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Interview: Mulan Fu

I recently checked out an animated short called Beautiful by Mulan Fu, which was really good.

Beautiful is a touching film that shares the story of a mother and her teenage daughter, the film explores the transformative power of resilience and also questions the current beauty standards.

A teenage girl reckons with love and loss as her mother battles a dangerous disease. A story about the enduring bond between mothers and daughters, Beautiful explores the transformative power of resilience.

This animated short film has already won an abundance of awards including the Student Character-based Short Winner at the Los Angeles Animation Festival, the National Board of Review Student Grant Winner, the First Run Film Festival Top Prize, and many more. Beautiful has been selected to screen at IndyShorts International Film Festival.

Mulan Fu is an award-winning filmmaker, animator, and illustrator currently based in New York City and Shanghai. She has recently graduated from the Film and Television major at New York University Tisch School of the Arts and is currently pursuing a master's degree in educational game design at Teachers College Columbia University. As a storyteller, Mulan is intrigued by the visual richness of Chinese mythologies and the emotional depth of touching familial stories. She aims to explore and promote the Chinese cultural identity through charming and unique tales that have the potentials to bridge the East and the West. Growing up in Asia and studying abroad in Europe and North America, she finds passion in discovering captivating stories along her travels and sharing them with the world through the magical medium of animation.

Mulan Fu also composed the stunning music for the film. Beautiful has been selected for some of the festivals including Woodstock Film Festival, American Documentary and Animation Festival, Animation Dingle, Los Angeles Animation Festival, Hollywood Verge Film Awards, AniMate - Australia Animation Film Festival, Spark Animation (where the film was a semi-finalist) and more.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Mulan Fu and ask her about Beautiful, animation, music, awards, and what the future holds...

Mulan Fu, welcome to Zenless Popcorn! Let's start with your passion for animation...what got you interested in animation? Do you have any advice for anyone who would want to do this as a career?

I fell in love with animation during my college years at NYU film and was fascinated by the medium's immense creative freedom and room for imagination. It blends all of my artistic interests and skills together in such a charming way. It's still thrilling to think about how many stories could be told and how big the world I could build with just a pen in my hand. For anyone who's interested in animation, I'm happy for their interest in such a magical medium, and I'm excited to see what wonderfully imaginative creatures, stories, or worlds they would create. Of course, animating is laborious and requires perseverance and a lot of consistent effort, so one piece of advice that I would give to aspiring independent animation filmmakers is to work on projects that you are truly passionate about and emotionally drawn to.

Your short, Beautiful is...well, Beautiful! In your own words, how would you describe this animation?

Thank you so much! It's quite an emotionally powerful experience to work on it and eventually share it with the world. I wanted to capture both the physical and mental transformations that cancer experiences would bring to people and their families, and how familial love and perseverance uphold their strength and beauty.

It is really powerful, and really touching (I have lost several family members and friends to cancer, so it touched a few chords for me). What was your inspiration for making Beautiful?

My film is based on my personal experiences witnessing families and friends who have been impacted by this disease, and accompanying families through their journeys at the hospital. When I was at the ward, there were so many moments between the patients and their children, who were my age, that reminded me of memories from my childhood. At the hospital, the children were taking care of their mothers the way that their mothers took care of them when they were young. That parallel was quite breathtaking and bittersweet, and I really wanted to capture that with all of its emotional universality. Also, I was aware that it's difficult to find visual representations of this disease in narrative media, but I felt that it's important to highlight and normalize the physical transformation that it brings to people and the emotional turbulence that comes along.

How long did it make? What did you use for animation?

This film took around 7 months to create. I used Photoshop for animation and After Effects for compositing, then Logic Pro for music composition.

The amount of awards Beautiful is winning is brilliant! How does it feel to be a multi-award-winning animator?

Thanks so much! I'm really honored to have received these awards and thrilled that many people felt connected to this story. This film was quite a product of my love for my family and was such a therapeutic filmmaking experience. I'm tremendously grateful and happy that audiences around the world felt emotionally impacted by it, and many people who had similar journeys of coping felt that their experiences were captured and represented.

You also scored the animation. Could you share your thoughts on the process of scoring Beautiful? I have to say that the music is lovely, I'd love to be able to add it to my music collection.

Music has been another huge part of my life and my favorite method of emotional expression. I'm fortunate to have received music education at a young age thanks to my parents, and I fell in love with creating my own music since middle school. For this film in particular, since the emotional arc is the core to the story, and since it's such a personal film, I wanted to create the score for it based on my own emotional experience. My major instrument is piano, and I love the range and depth of emotions that it could express, so I mainly focused on piano melodies to direct the emotional tone of the soundscape.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm currently working in the feature animation industry in China and studying educational game design at Teachers College, Columbia University for my graduate studies. I'm hoping to extend my explorations of the realm of visual storytelling into the digital and interactive space, and search for refreshing methods of generating narrative experiences.

Mulan Fu, thank you for taking to talk to me, and good luck with your future projects.

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