We’ve been closely tracking Tsz-wing Ho’s artistic journey on Vimeo and have been captivated by her vibrant and abstract animations, which truly stand out on the platform. We’re not alone in our admiration for her work either, as her short films have garnered attention and selection at festivals around the globe. Eager to delve into the unique aesthetic that defines her creations and to gain insights into her creative process, we are joined by this talented filmmaker from Hong Kong. In our conversation, she shares the influences shaping her work and expresses gratitude for the opportunity to carve out a career crafting surreal films.
We’ve been following your work for a while, ever since we witnessed the wonderful Catgot back in 2019, and your kaleidoscopic style really left a mark on us. Can you tell us a little about your filmmaking journey and when your love for animation first began?
I loved watching Japanese anime, Disney animation, and stop-motion films like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Chicken Run when I was in childhood. I then became interested in animation and curious about how to animate. While studying in college, I chose some elective courses on making animation and I experimented with different types like cutout, stop-motion, pixilation, etc. Among the techniques I have attempted, abstract animation is my favorite style.
I am obsessed with abstract art as there is no limitation.
I took an experimental animation course taught by Dr. Max Hattler. Max taught me a lot about making abstract and experimental animation. It is my pleasure to have Max as my lecturer and advisor and appreciate the advice he has given me in advancing my technique. I am obsessed with abstract art as there is no limitation, unlike narrative animation, and I can draw whatever I like. The unexpected results of combining different colors and elements also fascinate me and this curiosity about the potential possibility of abstract film made me continue my filmmaking journey.
When I look at your films, they’re all individual pieces, but there are commonalities that link them together and make them recognizable. How would you describe your particular approach to animation and is there a specific objective you’re aiming for with all your work?
I think animation is an entertainment. It can be meaningless and contain no specific meaning or story. It can only focus on entertaining the audience or presenting the aesthetic aspects of art. Artwork highlights the beauty of the colors, composition and transformations of the objects in the scene, thus, color and rhythm are the important elements in my animation. You may find some commonalities among my animation, like colorful objects and objects synchronized to music, but overall I just hope my animation can convey the happiness and beauty of art to the audience.
Color and rhythm are the important elements in my animation.
Your latest piece, a music video for Max Cooper’s track Pulse at the Centre of Being, once again showcases some of these recognizable elements, but how did the opportunity to make an animation for this song come about?
Max Cooper, a London-based electronic musician approached me after he saw my previous creation Catgot, which is a hand-drawn abstract animation of a colorful fountain performance. He loved my style and asked me to make a tailor-made animation to tell the story of “things at the center of humans”. After sharing ideas about the interpretations of the music, we both discovered that we wanted to reveal the beauty inside a human. As this was my first piece of commissioned work, it was an unforgettable experience for me and I am grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with Max.
It is a surreal and beautiful journey through the inside of a human body.
Thematically, I see the video as a positive piece, full of life, can you explain the concept to us and what you were aiming for with this particular animation?
The film presents the feeling at the center of our body. It is a surreal and beautiful journey through the inside of a human body. The organs are surrounded by flowers, nerve bundles are presented in an abstract way, like particles and other abstract shapes flow across the screen. Audiences can escape from reality and experience the psychedelic journey that focuses on their inner feelings.
You mentioned colour and rhythm when discussing your work earlier and colour always seems to play an important role in your filmmaking, with your films switching between a riotous explosion and a calculated lack of colour. How did you decide on a palette for each project and in particular the one you opted for with Pulse at the Centre of Being?
There is no specific palette for my work. The palette for each project depends on the rhythm of the song and the feelings brought by the music. Sometimes it may occur spontaneously. Usually, if the song is fast-paced, the animation will be full of colors. If the song has a slow tempo, the animation will be created with a monochrome tone.
For the music video made for Max Cooper, joy and hope are the feelings we wanted to present to audiences. Therefore, I drew objects filled with bright colors such as the yellow skeletal structure with a purple orchid and a red heart surrounded with colorful flowers. It is like a carnival happening inside us.
One of the other things I’ve noticed in your work is this sense of symmetry and balance, is that something you’ve purposefully nurtured in your work, or was it something that occurred more organically? And why do you think it’s such a present aspect of your filmmaking?
There are some symmetrical objects in my work such as a radiating pattern with colored bubbles in Catgot and phenakistoscopes in Hand. I love things that are symmetrical and in order. Symmetry and balance represent a sense of wholeness and comfort for me. It creates beautiful patterns and so I would say that I intentionally include those elements in my films because of my personal preference.
I immediately pictured the blooming flowers and sparkling objects inside a human body in my mind.
Again, you mentioned it earlier, but rhythm also feels like a vital element of your work, with your soundtracks often feeling like the driving force behind the pace of your film. How does your approach to the music/sound design in your films usually influence your work? And how did Max Cooper’s track inspire this particular animation?
Every time I start a new project, I will study the song first. It is an important step in making my animation. I listen to it over and over again until I get familiar with the rhythm. While I am listening to the music, I will draw some random things and this often helps me decide on the theme. Then, I will create the animation from the sketches I made and try to combine different animated elements to see how it will all go together.
When I listened to Max Cooper’s track, I felt delighted. I immediately pictured the blooming flowers and sparkling objects inside a human body in my mind. I also associated it with this pulsating feeling and from this, some repeating patterns appeared on the screen, like the colorful curves radiating from a red human figure. Those symmetrical patterns are a metaphor for the sound of our heartbeats. The joy I received from the song inspired me to create a colorful and beautiful story about feeling at the center of our bodies.
Your work has played film festivals worldwide and you earned a couple of Vimeo Staff Picks, what does this recognition mean for you, and has this ‘Success’ opened up further opportunities in your career?
It is my honor to have my work screened at film festivals around the world and finally earn Vimeo Staff Picks. I am not a confident person, so I always experience moments of self-doubt and think that my work is not as good as others. This recognition means a lot to me, as it is a huge encouragement for me to keep doing my work.
It’s always a good thing for an animator to get exposure.
This recognition is beneficial to my career, as it’s always a good thing for an animator to get exposure. Some people have contacted me to discuss collaborations on various projects like music videos, projection mapping and concert visuals after they saw my animations online or at film festivals. I’ve encountered unexpected things and learnt a lot from the different collaborations and I am so grateful for this experience and support.
What are you working on next?
I’m working as a freelance animator on commissioned projects like concert visuals and music videos. Some of the projects are confidential and cannot be disclosed yet, but while I can’t talk about them specifically, I am glad that I can keep making abstract animation, which probably isn’t the type of animation people like the most. I cherish every opportunity I get and I want to thank those who believed in me and gave me an opportunity so that I could pursue my interest as a career. Apart from the commissioned work, I have recently finished a personal project which is a 5-minute abstract animation about a mysterious galaxy. I hope the audience will enjoy it.