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Mike Nguyen – World Renowned Vietnamese-American Animator….also loves BAMBI


My favorite animated movie of all time is Bambi. It has a profound impact on me even when I was a child. I saw it on a black and white TV in my village and remembered that I cried during the scene where Bambi’s mother got killed by human hunters. After that my family had a puppy and I called him Bambi. Later he died because of food poisoning (I think he ate rubber bands or something) and I was emotionally devastated. What a tragic childhood memory associated with Bambi. I swore I would never own another pet.

Actually my memory of Bambi is not all morbid. Because of Bambi, I got into art. I remembered wanting to draw because I was so enthralled at the animation in Bambi. After seeing the film, I sat every day in the front yard of our village house and drew into the sand using a twig. I started drawing stick figures and animals, and then sketched events I'd witness in the village such as funerals and weddings. I drew my family members and my relatives. Later in the day the drawings would get erased by footsteps from people walking in and out of the house.

Nowadays, animation is mostly generated in a computer using predefined models, shapes, and motion presets. I always try to encourage my nieces and nephews to hand draw what they see as a way of being curious and staying connected to their surrounding and making sense of the world. Drawing is a splendidly therapeutic activity.

I’m not against CGI animation. I just feel that watching computer generated graphic doesn’t inspire the viewers (especially young viewers like me when I was little) enough to take action to foster their interest further.

There are two unique characteristic of hand drawn animation that no CGI animation can adopt. One is a sense of personal connection between the artist and the subject being drawn. Because of the tactile and mechanical nature of hand drawing, the artist is more connected to his/her creation. Therefore the story and the world that the artist creates are in harmony with the characters inhabiting them. The other unique aspect of hand drawn animation is movement. Like in the early Disney films and from those of Max Fleischer, expertly hand drawn rendition of motion has that dance like quality. There is a magical sense of time passing by when seeing each animated frame presented on screen evident in the wiggly contour of the drawing.

I saw the trailer for the animated feature film My Little World by Mike Nguyen and that nostalgic feeling came back, just like when I was watching Bambi. Mike was born in Vietnam (in the year of the cat) and immigrated to the US in 1979. He graduated from CalArts in 1988 and has been working tirelessly on many animated features film for major studios. He was one of the animation supervisors for The Iron Giant.

When you watch that film’s trailer, the characters move like they are dancing. They're full of life. Everything is very fluid and there is a feeling of synchronization in the characters' interaction with one another as well as with their surroundings. I don’t see this in computer generated animation. When watching a CGI film, the motion is not as flow-like all throughout. A character would move and then stops and pauses. As a matter of fact, in CGI animated films, there is a lot of pauses. This is something that I notice. Perhaps it’s the dictation of the story or the dead pan humor in the scripted scene. Also, the characters in CGI animated films feel like they exist only at that specific moment. On the other hand, the characters in “properly” hand drawn animation feel like they exist at all times because their visual has that constant feeling of motion or flow or fluidity.

This leads to the second proprietary feature of hand drawn animation. The animator’s style and technique are manifested in the character/story/world he/she creates. I feel that with CGI animations, the technique or style don't always have that close of a relationship with the storyline as in hand drawn. Perhaps in CGI animation there are fewer variants of style therefore the filmmakers don’t really get to choose which style to go with which story.  For example, Toy Story has a great story but the style of animating could have been used to tell any story. On the other hand, The Triplets of Bellville’s animation technique is perfectly suitable for the tone and atmosphere in the world that it portrays. The same is true with Mike's curvy design of his characters and their dance-like motion. They merge well with My Little World's story of self discovery and the return to innocence. This unity of the artist’s technique and the imaginary world he creates is better illustrated in hand drawn animation than CGI.

In a closing note, I am sure that Mike has put a lot of himself and his belief into the story of My Little World. My impression from reading the storyline of the film is that it encourages kids to be more curious. That curiosity can lead to something more – such as self acceptance, building self esteem, and reaching amazing potential. Because of this, I feel very happy to have had taken up drawing into the sand in my front yard during my childhood. Because of Bambi, I got curious.

Watch the trailer for My Little World.

Visit My Little World's Website.

Watch a lecture by Mike Nguyen.

Read a recent interview with Mike Nguyen here.

Visit Mike’s Website.

Read and learn in-depth about Mike’s views toward animation and his techniques.

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