NEKO (which means “cat” in Japanese) is an original animation featuring a heroine who journeys into her pet cat’s fur to battle the gigantic, blood-sucking parasites that have inhabited its body. As a social impact design project, it was conceived by the creators to encourage people to take better care of their furry family members. It’s the only animation project to be awarded the coveted 2017 Design Mark from Golden Pin Concept Design Award. The short film is created by a team of six design students from Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology — Zeng Pin-Ciao, Tsai Meng-Shu, Liu Yu-Chi, Hsu Tzu-Fu, Wang Wei-Fan, and Lin Hao-Ting. The production sees each student’s special skills – as artists, producers, video editors, and more – all working in tandem to bring to life the fun, animated short. Below, we had a chat with Zeng Pin-Ciao, the director of NEKO, on the challenges of working as a team and the differences between American and Japanese animation.
Neocha: What was the motivation behind the original story?
Zeng Pin-Ciao: In the beginning, I was inspired because I was spending a lot of time with cats. I lived with a cat for around six months, and unfortunately, the cat fell ill. Afterwards, I began learning about the variety of parasites that can affect a cat, as well as how to prevent it. In the end, I decided to use the concepts of health and disease prevention as the starting point to remind people of the unremitting love and devotion that we promise our pets.
Neocha: How long did it take to finish the animation? What difficulties did you encounter?
Zeng Pin-Ciao: It took eight months to finish the short film. In the beginning, the challenge was to bond as a team and figure out how all of our technical skills could fit together since we were all individual artists. This was my first time doing Japanese-style animation and many aspects were fresh, new, and challenging. It took one-and-a-half months to complete just one-minute of animation. The total length of the final animation is longer than four minutes. The biggest challenge was getting the composition right because adjusting it at a later point would mean that the whole scene would have to be redrawn. As a director, it’s important to be decisive, otherwise it affects the mood of the entire team.
Neocha: It’s obvious that you’re deeply influenced by Japanese animation. How did this interest come about and who are your favorite animators?
Zeng Pin-Ciao: Actually, when I was in high school, I adored American animation, such as the work being put out by Dreamworks and Walt Disney. The purpose of a Disney film is to make people happy and make them dream. Inspired by this, I started to study American animation. Later, during university I got to know the work of Japanese animator Satoshi Kon, and I realized that animation can also be used to encourage deeper thought and reflection through negative emotions. The same can be said for the work of Hideaki Anno and Katsuhiro Otamo. In their works, they always give the audience space to reflect; they do not simply aim to please the audience. I began to admire this approach and started studying Japanese illustration. NEKO became my first challenge after I got to understand the Japanese style. This work is also a very important experience for me because it helped me realize a lot of my inadequacies. It was a great learning opportunity.
Neocha: You received the 2017 Design Mark from Golden Pin Design Award. Can you share the benefits of participating in this competition?
Zeng Pin-Ciao: From the first round of the competition to the final stages, it’s been really exciting all the way. I was incredibly nervous presenting my work on stage, but it was still an unforgettable experience. During the competition, I also attended a presentation training workshop held by Golden Pin Design Award. It was a great experience. In the workshop, I focused on learning about body language and how a good communicator performs. It was a rare opportunity to learn from a master presenter. I really appreciate the hard work of the organizers and the staff was very friendly. I am truly thankful for this opportunity.
Neocha: So what’s on the horizon for you and the team?
Zeng Pin-Ciao: With the conclusion of NEKO, we already have a short script for a new story that we want to try and make. We’re trying really hard to acquire the necessary resources to pull it off. Because of my experience with NEKO, I feel confident that I’ll have much more to offer in our next project. It’s very exhausting putting so much of yourself into a project, but in the end, I’m happy. Ultimately, with all of my animations, I hope to leave a lasting impression and help people.