, there’s so many ideas you can draw from it. The push and pull of the ocean puts you in this meditative state where you’re able to just clear your mind and be in the moment. Staring out at the vastness of the ocean and looking at the majestic waves crash on the rocks is also very humbling. It helps to get the creative juices flowing .

VL: Can you describe the different kinds of animation that you do, such as stop motion?
S-A: I like mixing different types of animation together, so in some pieces there could be a little bit of stop-motion, a little bit of digital animation, a little bit of 3D or hand-drawn animation. I think it keeps things interesting for the viewer and it also keeps the process interesting for myself. I like the fact that animation is so versatile, one day I could be working with the computer, or if I get bored I can go do some drawing or painting , or try something completely different like working under the camera with clay. I always let the concept drive the work rather than focus on holding onto a certain technique. Sometimes one technique will work better than another so I like to look at it as having more tools in my pocket for problem solving.

VL: Can you describe your process artistic process? Do you do a lot of planning or experimentation?
S-A: I do both. It depends on what I’m working on but I always start out by having a rough plan of what I want to achieve, then I’ll do some experimenting. I think the experimentation process is really important because it’s a space where you can just let go and fail without any pressure…there are times where I fail hard but that process also allows for happy accidents and amazing things to happen.

VL: Following on from this, could you go through the planning process of your recent film Itch?
S-A: I started by drawing out simple storyboards, which are thumbnails of the key moments happening in the animation. Usually I use post-it notes for each frame, so it’s easy for me to move things around. In your head you might think it’s good to do things from A to B, but sometimes mixing up that sequence can end up being better. I then put those drawings into the computer and watch it on a timeline. This process usually takes a while because it’s important to have a solid plan of what you want to animate. The animation process is so tedious and long that you don’t want to waste time animating a scene that you are not going to use. Sometimes it happens, which is okay, you can’t plan for everything. After this storyboarding process, I started doing motion and lighting experiments, to allow myself some time to play with the material a little bit because I haven’t worked with it before. I tried using different consistencies, using different tools, different lighting set-ups, different compositions, placement of the camera etc. to get a sense of how long it would take me to create each scene.

VL: And then actually making it!
S-A: Yes, and then actually making the film!

VL: For your recent work, Itch, you spent three months working in the studio in order to produce a one-minute film. How do you maintain a structure or productivity when in your studio space?
S-A: Finding focus is incredibly important to productivity. There were some days that I could lock in and work for hours at a time and there were some days that I would get really distracted and not accomplish much. Putting on some music helps me to “get in the zone” and also watching the work come to life on the screen is also a big motivation. I like to always keep the big picture in mind, it’s like being able to see the finish line, it keeps me going. Making animation is pretty much like running a mental marathon.

VL: Do you draw any inspiration from any particular artist or art movement? Do you have a particular source of inspiration?
S-A: Nature is one of my big inspirations like I said before, as well as looking back at the earlier masters of animation – people like Norman McLaren, William Kentridge . There’s a lot of insight we can draw from the simplicity of traditional animation. There’s less distraction, I think, and more focus on communicating an idea. Sometimes we get caught up with too many modern effects and what-not and end up missing the essence of the story that’s trying to be told.

VL: Something that I’m looking forward to is…
S-A: Working on my next film/creative endeavor. I’m doing research now on mushrooms and mycellium networks. Like the bees, mushrooms are so intriguing, you’ve got to go read more about it! After working on Itch, I got a lot of feedback that the visuals resembled something that you would see under a microscope. I thought that was a really interesting idea because I didn’t set out to make it look biological. So that has inspired me to look toward the direction of science, data and art.

VL: A question asked by the previous feature artist, Kieran Butler: What is your favourite colour? And is there any particular reason why?
S-A: I’m currently into navy, maybe it’s because I’ve been looking at the ocean so much!


Words & photography by Vanessa Low