MFA, Expanded Animation '24
Shengwei Zhou is a multi-talented individual hailing from China with a passion for animation and storytelling. Currently earning an MFA in Expanded Animation (XA), Shengwei's unique approach combines the art of stop motion with computer-generated images (CG) to bring to life the emotional complexities of broken individuals. But it's not just in his professional life that Shengwei's creativity shines. He is also an avid collector of nature elements, enjoys hiking and diving, and finds inspiration in books and movies. With an undergraduate degree in Art Theory from Peking University in Beijing, China, Shengwei's artistic background and desire to teach make him an ideal person to get some insight into SCA's newest MFA program.
What were you doing before applying to SCA?
I was an independent filmmaker before I came here. I created two feature films during my past years. One is SHe, a 95 stop-motion animation telling a story of a shoe monster world, another is Art is Dead, an 84 mockumentary telling a story of a non existed artist and lies about him/her/they.
Why did you want to study animation?
I want more freedom in creation and to learn how I can best visualize my imagination. When you create things in a production filmmaking way, it needs a lot of compromises. Sometimes things do not turn out to be the path that you were originally passionate about. But animation could be done only by yourself, it could release your energy. Also, in animation, there is no limitation in creation, especially for CG. You can create whatever you want just by using a single computer in your home.
Why did you choose SCA?
I wanted to learn more about combing different media and technology to fully develop my ongoing project Perfect City series here. And I believe the XA program could be a perfect fit for me to do it.
One of the main reasons was all the faculty here, especially my mentor Kathy Smith who is really a great artist. Her path is what I want to go deep into in terms of dreams, consciousness, and body performance. Another reason is that XA is supper flexible in terms of production and all the people here are really supportive to help you achieve your goals. XA is a place where concepts and technologies are all served for artistic emotions. It would make the students stand out in a unique way.
What has been your biggest challenge so far in your time here?
Going deep into the dream realm and how to combine it with my own art creation.
What has been your biggest success?
My ongoing Perfect City series episode one The Mother has been selected to several film festivals including the 46th Hong Kong International Film Festival and 28th Encounters Short Film Festival and some festivals recognized by Oscar etc.
Is there a project you are working on or have completed that you’re especially proud of?
I am working on an ongoing multi-media digital art series called Perfect City, consisting of narrative animation shorts, VR, and AR, focusing on exploring the beauty of broken people’s soft parts and the complexity of human negative emotions and desires. In terms of its core concept, I am trying to explore the synesthesia effect between audiences’ tactile and visual perception and the mismatching gaps between consciousness and body performances by combining and utilizing stop motion animation, 3D animation, photogrammetry, and motion capture technology altogether.
I have successfully created the 4 episodes of Perfect City series by combing all the courses I have taken here in both XA and Hench programs in SCA: Perfect City: The Mother (first episode) developed in CTXA579 and CTAN452, Perfect City: The Bravest Kid (second episode) developed in CTAN547 and CTAN564, Perfect City: The Room VR (third episode) developed in CTAN504, and Perfect City: The Patients (fourth episode) developed in CTXA545 and XA research and practice grants. Each episode focuses on specific tactile materials like wood, paper, fabric, etc, and the relationship between real-world materials and their digital “masks”, trying to convey the conflicts between individuals’ primitive authentic personal emotions and the illusive controlling systems.
In terms of the Perfect City: The Patients, I went deep into the grief emotions and its connections embedded in dreams and trauma memories with the help of all the XA faculties’ guidance and financial support from my previous Annenberg fellowship and AEF scholarship. In terms of the Perfect City: The Mother, this episode won over 20 selections and awards globally including 2 Oscar qualified festivals, 2 Canadian Screen Award-qualified festivals, 1 BAFTA qualified festival, 1 European Film Award-qualified festival, and 5 World Top 25 Genre Film Festivals Ranked by MovieMaker Magazine.
How has SCA prepared you so far in your career in entertainment?
The XA program gives me a lot of advice and helps with getting into the academic path, entering art exhibitions, and festival routines.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking to apply to SCA?
I don't want to give any specific advice since I believe everyone has his, her, or their own paths. Just explore and take action with what you are passionate about!